Vivek Singh: Pearls of Wisdom

By William Drew & Peter Ruddick

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cinnamon club, Cook

Calcutta, London and now New York. Vivek Singh, who came to the UK in 2001, says New York could be in line for a Cinnamon Club next year.
Calcutta, London and now New York. Vivek Singh, who came to the UK in 2001, says New York could be in line for a Cinnamon Club next year.
The executive chef and chief executive of The Cinnamon Club on expanding the London-based group, reinventing Indian cuisine and hitting the Big Apple. 

My cuisine is about taking traditional cooking techniques​ and Indian spices and combining them with the very best seasonal, local produce. But I am judicious with the use of spices. If I use the finest Scottish halibut, it would be a shame to cook it to death in bowls of brown sauce. 

Being a chef is more than a way of making a living,​ it is a lifestyle. If you get a buzz out of someone putting something in their mouth and nodding in appreciation, I cannot advocate it enough.

I came to London in 2001 to open The Cinnamon Club​. It was a pioneering restaurant that challenged the status quo, creating a tier of high-end, modern fine-dining Indian restaurants. Many said it would never work, but here we are stronger than ever more than 10 years later.

All you need in order to cook are three essential ingredients​: a little bit of intellect, a palate, and heart.

Cinnamon Soho is our expansion model​. It is not very resource-hungry, it is small, quick to turn around with 75 to 80 seats, has smaller rents and an incredibly exciting all-day offering that suits all pockets. We believe we could sustain eight to 10 in and around London.

We think the £35-a-head bracket​ [at Cinnamon Soho] is relatively unserved, certainly with the innovation and quality of the ingredients we use.

When I initially decided to become a chef​ my family thought I was mad. But that says more about the background I came from rather than the profession.

Some of the finest chefs​ that have come out of our kitchen happen to be non-Asian. A hunger to learn is worth a lot more than where you come from. 

We did a pop-up in New York last year​ with The Cinnamon Club for eight nights. It was very stimulating and energising. The buzz of the city is different to anything I have ever experienced.

The immigration cap ​is an opportunity for the industry to become a bit more structured about creating talent for the future. The ultimate beneficiaries will be us.

Cinnamon Kitchen is a more mid-market brand and we have plans for more​ – not this year but next year. It’s suited to locations in office areas, with a spend of £50 to £60 per head.

In New York, people sit down at 2.30am to eat​, with menus and wine lists in front of them – that is something I could never imagine happening in London. New Yorkers’ appetite for eating out is incredible.

It was so easy working in a five-star hotel in Calcutta​ to take the view that ‘cooking is beneath me’ and I may as well hold on to my clipboard and become a glorified clerk. It was a very real proposition and I am delighted that I didn’t go down that route.

The Cinnamon Club remains our flagship​. We are not looking to expand it in the UK, but there have been a lot of conversations after New York. We are looking at the possibility of opening there in the autumn of next year.

The Asian Restaurant Skills Board​, of which I am a member, has launched an initiative to attract people from all kinds of backgrounds to come and join us as an apprentice in Asian cuisine. Mastara Chef is an initiative set up to raise funds to put these apprentices through university.

Eric Chavot is still a phenomenal inspiration for me.​ I did a stint with him when I came to London and I find his energy completely mad. It’s great to see him back in London with Brasserie Chavot.

Food is about stories.​ One of my favourite dishes is tandoori-style salmon with dill and mustard served with pickled beetroot and green pea mustard relish. Fish and mustard reminds me of Bengal, where I grew up.

As far as favourite dishes go​, my mother’s paneer butter masala takes some beating.

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