5Qs with Cyrus Todiwala OBE
Chef and Restaurateur
Cyrus Todiwala was born and brought up in Mumbai, India before moving to the UK in 1991. He is the Chef Patron and co- founder, with Pervin Todiwala, of Cafe Spice Namaste, Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen, The Park Café and Assado, which focuses on Goan-Portuguese cuisine combined with that of his Indian homeland. Cyrus has been actively involved in raising the profile and appreciation of Asian cuisine and founded a competition called Zest Quest Asia to encourage college students to find out more about the cuisine. This year he was also named ‘BBC Food Personality of the Year’ at the 2014 BBC Radio 4 Food & Farming Awards.
What new projects are you working on?
Well we just finished launching our first Goan restaurant with a hint of Portugal in it. It is a 5 minute walk from London Waterloo and for the first time the British public can try Goan fare in the heart of town. I will soon start work on my next book, due in late Autumn or early 2015. Work has begun on this year’s Zest Quest Asia, the new name for the Asian Junior Chefs Challenge which we launched with The Master Chefs of Great Britain. On our second year, we are hoping to get many more colleges involved. I have to say that The Incredible Spicemen, the TV program on BBC 2 last October, was great. Tony Singh and I enjoyed it thoroughly and we were really surprised at the following. We seem to have built quite a loyal fan base and it would be nice to think that the show is at least partly responsible for people starting to appreciate more how you can use spices in Britain’s favourite dishes. That is what really matters. But if we did do another series, that would be great as we still have so much ground to cover around the UK.
Could you tell us more about the Asian Junior chefs challenge?
This is something really close to my heart! What we are trying to achieve is to make young British students and those with permanent British residency take a deeper interest in Asian cuisine. With a nearly £4 billion turnover, Asian cuisine is one of the largest sectors in our industry and yet it still has a poor profile with little or no interest from young budding chefs who ought to see its huge career potential.
Sadly we seem to have failed our youth in inculcating a desire to learn more about Asian cuisine and how it can be the basis for a rewarding career. Zest Quest Asia tries hard to make that happen. It offers a great top prize for a junior competition — a trip to Asia to work and learn in a top hotel for up to ten days. In this competition we are looking at researching the country chosen for each course, the sustainability of the produce, the wastage and how they can minimise it, the authenticity of the dish but also their ability to present it in a modern style.
What trends do you see impacting the restaurant industry?
The industry is evolving in an interesting way. On the one hand we are seeing a rise in casual dining – less clutter and less fuss with simplicity and freshness. We are seeing a rise in people’s demands for sustainability and good procurement. We do also see a rise in vegetarianism. At the same time the fine dining sector is showing good growth too. In produce terms, chicken is king, and it’s time for proper free range, ethical, and Freedom Food Approved poultry to emerge.
What is impacting us negatively is the incessant burden of unnecessary legislation, and the rise in everything from insurance to energy bills, food and labour costs and more. It is becoming very expensive to run and sustain a restaurant business. As a chef, sometimes I would like to think it is just about what comes out of the kitchen, but it is actually just as important to know how to run a business efficiently and profitably.
What is your favourite ingredient?
I have to admit its eggs and coriander!
What new restaurant have you really enjoyed this year?
We found one by chance last Sunday a little chicken place called Clutch in Hackney near to Columbia Road Market. A very interesting concept and very neatly done too.
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