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‘When it comes to food, Indians drive you nuts’

Celebrity chef Cyrus Todiwala, OBE DL recently conducted a masterclass on food at The River Restaurant in Baga. He chats with #TGLIFE about different cooking styles, why Indians are hard customers and his experience of cooking for the Queen of England

Story: BHARATI | PAWASKAR | 24th February 2018, 02:32 Hrs

Tell us about your recent master class  

It was phenomenal. We achieved more than just a demonstration and a class. We got great feedback. We had nearly 100 chefs coming from across Goa including some people who I had trained 20 -25 years ago. It was like a get together with chefs who I had seen 30 – 40 years ago and who have now become famous and in their own right. The whole aim of this was to share knowledge. Initially, when I started my journey in cooking, chefs did not want to teach us. However, I believe that we have to teach young people or else the creativity and success of our operations will not get bigger and better.  

What difference do you find in Indian and western cooking styles?  

The basic cooking never changes, because everybody started off from cooking slowly on fire. In the last 200 years western style of cooking evolved much faster than us, as a result they got exposed to inventions and creativity in new equipment, modern methods, and techniques and adapted to more efficient ways of cooking.  

Traditionally, Indian food is slow cooked and we Indians have a good sense of bending spices and developing flavour. Now-a-days in Europe, there is a trend of slow cooking but techniques have changed. We Indians are incorporating those techniques in our dishes.  

For example, today everybody looks at sous-vide. This is a technique of cooking at a very low temperature to have the perfect balance between meat and collagen which enables you to get right fibre within the product and the right balance of protein in the product.  

These slow cooking techniques were used by our forefathers 100 years ago. The methods changed with time but not the basics. If you go to catering college anywhere in the world, the basic forms like boiling, steaming, poaching, roasting or grilling never change.  

 What’s your most favourite dish?  

That’s a question I am really struggling with. If I knew I was going to die tomorrow morning, I would eat what we Parsi`s call a ‘Maurad Dal Chawal’. It is a very simple pureed dal, served with steamed rice, lots of fried onion, fried garlic and a heap of papad. It takes me to heaven. Over the years you learn that the simplest food is the best. There’s scrambled egg with just garlic, coriander and green chilly which tastes amazing. I love masala omelette too. Put a bowl of caviar in front of me and I am not going to refuse it.  

Wasn’t it difficult to choose to be a chef, especially during those days when you took up cooking as a profession? When did food take your fancy?  

As a child, I was always interested in food, and helped in cooking. Eating together was a ritual in our family. My interest began ever since then. The food that was cooked for me was sometimes made to suit me as I suffered from asthma, and my body could take only certain foods. Also my dad was friendly with people from different communities. So we got exposed to many types of foods. Food was always the epicentre to us and that’s where the interest started to grow even though cooking was not considered a good enough profession for a young person to take, particularly a Parsi.  

You are Deputy Lieutenant of London and had the privilege once, to cook for the Queen. How challenging was that experience?  

As a Deputy Lieutenant of London, it makes me a direct representative of the Queen. For an Indian it’s a big honour to be given that position.   

Inviting the Queen for lunch and cooking Indian food for her was the biggest challenge. This was on the diamond jubilee occasion. I had to select the venue (where she would come for lunch) and the food course too. I selected ‘Country Captain’ for the main course which is the British Sheppard’s pie, an Indianised dish. As the Queen is a very important person, her location had to be kept confidential, I had to swear my junior chefs to secrecy and also to make sure that the people who were running the venue took an oath of secrecy.  

That morning, I made the biggest mistake of my life – I took the wrong car to go to the venue. This car was not passed by the security, and they wouldn’t let me in. It was a tense moment. Imagine what would have happened, had I not been able to enter the property. Indeed, it was a great experience of my life and a true honour as an Indian, to cook for the celebrations and the Queen.  

Where does food get the highest respect? And why?  

Food gets the highest respect in Italy and France. There is no two ways about it. These people live to eat. I feel, Indians give the least respect, unfortunately. We treat the cooks and waiters shabbily; we don’t respect them; we complain and create havoc. In every establishment around the world, when an Indian goes for lunch or dinner, the chefs get nervous. If you tell me that the Queen and prime minister of England is sitting and there is a table of Indians over there, I will be more worried about the Indians than the queen and the prime minister. This is because the Queen and the prime minister will never complain but the Indians will surely drive you nuts.  

In Britain, there is a deep respect growing for the profession and deep respect for the food. Respect is growing for the cooks and the dishes you produce. In France and Italy, there is a lot of respect for the chefs and waiters. The people enjoy the food, delve into it and take interest in the food source. This is because the environment in which you sit and eat and the source from where the food came from, both are equally important, as these are directly related to one’s health. They either make it or break it.  

 Your plans for next year?  

My plans for next year are going to be much bigger because so many chefs have already emailed me saying that they want to get involved and they want me to start something bigger like an academy. It is going to be tough, however, I have promised to keep all options open.

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