Bobby Kapoor isn't one for blowing his own trumpet but, during Ramadan each year, you'd be hard-pressed to find a harder working businessman. He's a chef, author, father and consultant, who has been a leading light in the catering industry for the past three decades. And his steadfast conviction that corporate social responsibility should be a cornerstone for all successful companies has resulted in tens of thousands of hungry people being offered nourishment and sustenance when they need it the most.
By the time Ramadan draws to an end this year, approximately 60,000 labourers will have had a hot meal, drink and dessert because of Classic Catering, Kapoor's business in Dubai. He doesn't want or expect praise – he'd much rather that was directed at the dozens of people who help out in the kitchen or with logistics.
“We started doing this in 2015,” Kapoor recalls, “and 1,500 people turned up at our chosen location to receive food [at iftar]. In 2016, we handed out meals to 17,000 people, and last year it was more than 30,000. So this year, I set my sights on 50,000, but it will have worked out more like 60,000 by the time we’ve finished,” he tells me.
Kapoor explains that each meal costs Dh10, and is paid for by companies intent on doing their bit for good causes during the holy month. "Each day we're doing something different, but the meal packs always include something cold – like water, dates, a nutritious juice or laban. There is always a meat and rice dish, but the desserts change constantly – it is the part of the meal that always appeals to Muslims and Indian people. For the quantities we're preparing, by far the simplest and safest meat is chicken, and we cook everything together, so the packaging process is kept as streamlined as possible. The way everything works, means we're able to feed 2,000 people a day, but I'm constantly looking for ways to do more."
He says that working closely with the authorities allows teams to set up their distribution points with minimum disruption. Much of the activity takes place in Dubai Investment Park and various labour camps, with recipients often nominated by the companies that fund the meals.
Driven by a sense of gratitude, Kapoor says the experience can be overwhelming for him and the army of volunteers who join in, and come from across the region and beyond. "Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait – even the United States and Great Britain – people from so many places have been wanting to get involved; goodness just seems to come from everywhere," Kapoor reveals.
He says this selfless spirit of giving is manifested by big corporations, too. “A lady at Hertz [car rental] asked me just a few days ago about how we were transporting the meals to the serving areas and labour camps,” he recalls. “I explained that we have three or four vehicles, but that we were struggling to meet the demand with them. So the next thing I know, she’s offering the use of another vehicle, free of charge, which has been an enormous help for us to meet our targets.”
Kapoor himself is an Indian Hindu, and despite naysayers claiming he'd never make it as a chef due to him being left-handed, he went on to become a highly qualified catering expert. He lived and worked in the United Kingdom for many years, relocating to Dubai in 2010, where he founded his own businesses – he owns and runs Cartalyst Food Solutions, as well as Classic Catering, which supplies retail-ready food and meals to many of the region's most popular outlets.
Those samosas, sandwiches, salad dishes, pastries and other tasty treats offered at hypermarket deli counters around the country? There’s a high chance they’ve been made, prepared and delivered by Kapoor’s extensive team.
Cartalyst is a consultancy business, turned to by companies when they need help in streamlining operations, maximising profits, minimising losses, and overturning established methods and thinking. Kapoor counts big brands such as Tim Hortons, KFC, Subway, Lulu, Bakemart and many others as clients, but it's the Ramadan meals programme that evidently gets him most animated.
“I’m not Muslim,” he says, “but during Ramadan I often fast, out of respect for the people in the teams who are helping. It’s not easy working and standing in the heat, having prepared up to 600kg of meat a day, and nearly 400kg of rice, knowing that you won’t be able to have any until much later in the day. I usually don’t get a chance to eat until after 8pm, and you have to remember that it isn’t all over once these people have had their meals – we have to get back to base with all the equipment and make sure it’s cleaned and ready for the following day.”