Chef of the Week: Vivek Singh, Chef Parton at The Cinnamon Club in London

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I opened The Cinnamon Club in Westminster in spring 2001, so 20 years now! Over the years opened more restaurants and currently there are 5 in the Cinnamon Collection. 3 Cinnamon Kitchens, Cinnamon Bazaar in Covent Garden and of course the flagship Cinnamon Club which just completed 20 years in March.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
My passion for cooking developed during my training and at hotel school but my love of food came from the several wonderful celebrations and gatherings I experienced growing up in India as a child. I picked up lots from my training at The Oberoi hotels in India, and of course tweaking, learning and picking up influences from the wonderful gastronomic city of London over the last 20 years. Learning never stops for a chef, does it?

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
Of the millions of positives and also drawbacks of our profession, the thing I like most is the instant gratification of seeing the outcome of our work several times over in a single day! From prepping, cooking to eating, cleaning- chefs are fortunate to see the fruits of their labour almost immediately through the feedback, the reaction and the pleasure their dishes bring to their guests. How many other professions give you that?

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Salt, fire and people to feed!

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldnt you live without?
A part from my trusty Tandoori oven, I suppose I’d be lost without my mortar and pestle.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
I’m not one for trends as such, but I’m seeing a definite shift towards vegetarian, vegan and planet friendly ingredients that are also good for us (Future50) and it’s a shift I’m very enthused by. We all have a collective responsibility to our suppliers, guests and the planet to increase consciousness on these matters.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
There are no short cuts to anywhere nice. The most common mistakes that let’s chefs down are when they’re In a rush to get somewhere, write a cookbook, appear on TV, be ( come) the next big thing in town and cut corners to get there. Take your time, and enjoy each day  is what I say.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
It may come as a surprise but my favourite time of the year for food is Autumn when Game is in season and I am able to put these on the menu, there something magical about that time of the year.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
Gosh it’s a tricky one talking dishes, but I’m very proud of certain ingredients and genres that we introduced in the UK. I’m very proud that I introduced game and venison on menus in Indian restaurants in the UK. There are still very few places that serve grouse, pheasant or venison. I’m also very proud of our pigeon, pumpkin and peanut dish – A game of 3 P’s which has become a Cinnamon Classic over the years. It’s not just the modern dishes, I’m equally proud of our Old Delhi Style Butter Chicken which went on to become James Martin’s food heaven.

How do you come up with new dishes?
Often sat on the top deck of a London Bus. Joking aside, usually new dishes are dictated by the season and what’s coming in. The main ingredient identified, I think about seasoning, spices and accompaniments that I may not have used before…. sometimes the influences can repeat, so pls dishes may make a comeback on the menus but often it’s a case of balancing the new with the old, the familiar with the challenging and between giving people what they want and what I really want them to have.

Who was your greatest influence?
Several. But the greatest has to be my late Father. He was a simple, humble and honest man that always did his best. Most of the values I hold dear to me are actually from him.

Tell us three chefs you admire

Three isn’t enough or fair but I will give it a go!

  1. Marco Pierre White – I wouldn’t be the chef I’m today had I not chanced upon White Heat in 1997 in Kolkata. Talk about the power of books and how we can change lives through books.
  2. Eric Chavot- I spent time in Eric’s kitchens when I first arrived in the UK before I opened The Cinnamon Club, and I cherish that time fondly. There are very few chefs better than Eric in extracting flavour from ingredients.
  3. James Martin- I can’t think of anyone who has done more for taking food into peoples homes via the Telly in the last 20 years. James shares the best stories, recipes and  dishes with the nation whilst celebrating other chefs and supporting suppliers.  And The best thing is that  his recipes always work! Proper Chef’s Chef.

What is your favourite cookbook?
Current favourite is Chefs at Home in aid of Hospitality Action. It’s a compilation of 110 recipes from 54 chefs and each recipe means something to them.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
I’m excited to see what Adam Handling comes back with after the lockdown. We all have been through so much in the last year, and no doubt have had to alter our course to adapt. Adam though is a powerhouse of ideas. The other chef I’m very impressed by is Ben Tish. And of course, I can’t wait to see the new incarnation of Cafe Spice Namaste when Cyrus Todiwala reopens in a new location after 25 years on Prescott Street.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
God, the last opening that I went to was such a long time ago, it feels like another life.