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The Spice Of Life: Chef Cyrus Todiwala

Mr Todiwala tells us why fusion Indian food is the next best thing

Written by . Published on November 16th 2011.


The Spice Of Life: Chef Cyrus Todiwala

IT’S a rare, but exciting moment when you stumble across a London restaurant that’s so welcoming you feel like putting your feet up. But this is something one restaurateur, Mr Cyrus Todiwala, aims to do well.

The Bombay-born chef who has earned himself an OBE and celebrity status for his expertise in Pan Indian cuisine, prides himself on injecting the warmth of his Parsee heritage into his restaurants across the city.

With an equally strong passion for education, he also promotes schemes for young aspiring Asian chefs and predicts a dramatic change in London’s Indian culinary scene.

The Parsee – an understated neighbourhood restaurant in Highgate Hill, and the Grade II listed red brick build of Café Spice Namaste in Aldgate East are two of three thriving eateries run by Cyrus and his wife Pervin. Namaste is roughly translated as ‘greetings’ or ‘good day’. And Parsee traditionally places emphasis on good thoughts, good words and good deeds. It’s no wonder devoted customers and members of the Parsee community all flock to enjoy Todiwala’s welcoming menus.

But how do his unassuming neighbourhood eateries translate into the focal restaurant at London Heathrow’s Five Star Hilton Hotel where he opened Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen just two months ago?

Mr Todiwala's KitchenMr Todiwala's Kitchen

On first appearance ‘Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen’ is light and airy, with the feel of a spotless purpose-built dining room. Yet, on closer inspection it appears that the character of its Highgate and Aldgate relatives may be evolving here too.

“It was great to think what Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen would look like when we first started the design,” he beams.

“Café Spice is very casual yet we get the top end of the City people coming in as well as government ministers.

“Mr Todiwala’s is in a five star hotel but I think we can achieve the same ethos.

“You’ll walk into the hotel lobby where the mood gets set differently, yet in Café Spice it is immediately very casual people feel very relaxed when they walk through the door.

“But I don’t want people to feel clammy and formal in any of my restaurants. So I’d like to achieve the feeling that you’re so relaxed you’re sitting in my own front room. Over time I think we can do this."

One of the ways this is achieved in Mr Tomiwala’s Kitchen is through the décor which mixes the old with the new.

Roy ElephantRoy

While Todiwala proudly explains that the floorboards originate from recycled timber from the decking of an old ship, he also explains how a 200-year-old wooden gaming elephant named ‘Roy’ became the centrepiece for his guests.

“He came over here from India with an old army colonel officer and was dumped in someone’s back yard,” he says.

“My friend Roy said could I buy it for the restaurant. I did, and I named it after him.”

It comes as no surprise that Todiwala has carried such a friendly ethos into his adult life. Growing up around many extended family members, there was never a lack of visitors around his mother’s dining table waiting to be fed. Food was such an integral part of life, his community became known as the ‘Greedy Pigs’. It’s now the namesake of a successful night held at Café Spice.

“The Greedy Pigs Club runs every five weeks and all the Parsees and regular customers come to enjoy dishes I learned from my mother’s cooking. I select what the customers eat and we don’t have regular seating. Often you sit next to someone you don’t know and that’s how the fun works.”

While he admits his first cooking experience came in the form of an exploded blancmange, Todiwala learned well from the maternal side of his family. His grandmother’s 'secret’ Dhaan Saak recipe (lamb and lentil dish) is served on his menus today.

But while the Indian chef stays true to his roots, he is also passionate about fusion food. During a recent appearance on Channel 4’s new daytime show Drop Down Menu, Mr Todiwala cooked an Indian-inspired bangers and mash, and is making a name for himself through his use of some unlikely ingredients.

“It’s something I do a lot,” he says. “The Indian take on shepherd’s pie is also on our menu at Café Spice and it’s beautiful.

“I love everything British. I have the best raw materials in the world at my disposal. East Ham, Wembley, Brick Lane and Tooting all sell the best Indian condiments and spices.

“But I also love a good old British fry up, a great roast dinner with good Yorkshire pud, or traditional fish and chips. And combining the two is great for India and great for the British.”

Cyrus TodiwalaCyrus Todiwala

Whether it’s his early education through the Cambridge Education Board or his first taste of British cooking in the kitchen’s of London’s prestigious Park Lane Hilton, Mr Todiwala has passionately earned himself a place on the London Food Board and Prince of Wales’ Mutton Renaissance Movement.

With an equally strong passion for education, he also promotes schemes for young aspiring Asian chefs and predicts a dramatic change in London’s Indian culinary scene.

“Indians are typically very secretive about their cooking, but eventually we’ll see Indian restaurants covering a range of culinary regions and they’ll appear with a much more contemporary feel.”

If Todiwala’s food is anything to go by, this is food that shouldn’t be kept a secret. We’ll allow him to keep his grandmother’s Daahn Saak recipe close to his chest. But his food says it all – everyone should join the Greedy Pigs.

 

Drop Down Menu is available to watch on Channel 4 and 4oD

Chef and restaurateur Cyrus Todiwala OBE DL was speaking at his new restaurant Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen at Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5. For more information, go to www.hilton.com/heathrowterminal5

 

Follow Lucy on Twitter @LucyAMcGuire

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