Meet the chef: Talking food with culinary heavyweight Cyrus Todiwala
Cyrus Todiwala OBE DL was born and brought up in Bombay where his mother’s unforgettable cooking first inspired him to become a chef. Today, Cyrus is known for his refined, elegantly spiced and sophisticated cookery, enjoyed by royalty, presidents and international celebrities.
A regular on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen and the Radio 4 Food Programme, Cyrus is a renowned chef working internationally from India to Australia with four restaurants in London, including Café Spice Namaste.
Cyrus chooses to cook with organic and sustainable products wherever possible and firmly believes in ‘buying British’. He works hard for charity and the future of the culinary arts, and has been awarded both an MBE and an OBE.
He has just opened his first UK restaurant outside of London with the opening of Tandem in Leicester.
We sat down with Cyrus and discussed everything from his signature dish to his plans and expectations for Tandem.
What inspired you to become a chef?
My mother’s cooking when I grew up played a big part in my love and passion for food. During my years at college, I discovered that I’d be best in the kitchen as I always seemed to do well in cookery classes and seemed to be top of the class more often than not.
What’s your signature dish?
Perhaps what I am most famous for is the dish I created for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in celebration of their Diamond Jubilee tour.
Called the Country Captain, the dish is an Indian version of the British classic shepherd’s pie, which is made with slow-cooked mutton from a rare breed from the Orkney Island of North Ronaldsay – the animals live purely on kelp and seaweed. The meat is cooked with spices in a red onion and tomato gravy, topped with cumin-flavoured mashed potato and baked. It’s certainly a favourite!
What is your favourite ingredient?
Depends what you are classifying as an ingredient. In terms of spices I’d have to say cardamom but if we are talking about seeds then it is certainly cumin. I also love the flavour that fresh coriander can impart on a dish.
What inspired you to open Tandem in Leicester, which will be your first restaurant outside of London?
Leicester was the perfect city to unveil this new concept due to the city’s already diverse food and drink scene. Launching Tandem in such a thriving and rapidly evolving restaurant scene means there is already plenty of buzz surrounding our first restaurant outside of the English capital. Besides it was about time we took our cuisine north!
What changes have you made in Tandem in comparison to your other restaurants such as Café Spice Namasté?
We have two levels of service at Tandem. The ground floor will feature street food as well as Goan influenced Portuguese tapas, which will keep evolving as we go along.
The first floor will have a more formal dining environment and service, taking various aspects of British produce into consideration from the organic to the most eco-friendly.
Tandem is an exciting concept which offers something different to our other restaurants but takes inspiration from what we know our customers love. Food wise, Tandem offers a unique menu that blends traditional flavours that span the Indian subcontinent with ethically sourced, primarily British produce.
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
I’m a huge advocate for sourcing organic and sustainable products wherever possible and firmly believe in ‘buying British’ whenever possible.
What would you do if you weren’t a chef?
That’s a tough question! I’ve always shown a keen interest in agriculture and farming so it is highly possible I would have gone down that route. Whatever I would have ended up doing, I know it would be something in which I am needed to work with my hands.
When are you happiest?
I’m happiest when I am amongst friends and family having a good time. Life is so busy so getting the chance to relax and not be thinking about work is a rare treat, but for the most part I would consider myself a happy person and I make sure to do everything in my power to remain so.