Iqbal Wahhab, founder of Roast restaurant

10 August 2006
Iqbal Wahhab, founder of Roast restaurant

Iqbal Wahhab, founder of Roast restaurant in London's Borough Market, has been appointed chairman of the Department of Work and Pension's Ethnic Minority Advisory Group. He talked to Alix Young

Why were you chosen as chairman? I've always been interested in projects outside the industry and wanted to try politics without actually becoming an MP. Before I accepted, I made sure the group would have teeth and could actually get something done, rather than just being a talking shop. I wanted to implement policies, not just be involved in a report that sits on a civil servant's desk.

How good is the catering industry at employing ethnic minorities? Most restaurants are over-represented by ethnic minorities at the lower levels, but there haven't been any studies into how many make it to senior levels. This is an area worth exploring, and restaurants should look into whether their workforce is representative of the community.

What do you do on the group? As chair, I sit on a much bigger group called the task force. This has five cabinet ministers, the chair of the Committee for Racial Equality, and representatives from the TUC and CBI. My role is to put across the opinions of my group.

What's it like on the panel? I was very excited before my first meeting. I was worried it would be like [TV comedy series] Yes, Minister, with everyone speaking in double-speak and nothing getting done, but actually that couldn't be further from the truth.

What do you think will be the long-term impact of the Eastern European influx? The thinking on this so far isn't right. One of the biggest mistakes was revoking permits for foreign chefs - such as Indian chefs for Indian restaurants - because they thought the Eastern Europeans could do the jobs. This was obviously daft. The long-term consequences have yet to be determined, but this is something we will look at.

Terrorism may have led to more discrimination against ethnic minorities. Has this affected employment opportunities? There are certain barriers to equal opportunities employment - lack of education, living in a deprived area with fewer job opportunities, and employer discrimination. It's employer discrimination that has increased over the past two years, and part of the reason is no doubt the 7/7 London bombings and 9/11. There has been a rise in unemployment in Muslim men. We need to take the bull by the horns and tackle this massive issue but some employers don't, they just sit back and tell us they won't employ ethnic minority staff.

You're famous for once saying that "miserable gits" serve in Indian restaurants. Do you think service has improved? Definitely. Indian restaurants have gained Michelin stars since I said that, and they're now playing in the big game. Having operators at the top level gives high-street Indian restaurants something to aim for.

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