Chef of the Week: Cyrus Todiwala, Chef Proprietor of Café Spice Namasté in London

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
Twenty-four years.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills? Passion may have come from watching my mother, father at times, other cooks at an uncle’s hotel, watching older women and the sneak cooking in boarding school where creativity came when cooking with left over crumbs, crusts and other retrieved food products.

But the main skills after a diploma in hotel administration and food technology was with the Taj Hotel Group. The bulk the basic the depth all of that credit must go to the Taj Hotels where many like me evolved and then progressed further.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
The independence, the freedom to create and achieve, the sheer non-repetitiveness of your job, the daily excitement of achievement and dealing with perishable commodities both in terms of what you handle with the food you prepare and the customer.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
A difficult one to answer and could not narrow it down so easily as at some stage in your cooking you have managed without several essentials. But water has to be the first and today it is fast becoming a gradually depleting essential. Love, if you do not have the love for cooking and feeding… give it up! And pride in what you do.

But basic food ingredients wise, I do love fresh coriander, cardamom & cumin seeds and think that they bring a lot more vitality to my style of cooking.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
Another tough one because wherever in the world you go and cook many a times your favourite pieces of equipment are not available. There is not one totally specific item that I could not live without. But then are we talking equipment or utensil or both. Good knives, non-stick heat resistant spatula, a good blender-grinder-liquidiser, in a large kitchen a good bratt pan and a combination oven.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Oh! Several, from veganism to vegetarianism, to quirky foods to tiny dots of flavour which you miss so often, use of varied ingredients from across the globe and a sheer mixture of cuisines such that the food cannot be defined as coming from one region or culture or nation.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Attitude, pride and lack of patience to succeed.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
I don’t really have one but in Britain I would say winter perhaps because it takes me the longest time to prepare my best of British winter monthly menus. You get the same vegetables over five months and have to be creative, game is in season for most of it, regular produce is limited. Then comes spring/summer and the abundance and opportunity to splash out again.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
At present “the country captain” or my version of the Indian shepherd’s pie which I had prepared for Her Majesty’s very first diamond jubilee luncheon and which in turn has now become extremely popular.

How do you come up with new dishes?
That is not difficult. You have to look at what you want to do and think deep and understand that product and then create around that understanding. I know I don’t sit still and am always playing and creating but then that is the beauty of my job so why not do what you can do…i.e. making others happy.

Who was your greatest influence?
In food has to be my mother and its expectations has to be my father.

Tell us three chefs you admire
I admire many. Amongst my heroes are Anton Mosimann, Michel Roux, Paul Bocuse, Pierre Koffmann and some of the other greats of the seventies and eighties who put Britain on the global culinary map and continue to impress thousands even today.

They were the ones that rocked when I was budding and evolving. Amongst my friends again of a different genre are great chefs still achieving great things like Steve Munkley, Brian Turner, Andrew Bennet and Paul Gaylor.

I am sorry but with a forty-year-old kitchen career I simply cannot pick three. I was influenced by so many great chefs over the years that picking three is not easy… and there are several more!

What is your favourite cookbook?
Chalo Jumva by Bichoo Maneckshway.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Oh, oh, I couldn’t name just one the new talent emerging these days are amazing and I think the platform to achieve and stand out is deeply challenging within that highly competitive environment, but at the same time Britain is right on the cusp of superb creativity and achievements. Is a great time to be emerging as a chef in Britain!

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
I have been so busy in opening two of our own restaurants through various upheavals and frustrations that several new openings just simply passed me by. I get asked by friends whether I have tried x or y, sadly not as have been too focused but most recently having been to Scully’s in Piccadilly, one is comforted to learn that superb creativity is still alive and kicking in Britain.