Celebrity chef Atik Rahman talks cooking on TV, working at the iconic Bluebird restaurant and creating a traditional Bangladeshi menu for Graam Bangla.
“If anyone on Brick Lane needs anything, if any chef needs help, I’m always here to help them,” says award-winning chef Atik Rahman, who created the authentic menu at Brick Lane’s Graam Bangla restaurant.
After moving to the UK from Mouvli Bazaar with his family when he was just 19, Rahman took the cooking skills he learned from his mother and started working for hotels and curry houses before training to be a professional chef.
“I know all about Bangladeshi cuisine,” he says. “The best dish at Graam Bangla is magur macher, a traditional catfish curry.” Other favourites Rahman added to the menu include fish chutney and Asian-style mashed potatoes with onion, coriander and chilli.
After training as a chef he worked for Sir Terence Conran’s famous Bluebird restaurant in Chelsea, nabbing the Chef Award in 2007 and British Chef of the year in 2008.
“With Asian food there’s so many spices,” Rahman says. “In a modern European restaurant like Bluebird, you have to control everything with salt and pepper, so everything has to be accurate or there would be no taste to it.”
Rahman credits events such as the British Curry Festival and the Curry Life awards for helping him to become a more ambitious chef, and now Rahman supports his community as a judge for the Bangladesh Caterers Association chef awards.
He also works as a private chef for Sheikh Bin Zayed of UAE during his visits to London. “Because it’s the royal family, they’re looking for something unique and special,” Rahman says. “It’s very fun, but challenging because everything has to be accurate.”
Rahman has appeared on several cooking shows and even had his own show, Atik’s Recipe, on Bangladeshi TV, but being a celebrity has never mattered to him as much as the opportunity to share his knowledge.
“On TV you’re teaching people how to cook and how to make it fun,” he says. “You can make it a laugh.”
Rahman is determined to help train the next generation of chefs, and he gives free classes on how to embrace new food trends such as healthy eating and using local produce.
“I teach chefs how to make better and healthier food, using less oil and ghee,” he says. “In Indian restaurants we use a lot of colour, so I teach how to make a nice natural colour with British beetroot, for example.”
But Rahman believes cooking is a skill everyone should have, not just chefs. “Food is a part of everyone’s life,” he says. “Cooking is like art, if you know how to do it you can create exactly the taste you’re looking for.”
After becoming seriously ill with Covid-19 during the pandemic, Rahman has become even more focused on teaching and doing charitable work.
“I have a skill and I don’t want to take it to the grave, I want to share it with other people so they can benefit from it,” Rahman says. “When somebody says they learned a recipe or a technique from me it makes me more proud than people just enjoying my food.”
He has cooked meals for homeless shelters and nursing homes, and he often cooks dishes for charities to sell to raise money. “If a charity needs anything, if they need food tomorrow I will go and help,” he says.
Rahman has taught everyone from fans of his TV show to his 20-year-old son Samuel how to cook, and sometimes people even come up to him on the street to thank him for showing them a cooking technique.
“But whenever someone asks Samuel if learned it from his dad he says, No no, it’s my recipe!” Rahman laughs.
Head to Brick Lane’s Graam Bangla to enjoy homemade Bangladeshi dishes and taste the legacy of celebrity chef Atik Rahman.