Chef Cyrus Todiwala sits down with Chef’s Table
Favourite Tables recently sat down with Bombay-born chef Cyrus Todiwala OBE the Chef Patron of the iconic City of London restaurant, Café Spice Namaste, and the eponymous Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen at the Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5. Heathrow is soon to be followed by a New Opening of the same name at the brand new Lincoln Plaza London in Canary Wharf.
Cyrus is a champion of the environment, sustainability and follows closely the ethos of his Parsee community to undertake good works for others. He recently launched the ground-breaking Zest Quest Asia, a student culinary competition designed to develop skills and raise the profile of Asian cuisine ably supported by wife Pervin Todiwala and the Master Chefs of Great Britain.
He is an Ambassador for The Clink Charity and Patron of the British Lop Pig Society. He appears regularly on BBC Saturday Kitchen, has written numerous best-selling cookbooks, and has his own line of hand-crafted pickles, chutneys and sauces.
With such a busy schedule we made the most of the time we had and fired off our questions…
Q: What would be your last dish (to eat) “the death row question”
CT: “Dhaan Daar Nay Vaghaar” — quite simply, Parsi-style daal with rice and caramelised onions and garlic. Or breakfast prepared by my wife Pervin.
Q: Before you chose to be a chef did you have another career in mind?
CT: I would have wanted to get a degree into agricultural studies, I have always loved nature, plants and the soil.
Q: Which restaurant would you like to go to? (that you haven’t had the opportunity to visit yet)
CT: Le Gavroche
Q: Have you ever been presented with a dish/ingredient that you just could not eat and where was that?
CT: I once struggled miserably with fermented tarantula. It wasn’t the most appetizing, but I ate it, partly to look good…choke!
Q: Which city or country is the most innovative in terms of food?
CT: I feel it’s London. Here you find creativity and novel ideas everywhere, every day.
Q: What is set to be the next ‘new’ ingredient? And which in particular interests you?
CT: These aren’t so much ingredients, but tastes and processes. Umami and fermenting have certainly made a comeback. I’ve already run two master classes on them.
Q: If you could change any misconceptions about restaurants/restaurant food, what would they be?
CT: There are so many misconceptions surrounding restaurants. Not all restaurateurs are making money hand over fist, and neither are we all ogres when it comes to staff welfare, which is sometimes what the media makes us out to be. In fact, restaurants have to work very hard to survive and landlords and councils need to be more considerate towards owners and operators.
Tough it may be, but it’s also true that the restaurant industry is open to people from all walks of life, and regardless of age, it can offer career opportunities. You could be starting out your career or making a change, or wanting to develop new skills. All the industry asks for is the right attitude, aptitude and the desire to work. The restaurant industry can help solve unemployment problems so long as Government is understanding and flexible with us. How? By taxing us less so we can be allowed to flourish.
Q: Have you been featured or would you like to be featured on any TV food programmes. Are these types of shows a good thing for the restaurant industry and chefs?
CT: I have been featured and would definitely like to be featured more. On whether these shows are a good thing for the restaurant industry depends on how well the programme is made and the light it shines on the industry. This is how impressions are made. Young people are either motivated or disillusioned by what they see, and producers have a role in seeing to it that the right message gets across. Chefs do benefit immensely from these food programmes. But the danger is they can also relay the wrong impression to young budding chefs, who then feel that getting on TV is an absolute necessity.
Q: How important is a Michelin star? A growing number of chefs and restaurants have recently asked that they be removed, because of the pressure – your thoughts.
CT: It depends on how much you desire it. It’s this desire and determination, and sometimes desperation, for whatever reason, personal or professional, that can drive some to insane lengths. Michelin is a recognition of all round standards, though it has also become such a status symbol that some obsess over it, adding to the pressure. Perhaps some are giving it up because they discovered that they chased it for the wrong reasons, or perhaps misunderstood its core meaning. Maybe the fear of losing the stars is simply too great. On a personal note, the media and the industry do give great importance to it, to the extent, it seems that those who hold Michelin stars then belong to an elite club. But Café Spice Namaste has held a Michelin BIB Gourmand longer than any other in the Michelin Guide and we’re very proud of this. It means good value, good food. Maybe this is what most people are looking for today.
Q: What do you think about negative reviews?
CT: Unless totally justified, I think sometimes they’re not as honest as they ought to be. At times, reviews can be quite vindictive to the extent of destroying an establishment. But sometimes a negative review kick-starts the recognition of weakness and can drive one towards achieving excellence too. One incident, one bad interaction, or just one bad day for the restaurant or individual does not mean that the place is bad or that all staff are indifferent. So I think a review should be backed up by more than one or two visits.
Q: If you received a call from Buckingham Palace with a request for Chefs who have received an OBE to prepare one dish each for a Dinner for The Queen and a small group of visiting dignitaries, what would be your dish?
CT: I would still do what we prepared for Her Majesty during the beginning of her Diamond Jubilee tour, the “Country Captain” or Indian Shepherd’s Pie. I think that would stand out by providing a real cultural connection with India. It will help showcase how the very first spice influences weaved their way into Britain, leading to the current desire for spices and hot food. It would showcase Britain today as the most multi-cultural nation in the world where people don’t just mingle and live together but take part in one of the most important things in life — good healthy eating made using top quality ingredients!
Q: What is your favourite dish on the current menu that you have created in the past 6 months and why.
CT: “BEEF XACUTTI”. It’s always challenging to put this curry on the menu except if you are in Goa itself. Being one of the most intricate and labour – intensive curries it can let you down heavily. It is performing extremely well on the menu and is impressing diners as we had hoped it would, making all that effort that went into it worthwhile.
Q: If for one night you could be invited to cook alongside any Chef past or present who would that be and why?
CT: Oh, there are too many! The reason, moment, or event would play their part in my choice. For one, I would like to cook alongside a regional Italian master to showcase the similarity and the link to one’s Persian heritage. Franco Tarusho would be the most likely companion as his style of cooking is brilliant. Though retired now, I still have a very deep respect for this grand master. Having said that, Mr Mosimann is my hero and perhaps doing a selective menu with him would suit me very well!
My Favourite Tables – Two restaurants I have visited and why?
Restaurant (1): Green Papaya, Mare Street, Hackney, London.
191 Mare Street, London E8 3QE, England. www.green-papaya.com
Well, we dine here more often than not. It’s the place for us to relax and chill, enjoy some good food and very friendly staff. We know the owner very well too. We’re never disappointed.
Restaurant (2): Good Earth Cromwell Road.
Address: 233 Brompton Rd, Chelsea, London SW3 2EP. www.goodearthgroup.co.uk
|Address:||Cafe Spaice Namasté|
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