We’re delighted to bring you Part 3 in our blog series, ‘My Social Mobility’, which features restaurateur and businessman, Iqbal Wahhab OBE FRSA. Iqbal was born in Bangladesh and came to Britain at the age of eight months. He was educated in London and is a graduate of the London School of Economics. After working in journalism and PR, He launched the multi award winning Cinnamon Club in 2001 – a restaurant and bar aimed to change the way we view south Asian dining. In 2003 he co-authored The Cinnamon Club Cookbook and in 2005 opened the highly successful Roast, a British restaurant and bar in Borough Market.
We’re certain you’ll enjoy reading Iqbal’s unique take on social mobility! ‘Eating – my business – is a huge driver in planning and indeed enabling social development. If you’re lucky enough and work hard enough and you get breaks but come from socially or culturally different backgrounds from those who you now find yourselves with, you want table manners to be your friend and not your foe. When I was 18, I got invited to Oxford for a weekend with a group of other A level students who had got the “four ones” – the top score in their entrance exams.
My parents had taught me how academic rigour had got them out of the desperate poverty that had engulfed their previous lives in Bangladesh. What they couldn’t teach me, because they plain and simple didn’t know, was how to conduct yourself in a formal dinner. So there I was with all these knives, forks, plates and glasses in front of me and I was floored. All the public schoolkids around me were entirely at ease so I decided to sit back and watch what they did and follow suit, so I leaned back and picked up a bread roll on my right to look and learn. “I think you’ll find that’s mine,” said the boy next to me. Dammit! I didn’t follow my own plan.
I was so angry I fluffed the rest of the visit and was sent home early. To do well in life is not just about making money or even just about doing good. You need to know the rules for getting to the top and table manners are crucial if you are to survive a Coutts bank private dinner, lunch at an ambassador’s home or dinner with the Prince of Wales which this south London boy went on all to experience. It sounds terrible but it’s true – if you don’t know that a fork is not a spoon or how to talk and eat at the same time (ask your neighbour an open-ended question which lets you tuck in while they answer and vice-versa), if you don’t know what butler service is – and like me you probably didn’t previously move in the circles where such things were ever discussed, then find out.
The inner city kids I now mentor give me strange looks when I teach them these things. My ambition for them is that one day they will be at a grand dinner and won’t be floored, that they’ll maximise the opportunity and they might just smile and think “That crazy Iqbal taught me something after all.”