About Madras Cafe

Back in 1993 AVI supporters Chris Wilde and Bryan Osbon took a small tent and an old VW bus to WOMAD music festival in Reading and started selling chai and peddling AVI leaflets. A few years later, Bryan describes how Madras Cafe has grown from these humble beginnings and the highlights of the last few years....

Photo Simon Williams

WOMAD: the beginning

The first time we went to WOMAD we covered our costs (just!) and talked to a lot of interested customers. It seemed like half the audience had been to India and wanted to chat about their experiences. We were inspired to do the same thing again in '94 but with a broader Menu - idli, sambhar and chutney! So we began the quest for the perfect UK idli and WOMAD became a significant and regular event in AVI's Calendar.

Growing up

As our festival catering has developed significantly over the years, so has Madras Cafe, driven by the enthusiasm of its growing band of cooks and volunteers. Madras Cafe is now the trading name of Sensetrade Ltd, a fully owned subsidiary of AVI with its own board of directors. The chair of Sensetrade is also a member of the AVI Board and reports to it.

Private functions

After a few years we started receiving invitations to cook for private functions. The first was from Old Hall, a community in Essex, who have supported us regularly and provided volunteers for WOMAD. Although we have never advertised our services, Madras Cafe now cooks for private functions three or four times a year, and there are plans to expand this aspect of the cafe.

Cooking tours

In February 2007 a small group of Madras Cafe volunteers embarked on a whistlestop tour of projects in South India, starting in Kerala and ending up in Chennai. We had cooking lessons in Kerala, met with women's groups in Theni, visited the projects ASSEFA and CESCI near Madurai and finished up staying with CRUSADE near Chennai.

The trip was entitled: Food, from Field to Stomach. We saw how everyday ingredients moved from the fields to our mouths, which obviously involved eating lots of idlis, dosas and thalis along the way! We hope to organise further trips in the future, as they are especially valuable in showing where the proceeds of our workers hard efforts end up.

Thank you

Over the years Madras cafe has thoroughly depended on the unflinching enthusiasm and skill of its merry band of cooks, its multi-talented site crew and its expanding army of choppers, servers and pot scrubbers. We always welcome offers of more help and hope the fun will continue into the future!