Sunday, February 16, 2014

Wooing Westminster: Vivek Singh

-Shivani Mohan

Vivek Singh spurned family expectations to follow his father’s footsteps and become an engineer by surprising them instead and announcing his intentions to be a chef. After graduating from catering college, he joined the Oberoi Hotel group as a specialist in Indian cuisine. He first worked at their flight kitchens in Mumbai where 2000 meals were produced a day for various airlines. He then moved to the Grand hotel in Calcutta where he was fast-tracked to become the Indian chef of the Oberoi’s flagship Rajvilas in Jaipur- at the age of 26. Rajvilas was voted the most luxurious hotel in the world by Tatler in 2001.

Main lobby of Cinnamon Club
Since first opening its doors in 2001, his brain child, The Cinnamon Club in London has been redefining expectations of Indian cooking; Chef Vivek Singh has always pushed the perceived boundaries with Indian food and has looked ‘beyond authentic’. He has successfully liberated Indian food from the strait-jacket of tradition and crafted a brilliant marriage between Indian flavours and spicing and western culinary styles.
Housed in the Old Westminster Library, The Cinnamon Club
Vivek’s award-winning food has earned the Cinnamon Club in Westminster its place as one of the destination restaurants of London and has established itself as the most famous Indian restaurant in the world.

Following up on the success of Cinnamon Club, Vivek and his team launched Cinnamon Kitchen and Anise in the City in November 2008, offering the same great food and drink with ethos of creativity and innovation in more relaxed surroundings.

Vivek is widely believed to be one of the most articulate Indian chefs of his generation; he has written 4 books including Curry-Classic and Contemporary which was published in November 2008 by Absolute Press. He is a familiar face on television with regular appearances on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen and UKTV Food’s Market Kitchen.

Here's an interview with Vivek that I did in 2009. Do stay tuned for the latest at his end soon:

1. What is the latest addition to your menu?

Norwegian King crab claw with tomato rasam jelly, cured organic salmon , green pea and mustard relish

2.            The hottest selling item on your menu.
Tandoori king prawns with coconut ‘malai’ curry sauce, ghee rice

3.            One dish you are extremely proud of creating.

Pan fried Tilapia, a popular dish at Cinnamon Club
Our Pan fried Tilapia in curry leaves and lentil crust has been a winner all along.

Also Rajasthani roast saddle of ‘oisin’ red deer with pickling spices, beetroot crush.

4.            Which is the oldest dish on your menu?

Seared breast of Gressingham duck with Hyderabadi sesame and tamarind sauce

5.            Most expensive dish on the menu?

Fillet steak of Wagyu beef with morel and green pea stir-fry, saffron sauce, truffled cauliflower puree at £75 per portion

6.            Name some well known guests who frequent your restaurant? Their favourite dishes?

We’re also known as Westminster canteen, i.e. the favourite haunt of all politicians, so pretty much every one comes to us, Gordon and Sara Brown, Cherie Blair, David Cameron, Dr John Reid, the list goes on! Among others, Tendulkar, Pierce Brosnan, Jude Law, Botham, Jason Leonard, Jules Holland….I really can't keep track of what they all like!

7.            The dish on your menu that gives the most value for money.

I’d like to believe that all dishes on our menu offer excellent value but I would think that, won't I!

We have an excellent weekly changing lunch menu at £19 for two courses and £22 for 3 courses and its got to be a steal!

8.            The best thing about being a chef?

You get instant gratification, i.e. its great to see people’s expressions when they like a dish or their experience. Its great fun!

9.            The worst thing about being a chef?

I cant think… perhaps unsociable hours?

10.          The best home cooked dish you enjoy. Who makes it?

Super –stuffed ‘gobhi’ parathas….my wife Archana makes the best!!

11.          If you were not a chef, what would you have been? And why?

I’d have been either a farmer or a potter, I don’t know why!

12.          One chef you really admire and look upto?

My friend and two Michelin starred Eric Chavot…Why? Because I love his passion and energy, and I think he is crazy!

13.          What’s the USP of your restaurant?
The delectable Roast Grouse with Pumpkin Pickle

We were the first real modern Indian restaurant any where in the world. In some ways, we still are as we’re never happy with what we have, we just keep evolving and creating. For us, change is the only constant, and that I feel, gives us the 
edge where we are not affected by people copying our ideas.

14.          What do you like about the city you are in?

London- Is got to be the capital of the world! I doubt if there is a more multi-cultural, multi-ethnic  place on the planet. It’s a real melting pot of cultures from all over the world and that’s what makes it so special.

15.          One guest you wish to be able to create a dish for. Who would that be? And what would you serve him/her?

Not sure but if it was for someone living, then it would probably be President Obama. I’m a huge fan.

16.          Would you like to share a special recipe or two with our readers?

Sure, here goes.

(To be contd)


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