Chef Cyrus Todiwala on his only Indian restaurant, collaborating with hotels, and his love for eggs
Chef Cyrus Todiwala talks about his love for all things Indian and his vision for The River Restaurant, Goa | #FirstCulture
He remains a Bombay boy at heart even now; 27 years of being outside the country have not robbed him of his innate Indian-ness. Cyrus Todiwala, OBE, Chef Proprietor of Café Spice Namasté, London continues to celebrate Indian cuisine, and flaunts his desi tag with pride. He was recently in Goa to celebrate his win at the TripAdvisor Traveller's Choice Awards 2018 for Acron Waterfront Resort in Baga, where his first and only restaurant in India, The River Restaurant, is located.
“Most young, budding chefs want to learn French and other global cuisines. Indian cuisine is not inspirational for them. We need to ask ourselves why. What is it that drives us Indians to copy others and lose some of our own Indian traditions, rather than seek knowledge, recreate and inspire others? It is all here in India,” Chef Todiwala declares with pride.
Given his love for India and all things Indian, after having established four premiere restaurants in London, it seemed logical for Todiwala to open a restaurant in India, where it all began. He says, “Goa was a no-brainer, as I have a deep love for the state. I was referred to the Britto Brothers by a very dear friend, which only further endorsed the depth and belief in our partnership.”
While most established chefs prefer to open their restaurants under their own name, Chef Todiwala took the hotel route. He explains, “Over the past few years, when I worked very successfully with the Hilton in the UK, it finally dawned on me that the best route to take is to work with a hotel, not independently. The lessons learnt in a less corrupt Pune long ago, to perhaps now, were not in keeping with my personal values. Being a part of a hotel or resort means that if the management decides to take on my name and what it brings with it, they know their responsibilities. Due respect and attention to detail are the key common values we share."
For someone who moved to the UK in 1991 on the spur of the moment, Chef Todiwala has come a long way. “My wife Pervin wanted to move abroad, so we decided to go. We actually got emigration status to Australia when the partnership in Pune was not working out for me and going back to another hotel was not an immediate option. I had several offers from all the groups, not least from Taj, who wanted me back on my terms. That year, I was voted as the Best Executive Chef in India, but it had to be scrapped, as I had downgraded from being an Executive Chef to go work with a friend to help establish a restaurant in a new venue. In hindsight, I think it was a big mistake,” says Todiwala.
But hard work, passion and dedication for his craft made him carve out a niche for himself in a foreign country too. In 2000, Todiwala was awarded an MBE for his services to the restaurant and catering industry. He was subsequently appointed an OBE, in the 2010 New Year's Honours List.
A humble Todiwala says, “It feels great that we can achieve so much in a land that once dominated us. You have to hand it to the British. You are allowed to succeed there, you may not achieve the same success in India. I do not think I have achieved much, as there is a lot to be done, but it is a great feeling when you are respected by your industry contemporaries. I think we need be proud of the success of fellow Indians in this part of the world, and I admire those who have made it through sheer toil.”
A strong proponent of all things local, he is happy to explore the heroes of Goa—the ingredients—at The River Restaurant. He states, “As a resort that caters to a multi-national patronage, we have a wide choice of offerings. While the main menu undergoes a twice-yearly change, the other offerings, from freshly sourced produce to special nights, to special Table d’Hote menus, evolve and change, based on availability.”
Todiwala further adds, “Let’s not forget our unique offering. The Chef tries to meet as many residents as is feasible and through that, he caters to personal tastes and special requests, which adds to the bespoke offerings and changes to the main menu. And this is what is rewarding.”
While he lauds progressive Indian cuisine and appreciates modern cooking techniques which have crept into Indian cuisine, the chef laments, “With so much to explore and delve into and learn and recreate from Indian cuisine, why then must I do things only to infatuate the diner with a factor that is neither here, nor there? Why can I not learn a little more about my country’s multi-faceted, diverse cuisine and wow my diners with things that are here now?”
He is happy to cook anything as a chef, as long as it means he is “enjoying, learning and exploring,” but his comfort food to eat is eggs. Todiwala says, “Eggs are my all-time favourite, being a Parsi. Just before death, it has to Dhaan Daar Nay Vaghaar or pureed toor dal with baghaar, jeera and daal chini flavoured pulav, lots of friend onions and garlic. With it, plenty of papad with a Parsi sweet chutney or Gujarati choonda.”
The River Restaurant, which opened in 2015 exclusively at the Acron Waterfront Resort in Baga, Goa, was adjudged the best resort in Goa. “Being voted as the best resort in Goa is special. The team at Acron Waterfront Resort is thrilled," says Todiwala.
He is happy about the way The River Restaurant, Goa has shaped up and is open to further expansion. “Mumbai is my birthplace and still home. Yes, if a good offer presents itself, then perhaps we shall have a foothold in the city that gave us everything, including the best parts of my formative years as a chef,” he says emotionally.
Recounts Todiwala, “In the early 70s, no one knew about their career prospects. Being a chef was a job that you got into and there were no heroes to look up to. The profession was not even recognised and my family became the laughing stock when I became a chef. People only looked at chefs as cooks. People wondered if I was going to be visiting homes to do their cooking. So, to become a chef eventually was a hard battle in those days.”
Life has now come full circle for this chef, who was asked to organise and cook for Her Majesty’s first ever diamond jubilee luncheon.
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