Popular Stanford-le-Hope chef to fly festive Indian feast out to peace-keeping troops in Congo

Thurrock Gazette: Chef Akmal Ali, owner Siraj Ali and celebrity chef Shahena at The Maharaja Chef Akmal Ali, owner Siraj Ali and celebrity chef Shahena at The Maharaja

A POPULAR chef will fly an Indian feast 4,000 miles around the world as a festive treat for peace-keeping troops - paid for by a wealthy pilot who was blown by her culinary skills.

Shahena Ali, of Stanford-le-Hope and head chef at the Maharaja restaurant in Thundersley, was hand-picked to cook up a special meal for 150 United Nations soldiers based in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

The chef, who has featured on radio and television shows, will leave Southend Airport by private jet on Thursday to personally deliver the food.

She was given the unique opportunity after a pilot visited the Maharaja, on Bread and Cheese Hill, last week. Captain Mustafa Aolad owns Imperial Air Services and travels the world salvaging plane wrecks.

He has a cousin working for the Armed Forces as a UN peackeeper and was so impressed by the meal he decided to treat him and his colleagues over Christmas.

As well as paying £1,500 for the meal, Mr Aolad will cover the costs of the private flight to the Congo capital Kinshasa and a two-night hotel stay.

Miss Ali, 36, said: "It's certainly going to be an experience, and I am very happy to do this and it's great I have been given the opportunity.

“It's a very unique request, but I am delighted to help.

“This is somewhere I wouldn't normally have access to so it's a wonderful chance to see first hand what is happening out there.

"These troops are away from home over Christmas so it's amazing to be able to do something for them."

The Maharaja, which is owned by Miss Ali's father, opened over 30 years ago.

Miss Ali trained at the restaurant and has gone on to star on BBC Radio, UKTV Food and Channel 4 programme Taste.

She spent Wednesday and Thursday morning cooking up a three-course meal for the troops with a main of masala chicken bhuna.

Miss Ali added: "We didn't want to make anything too spicy or too mild. I want to give the troops traditional Indian cuisine, but need to make sure I cater for all tastes."

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