Every now and then in life, you get an opportunity to be part of a unique project. Ashara Mubaraka London 1444 H is one such project.
Each year; thousands of members of the Dawoodi Bohras community gather for ten days at the start of the Hijri New Year to remember the events of Karbala accompanied by the presence and sermons of the Dawoodi Bohras’ spiritual leader, The 53rd Dai’ al-Mutaq: Sydena Mufaddal Saifuddin.
The timing of the event is dictated by the lunar cycle. Each year bidding cities are to be awarded the opportunity to host the event. The announcement is typically made just four weeks before the event starts.
Our journey commenced in 2019. The dynamic young bid leadership team of Husainy Masjid, Mohammedi Park Complex approached us to support with the design of a temporary kitchen that would cater for: 25,000 people, twice a day, a total of 500,000 meals over a 10-day period. Alas, Columbo, Sri Lanka was the bid winning city for 2019.
Next up, COVID-19 came along. In this period; the community continued to feed vulnerable members of the wider community, which was impressive in itself.
Around May 2022 we were contacted by the team to ask if we would support their bid to host the event in the summer of 2022. We were delighted to be approached again; after discussing the plans we joined the team.
The Ashara London food safety and kitchen team had vast and valuable experience in engineering, science, business, and food industry to convey to this project.
Their mission was simple: to ensure that food safety was at core of all kitchen activities to comply with all local laws and regulations. This would leave a food safety legacy which volunteers would take and implement in all subsequent Ashara Mubaraka events across the globe.
The commitment to food safety was at a high level; the entire Ashara Mubaraka London team took time out to complete their Level 3 food safety, they were focused, knowledgeable educated leaders of the project.
Team MYA started with the design of the kitchen. The mathematical modelling to establish weights, sizes, and volumes was a detailed process in itself. Our Technical Director Mark Crowson developed a model which would allow us to scale as the event criteria changed; the quantity of ingredients used on a daily basis was colossal.
In approaching the design; we recognised early on how important it would be to maintain the traditional ways of cooking to the Dawoodi Bohras community. With the use of iron stoves and copper pots, this was also likely to be the safest method. In running large events it is important to remember that people come from all walks of life, implementing change of any type needs to be very carefully considered as it is all too easy to introduce risk.
There were many technical challenges and queries that had to be addressed, such as:
• How would we ventilate 100 gas stoves?
• Would the stove dollies take the weight of the cauldrons?
• Would the four-stage traditional Thaal washing process ensure compliant levels of sanitisation?
• How much refrigeration would be required?
Working together with the London Ashara Mubaraka team and all the international culinary team; a design was finalised and agreed upon.
With the build underway, ahead of the announcement that London would be the winning city; attention turned towards the HACCP plan and food safety policy for the event. The final plan and process was built in partnership with the London Ashara team and specifically considered the risks and critical control points that the event required for its traditional cooking and dining methods. Eight community members share a Thaal on which all the food is placed.
Our plan passed the scrutiny the Environmental Health Officer who is responsible for food & workplace safety in Ealing and sat on the SAG.
On the 9th July, Ashara London received news that their bid had been successful, from that point it was all systems go.
Delivering up the plan, working with the Ashara London kitchen build team to advise on the suitability of the equipment, levels of gas, water and drainage required. It was indisputably intensive.
The Ashara London Team and their community had to build a state-of-the-art temporary kitchen within a four-week period. It is a testament to their entrepreneurial determination that the kitchen was ready to go three days ahead of the pilot day.
With the safety plan in place and the kitchen build underway, we started to look at how we would train teams and manage safety across the event. Our chefs were international with limited English, our kitchen porters and assistants were from an agency, the safety team were a group of people who all had experience in managing food safety but not at this scale, in a temporary kitchen, with a British legal framework.
Mindful that we were not just educating to comply with statutory duty but wanting to motivate and inspire a culture of safety in the team which would be part of this event’s legacy. We ensured all the chefs were to achieve at least a Level 2 in food hygiene course in their own language with the support of the London Ashara team. The MYA team wrote and delivered a bespoke food safety course and HACCP plan which focused on the actual cooking techniques would be used across the duration of the event.
The food safety team did a fantastic job of translating our training. They also ensured there was a thorough understanding of this, as motivating good food safety behaviours is essential part of delivering a safe and great event.
The training material was strategic; keeping to the point, our trainees demonstrated that they had an ardent desire for knowledge with their many questions. At this point with such enthusiasm for food safety we knew the event would be successful.
At the inauguration of the event; we had at hand: a large team of food safety volunteers who checked practices, recording due diligence requirements, and coaching/mentoring teams throughout the day. Each day a food safety log was utilised which detailed all actions completed diligently. This is critical, as in a ten-day period there is no programming training for next month.
The enthusiasm and perseverance of the food safety team was exemplary. The EHO arrived one evening to complete a formal inspection in her environmental health role, taking time to commend the team for their enthusiasm.
This is the event where stories of the Prophet Mohammed and his family members are told, the sermons delivered by the Dawoodi Bohra’s spiritual leader to inspire the community, and people come together to celebrate their culture; past, present and future.
Over the event the kitchen had been a real ‘tourist’ destination with special guided tours, and all safety completed of course. The icing on the cake was looking up from my food safety desk on my final day to see a London MP filming the kitchen activity, what a unique sight.