Continuing with our ‘Meet our Ambassador Chefs’ feature, here we speak with Cyrus Todiwala from Café Spice Namasté.
Tell us a bit about how you got into food?
This will be a very long answer. To start I got into food purely by chance, as a young lad, just out of A Levels, I was very confused with what I really wanted to do. I had lots of likes and passions but no real direction and with not being very academic at all, choices in those days were limited.
Whilst doing research about going into agriculture, my sisters friend, a catering student, offered to take me to her college and suggested that since I was already so interested in food and in cooking why not give it a shot. Until then I had not looked at our industry as a career option and had no clue about its prospects etc. However, the visit to the college turned my thinking and so the drama began.
Cooking always interested me but above all playing with raw materials even more. I used to make pocket money doing daily shopping trips to the local vegetable market for our family and for our neighbours. I learnt how to handle and look at vegetables from a young age and I used to go to the fish market and meat market on the weekend with my dad. The throng of a market, the pulse of bargaining, the knowledge gained from being shown good, ok and bad all interested me, so let’s say in short I was very lucky in learning at a very young age.
For nearly three years as a child, I spent time at my uncles house in central India, due to illness in Bombay. Whilst there the urban boy became the rural boy for a while and enjoyed and revelled in actually seeing things being grown for the first time.
Our area produced some of the finest cumin, corn, peanuts, chickpeas, cane and lots more. The family gas station always saw lorries loaded with fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and pulses going or being transported to markets or processing facilities and the drivers always brought me a special bag of freshly harvested produce, thus kindling my passion for nature even more. All of this and the fact that we had a super gardener at the family home, who wanted to and did grow everything possible, added to my curiosity of seeing things grow. My absolute love for nature and some very good guidance from dad and other family helped to reinforce this.
When I enrolled in catering college and started my life as a budding caterer, the interest, curiosity and passion began to grow and take seed. Direct from college I was selected to join the famed Taj Mahal Hotel as an apprentice, although I had no idea how one made it to the top or whether there was ever a career in the kitchen. People simply did not leave their jobs and positions then and we never understood growth at all, we just did our jobs and hoped to get promoted to senior positions as time went by. There was no personal development, no further training and no indication of what it means to be a good manager until much much later.
Now here we are, 41 years of cooking in a professional kitchen later, and I’m not sure if I am there yet!
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Our religion teaches us three basic tenets and some other wise words, they are
- Good Thoughts…..Humata
- Good Words……….Hukhta
- Good Deeds………..Havarashta
Happiness to Those That Bring Happiness unto Others
Charity Until Death and Beyond
Create Wealth All Your Life but Die Poor
Parents always give the best advice and from mum and dad came honesty always and truthfulness. From the prophet came the words Always Tread On the Path of Righteousness. We have more or less always followed these principles in our lives and our work. Never give in is also one of our inherent mottos.
Another good piece of advice in our segment of the industry is. Never to look at smart and clever people as your ideal candidate. Often the meek, the quiet and the ones not presenting themselves as such make the perfect individual. Attitude is the key and the biliary to assess that is the master stroke.
I have been proven time and time again that many who look rather slow and weak make fabulous, stable, steady and cool tempered chefs and cooks capable of taking on greater responsibilities.
Why is Scottish produce so important to you?
Scottish produce is important to us because we use a lot of it, source a lot of it and reproduce a lot of it in various forms for the table.
The environment, the passion, the love and the quality that goes into the produce, which is amongst the very best in the world, is most important to us in our operation. So, in short, Scottish produce falls within some of the best produce anywhere in the world and we love being a part of that magic.
Have you discovered any interesting and innovative products lately?
Always discover new products and interesting ideas, which is why I like doing events and like to get producers involved where possible. The pride producers get from simple marmalade, sauces, smoked fish, cheese, lovely handpicked scallops, great haggis or black pudding, jam or any product helps to create better and newer products all the time. This excitement oozes from the producer into you and the compelling desire to make new products emerges.
One of my most recent great discoveries was when I did the recent dinner on The Isle of Mull. Cranachan Shortbread, pease-meal, smoked and fresh trout and so much more was available.
If you were abandoned on a desert island and could only take one Scottish product, what would it be and why?
Some great smoked fish so that I could hang it and eat it daily, little at a time, to survive until I found some other food and because it would not spoil in a hurry and keep me in good shape for a few days if nothing else. Besides it would I make me dream about the beautiful Scottish countryside, it’s fabulous people, its lovely surroundings and yearning for more of the same.
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