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Chef Interview: Cyrus Todiwala, Café Spice Namasté, London

We caught up with the charismatic chef to find out what makes him tick
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Born and brought up in Bombay, Cyrus Todiwala came to England with his wife Pervin in 1991.

In 1995, he opened Café Spice Namasté in Whitechapel, London; a restaurant which has built up quite a following over the years thanks to its vibrant Indian cuisine.

In 1998 it was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand for good quality, good value cooking – an award it holds to this day; testament to Cyrus’ unending quest for quality and consistency.

This ‘celebrity chef’ has been a regular on radio and television since the early noughties with appearances on shows such as Saturday Kitchen as well as his own series, The Incredible Spice Men, with Tony Singh.

He’s also cooked for the Queen, written a number of cookbooks, grown a little empire and collected an OBE and an MBE – not bad for someone who originally only planned on staying in the UK for 5 years!

How important is the quality of your ingredients?
For us, this is paramount! We will happily pay more for top quality ingredients. Sustainable food is very important to us, as is the welfare of the animals. Our suppliers understand our ethos and, over the years, many have become friends. When it comes to quality produce, you really can taste the difference: recently, I was blind tasting various Ronaldsay mutton, grazed in different areas of the Orkney Isles, and the difference in flavour was so obvious!

Indian food is just about spicing, yes?
No! My cuisine is firstly about purchasing the best raw ingredients, and then cooking them with knowledge – as well as using fresh spices, homemade pickles and preserves. The one thing that I teach all my new chefs is to cook dishes SLOWLY, SLOWLY, SLOWLY. This gradually builds up and intensifies the flavour – increasing the magical fifth taste: umami!

You have won many awards for your services to education and training, including an MBE.
Why do you put so much emphasis on training your staff?

I’m looking for individuals who can understand the ethos of Café Spice Namasté – they have to accept my standards and the demands that will be made of them. My experiences over the years mean that I am in a position to guide them. I am fortunate to have some great sponsors from some big companies; this allows me to help young chefs learn all about Asian food and flavours, by setting them up on courses and stages at some of the best restaurants around the world.

How do you keep going when you have so many projects on at one time?
It’s all about the key personnel I have working for me. When it comes to appointing people, I do not feel that experience is the most important thing – I like to employ people who have personality and values; whether they be cooking or serving. I have a dedicated team of forty staff between my restaurants, and it also helps that my wife, Pervin, is ever-present.

Dining at Café Spice Namaste recently, I noticed that your wife knew a lot of your guests. Is this always the case?
Yes! Customers trust us and know the standards we adhere to – and we receive a tremendous amount of regular and repeat diners (one diner ate here over 120 times last year alone!) Our menu changes seasonally, (with plenty of game, as this works well with Indian spices!) We therefore keep diners interested – but also understand that people come back because they liked what we did before. We have held a Michelin Bib Gourmand for many years now and having this is a stamp of quality.

You have a high profile in the media – this must help with the success of the restaurant?
(Cyrus’ wife Pervin answered this one): Cyrus’ first cookery book, Café Spice Namasté, is still – since 1998 – one of the bestselling books on Indian cookery! And TV work naturally helps keep him in the public eye.

Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
A new Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen is due to open at the end of this year in Canary Wharf (the first is at London’s Heathrow Airport). I am also going to be doing some charity work in Romania to raise money for an orphanage there and will be taking a well-earned holiday in January – a tour of Vietnam – which I’m very much looking forward to.

Twitter: @ctodiwala
Website: www.cafespice.co.uk

Photo Credit: Nitin Kapoor & Jay Rowden

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