Flash-grilled: Cyrus Todiwala

By Sophie Witts contact

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled: Cyrus Todiwala

Related tags: Chefs

The Indian-born chef patron at London's Cafe Spice Namaste is also behind the Mr Todiwala's Kitchen restaurant brand. He co-founded the Zest Quest Asia student catering competition in 2013, and has an MBE for his services to education and an OBE for his contribution to the hospitality industry.

What was your first job?
Kitchen assistant and then bus boy! Back breaking stuff in Bombay’s busiest coffee shop, The Shamiana

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?
Biscuits, which quite honestly, I ought to be avoiding. But I simply love biscuits. Two at least accompany my first cup of tea around 4.30am and then I do try to resist…….mostly unsuccessfully

What’s the best restaurant meal you’ve ever had?
Not so easy to pinpoint one, although we have had several memorable meals. Most recently at The Dusit Thani in Bangkok on New Year’s Eve

What industry figure do you most admire, and why?
There are several but chef Anton Mosimann is someone I’ve greatly admired since I came across his first book in 1981. He is an inspirational figure and one to emulate. So began my quest to try and be like him. I have not succeeded though, but his simple approach teaches a managing chef how to get the best out of his team, how to inspire them and to make them leaders of the future. That was pioneering stuff in those days. Today we are friends and how was I to know that at one time we trained under the same chef though in different countries! Him in Rome and me in Anton’s Swiss homeland! Training under that man must have made him realise how important maintaining good relationships are

If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
I would be in agriculture. Or have something to do with plants and nature. Or perhaps some form of engineering. It was all this confusion that finally led me to settle in this great industry. Just by chance really

What is your biggest regret?
There are a few but the most hurtful is that I left my parents to seek a better life abroad when they possibly needed me most in their old age. I shall live with that guilt forever. Not having the right kind of brains to make money is the constant nagging regret

Pet hate in the kitchen?
Wastage of any sort, be it water, food or power. And the worst is taking the customer for granted

What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
That he would jump into the swimming pool and drown himself if I did not make him a mutton schnitzel! He did jump into the pool and my heart was in my mouth. Luckily a quick-thinking duty manager dived in and retrieved our demanding guest!

What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
Oh wow! What a question??? It is very difficult for a chef who is constantly evolving and creating and is like a little boy in a toy-shop when he sees different ingredients. When you see someone create a great dish you do think….I should have thought of that. But sorry nothing major comes to mind, although I have kicked myself a million times

Describe your cooking style in three words
Simple. Honest. Innovative. The best part is I asked my wife Pervin and she said exactly the same three words, but in a different order

Most overrated food?
Sushi

Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
Mobile phones on duty

What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
Someone told me once that he could cook better food from my book and my dhaansaak tastes like s***, to which I did reply, “I cannot answer that as I have never tasted it myself. But since you have, then best you stick with your food". 

If you could cook for anyone in the world who would you pick, and why?
Cook and have an audience with Sir David Attenborough so that I can pick his brains. Although there are others as well

What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Do you want a chapter or a line or two? First build your foundation. Better to keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut - but open to ask as many questions as possible. Be prepared to do any task and don't begrudge them, but learn from them and ensure that you always push yourself to go one step better. Try to achieve one thing good every day

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
I could live without anything, even a knife if I had to. But I do love my rubber heat resistant spatula and wish I could remember to carry one with me wherever in the world I am cooking

What do you cook at home on your days off?
I do not cook much at home. I end up cooking too much and then I get told off. But I do cook when we have guests and that is fun. Pervin is an excellent cook and I’d rather be spoilt when I get the chance. Don't get me wrong, I do want to build a state-of-the-art kitchen some day in my home and then create dishes I have not yet thought of

What’s your earliest food memory?
The smell of mum’s daal and rice on Sunday afternoons ….It is still my all time favourite food and will definitely be my last meal if I get the time

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My dad told me the way your life will mould itself is outside your control and in the hands of something much greater. So, don't make promises you cannot keep. Go forth and conquer, be honest, be clean, do no harm and help others

What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
Being hit by a car in Bombay and flying across the road, shaken but not stirred. Being pushed under a bus and the front tyres screeching and coming to a halt with my shirt trapped under the wheel, pinning me down, immobile but scared and in a state of shock. Thankfully someone was watching over me on both occasions

Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
Meet with friends, crack a few jokes, pull someone’s leg, have a great laugh, a few drinks and some good food

Tipple of choice?
A good single malt. But also a good cashew feni

What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
I said that earlier but I will explain in our language “Dhaan Daar Taraela Papad nay Vaghaar” - cumin flavoured rice, pureed pigeon pea lentil, fried papads, caramelised garlic and brown onions. If there is a Parsee mango chutney too then yes, my heaven is complete

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