Entrepreneur and celebrity chef born to farmers in a South Indian village, Praveen Kumar once went on hunger strike for an education. He’s now an award-laden restaurateur, celebrity chef, entrepreneur, generous philanthropist and family man. And he’s only in his early forties.
When you first meet Praveen, you can’t help but feel the warmth, intelligence and drive from him. A force of nature, a whirlwind of enterprise and ideas, mixed with the humility and gratitude for life’s opportunities. He not only recognises them when they come knocking, he grabs them with everything he’s got.
Praveen, 43, who now calls Perthshire home and owns the award-winning Tabla restaurant, also has his own farm, frozen on-line curry business and cook school. It’s not hard to feel like an under achiever when you speak to him but his gentle, friendly demeanour makes you like and respect him even more.
We meet at his on-line curry business premises in Perth and he welcomes me in like an old friend, making me a coffee because ‘it’s cold outside’ and looking after people is what he does.
Praveen grew up in a house with a clay roof, with one light bulb, no telly, clothes that were passed from relative to relative… so where does he think it all comes from… the entrepreneurial spirit and desire to succeed?
“I always felt there was a big world out there. I had that curiosity,” he tells me. “I think my dad is behind some of it. He is an independent thinker, he was the one who brought the cinema to the village, things like that. My mum was the driver behind him, I think; much like my own wife is to me. Challenging my dad all the time.
“I also used to read a lot of newspapers; we had a good library in the village, so I read the papers every day. I loved the business section and the stock market when I was 10 years old; I used to follow the companies that were doing well. I felt there was an instinct there. I used to make a scrap book of the different companies… I loved finding out about them all.
“The man I aspire to is Dharu bhi ambani (who was one of Asia’s richest men ever); he was a role model to me – his motto was ‘dare to dream’.”
Praveen entered priesthood training in his early teens, and studied within that structure for three years.
“I originally was thinking about becoming a priest – I had been a bit of a notorious boisterous boy and being educated by priests for three years really was the making of me,” he says. ” I learned discipline and hard work but I realised it wasn’t my calling. Although I still follow the structure and discipline to this day.”
When Praveen asked to go to university, his father said no as the family couldn’t afford it. “College was a lot of money,” he explains. “You had to be sponsored and my dad said it was just not going to happen. But I pushed my dad to the wall by going on hunger strike… I have a very strong mindset and luckily my uncle came up with the money for the first year’s fees. He said he would fund me but I had to give it back when I started earning, which was fair enough.
“It was a four-year degree – so my father sold some land, borrowed; all sort of things to get money – but after that my brother and sister also got an education.
“And so I was on my way. I worked my way through university – though I didn’t tell anyone. College is so posh, I was ashamed to tell anyone that I had to work. I didn’t want other people to know but I have always worked hard. And still do.”
Praveen has always been a natural chef. “I liked to bring home food for my family and cook it – vegetables, tomatoes, even steal eggs sometimes. But it was thought to be a girlie thing to do; men are not supposed to do it. So I used to cook when my parents were away and treat my cousins to dinner and ask them to keep the secret,” he said.
After university, Praveen got the opportunity to work in Jamaica and from there ended up at Turnberry in Scotland. “I met a Scots couple – who I’m still friends with – while working in Jamaica and they told me how wonderful it was, so I looked into it and ended up in Turnberry in Aryshire.”
From there, Praveen went to Gleneagles and finally to opening his own restaurant, Tabla. He now owns the Praveen Kumar Cook School, Praveen Kumar Frozen food, and is a co-partner in the Bunker pub/bistro in Perth. He’s an ambassador for all things healthy – you will find no preservatives in his food.
No preservatives in the things we cook and eat.
His wife Swarna, xx, joins us halfway through our interview armed with healthy looking drinks, papers and bags. Swarna – a chemical engineer to trade – is the taste behind the food Praveen informs me. But she does lots of other things in the business, ordering, designs, the factory shop and is behind her own side business of spice – Swarna’s spice… “The spices are grown on my auntie’s farm, things like coriander to make the powder.”
But the couple – who have two young daughters, Tanvi Iona, 10 and Tansi Isla, five, also know the importance of downtime. “We like to have time out with the girls, days away, quality time. We like to travel around Scotland, we’re still tourists here,” Praveen says. “We also love to have lunch at the North Port in Perth – that is a lovely treat for us,” Swarna chimes in. Plus table tennis. “We played as children – and we enjoy that together then of course Friday night is movie night or cooking over a few drinks with friends,” Praveen says. They tell me of their summer visit to Wimbledon and being in the crowd with Tom Cruise and meeting tennis champ Emma Raducanu.
“It had been a dream of mine for a long time to go to Wimbledon – and it was everything I imagined it would be and more. My parents used to watch it a lot, and then we got tickets and we met Emma, which was an amazing chance,” says Swarna.
You can’t help but like this young power couple – they’re as ambitious as they are kind (they fed NHS workers at the local hospital during the pandemic), driven as they are relaxed and worldly as they are full of wonder. A wonderful mix of ingredients – just like their award-winning food.