Chef Jessi Singh announces fund-raising dinners to support India through COVID

Jessi Singh says there has been notable silence from Australia's hospitality industry, which has made so much money off ...
Jessi Singh says there has been notable silence from Australia's hospitality industry, which has made so much money off Indian culture and cuisine. Photo: Sabine Bannard

Jessi Singh, the co-owner of restaurants including Daughter in Law and Don't Tell Aunty, is using his influence in Sydney and Melbourne to help his home country through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On May 19, the Indian-born chef and restaurateur's five Australian restaurants, plus his venues in New York and California, will hold an $80 set-menu fundraising dinner. All proceeds will go to a three-pronged initiative to directly benefit Indian people rather than getting tied up in "administration or governmental corruption", he says. 

Speaking from Byron Bay where he is set to open a new restaurant in June, Singh says he considers himself to be extraordinarily fortunate to have achieved success within the hospitality industry and the ability to call Australia home. 

Daughter in Law on Little Bourke Street Melbourne, where Jessi Singh will host a fundraiser dinner on May 19.
Daughter in Law on Little Bourke Street Melbourne, where Jessi Singh will host a fundraiser dinner on May 19. Photo: Joe Armao

However, he also feels paralysed while the federal government shuts out Australian citizens trapped in India where COVID-19 infections have surged past 21 million during a second wave of the pandemic.

"It doesn't matter how much money or success I have, I cannot do anything about their suffering and it's killing me," he says. "Some of my family are dead, others have had COVID-19 three times. They will keep getting it and I am sick of staying quiet about it."

Singh says he is also disappointed with members of the hospitality industry who have profited from Indian culture and cuisine but remained quiet after the government announced a temporary ban on citizens entering Australia from India on April 27.

Jessi Singh unpacks local produce for recipe testing at Daughter in Law Byron Bay, set to open in June.
Jessi Singh unpacks local produce for recipe testing at Daughter in Law Byron Bay, set to open in June. Photo: Sabine Bannard

"All the European and Australian chefs, restaurant owners and television personalities who have made so much money on my culture are now silent. They have abandoned India when it needs them most."

The fundraiser dinners at Daughter in Law in Melbourne and Adelaide, and Surry Hills' Don't Tell Aunty restaurant, will include items from Singh's Indian street-food menu, a tandoor dish, a thali tasting plate of curries, and kulfi – cardamom and pistachio-infused condensed milk fashioned into a fancy ice-block.

Restaurants formerly owned by Singh have also jumped on the cause, with Victorian staples Horn Please in Fitzroy North, and Kyneton's Dhaba at the Mill holding lavish dinners on the May 19 and 20 respectively. All proceeds will go to the Hemkunt Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation providing oxygen cylinders and medical supplies to India.

Advertisement

Singh will send a percentage of the money raised from his events to wholesalers in Mumbai and Delhi who provide ingredients for the chef's Australian restaurants. The wholesalers will use the donations to buy food supplies for temples which are feeding communities across the coronavirus-ravaged country. 

"I don't want any of this money to get tied up in administrative or governmental red tape," says Singh. "I'm working directly with people who I trust and have held a business relationship with for many years". 

Another third of the funds will go to an organisation helping provide proper burial services to those who have died from COVID-19.

A thali tasting plate of curries at Daughter in Law, Melbourne.
A thali tasting plate of curries at Daughter in Law, Melbourne.  Photo: Joe Armao

"The bodies are piling up outside every hospital and on most streets." says Singh. "The most horrible thing is that when a family member dies, no one wants to touch the body. Their family thinks they will die if they do."

Singh's contact in India will drive to the hospitals, pick up the bodies, wrap them in the traditional white burial cloth, and take them to be cremated as is customary in India. 

The last third of the proceeds will buy oxygen concentrators to be donated to the temples helping communities. 

"We're really trying to work with individuals, not groups, so we can skip the red tape in Australia and India," says Singh. "Indian people know what they need to survive, so we're listening to what they tell us they need, not governments."