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
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Had the most amazing mind blowing meal last night.
Indian tapas…… every single dish was full of taste and flavour… a taste sensation. Beautifully presented and served.
Staff were very friendly and informative about the dishes. Understood what we liked and advised accordingly. I could not pick out a favourite dish, but “must try” are the Fried Chicken, the Bhel puri, raw mango, tamarind, sev, yogurt, Butter garlic crab, seaweed papad and the samphire pakoras, date & tamarind chutney, chilli garlic mayonnaise.
Very reasonable prices and a lovely vibrant restaurant. Felt very at home and comfortable, could have stayed all evening.[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="7569756"]
We had a fantastic Indian meal at Cafe Spice Namaste in east London and its so different to your local restaurant. We experienced such an amazing array of stunning Indian flavours and spices that enhanced each dish. On arrival you get a nice friendly greeting then you get to see the menu and believe me you want to order everything as it all sounds fantastic. We in the end decided to go for the Tasting Menu which includes 3 glasses of wine and we were also told that it is actually unlimited food, so when you say stop they will then serve you Dessert to finish.
The exciting thing is that you don’t know what dishes you will be getting until it arrives, which to us was a great idea. We managed to survive 10 courses before surrendering and having Dessert .
So it all started with popadoms & dips followed by Samosa , potato cake , fish fingers , a sweet and crunchy rice , duck , chicken , prawns with spinach , salmon and cheese then to curry dishes of chicken and finally lamb that forced us into submission so we’re then served dessert to finish. This was a delightful spicy creme brûlée.
Most of the dishes were brought to us by our very friendly waitress Martina . I have to say I will definitely recommend a visit and I will be returning soon to sample more of Cyrus Todiwala’s dishes and those amazing flavours[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="7569756"]
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It was in his native India where Chef Datta first discovered his natural flair for cooking and where his talents as a chef were first recognised. His career began as a young man in Delhi, where he became well versed in Indian culinary traditions at the PUSA Institute of Hotel Management.
His culinary journey continued as he honed his expertise at India’s prestigious Taj Palace Hotel. It was whilst here that he first received training in the more classical European kitchen methods and where he first began to develop his own unique Indo-European cooking style.
His restaurant and chef experience was further enhanced when he moved to study at the International College of Hotel Management in Switzerland. In Geneva, he worked for a time at the Metropolitan hotel. He then moved back to India, to the historic City of Jaipur, in Rajasthan to take up the Head Chef position at the Hotel Mansingh, followed by a stint as Executive Chef at the Hotel Maharani Palace.
Following a successful spell in Dubai from 1996 – 1998, Chef Yogesh arrived in London to take up a challenging position as Head Chef at Tabla restaurant in Canary Wharf, London. He was tasked with “turning round” this once popular restaurant. This he did and it was whilst there that his style of cooking became influential in its own right and was brought to the attention of successful local business man and regular customer Charles Hill. During 2000 the pair teamed up to open their own restaurant, Charles having recently acquired a suitable property in Chelsea. At the time the building was being used as a french style brasserie but had fallen out of favour with customers. The pair’s confidence of creating a success was helped by the history that the building had housed restaurants since 1953.
2002 saw the opening of The Painted Heron in Cheyne Walk and in 2012 it celebrated 10 years as one of London’s finest Indian restaurant with numerous accolades being bestowed including AA rosettes, best restaurant and best chef awards.
FT asked Chef Datta: What he felt about accolades and in particular his thoughts on Michelin Stars,
CD: Every chef and restaurant owner wants to know that they are serving customers to a high standard and that the customer is happy. The Painted Heron has always had great feed back and whilst we are listed in the Michelin guide a star is probably not something we could achieve, we’re not setup for that. Over the past 14 years since The Painted Heron opened, online and social media have played an increasing part in the types of feed back restaurants like ours receive. In the most part it has been very positive, however, talking directly with customers is still the best way to understand how they feel about the experience they have just enjoyed.
FT: You have lived and worked in some interesting cities around the world, why have you settled in London.
CD: London is just an amazing place to work as a chef and I have been lucky enough to be able to work with and influence many up and coming young chefs. Some of these have gone on to achieve great things here in the UK or even back in India taking what they have learnt back with them and changing local perceptions of dishes. Others have stayed with us here and are now in their 10th year cooking in London. Our Head Chef is someone I have known and worked with for nearly twenty years.
FT: When The Painted Heron first opened, the menu changed almost every day and the relationships with local suppliers was crucial. How has that changed?
CD: When we first opened, The Painted Heron was considered ground breaking and we were as far as Indian cuisine was concerned, with our daily changing menus and the freshness of the meat and fish we used. The menu development has now settled down and we are more influenced by seasonal focused changes now. However, the great relationships built with local butchers and fishmongers has continued and this helps us source incredible ingredients when they are at their best.
FT: You have talked about getting the best ingredients and the freshness of produce used in your menus, is there any foods that you won’t eat.
CD: Not really I will try most things and I think that is to do with the chef in me. However I’m really not keen on raw meat or fish. I much prefer eating well cooked and properly seasoned foods, adding the correct spice to enhance flavours. How food is cooked is very important to our style here at The Painted Heron. We have recently invested in a Josper Grill to add another level of flavour to the meat and fish we cook and also it allows us to create a “tandoor” feel to a wider variety of different ingredients that would be difficult in the traditional clay oven. New dishes are being introduced to the menu over the coming weeks including a Black Cod dish.
FT: So Chef, as with all our Chef’s Tables, we love to know where you like to eat when you have time away from the kitchen. So where are your favourite tables?
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About Favourite Tables
Our ethos is about places people love – always has been, always will be.
We know that most people choose where to eat based on recommendations from friends and family, a social interaction – a Social Marketplace
Favourite Tables is just that – our recommendations and reviews are from people who love where they go and go back to.
The popularity of each Favourite Tables restaurant is assured on the Social Marketplace and through the restaurant reviews they receive.
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