Cyrus Todiwala talks to Time Out about the Jumeirah Festival of Taste, his plans for next year and why cooking will always be in his soul.
This is your first time at the Festival of Taste. How does it feel? I’m very excited about the trip. It’s great to befriend new people in the kitchen.
What will you bring to the event? Maybe I’ll be the odd one out, because the other food will be mostly French and British influence, so my cuisine will be a breath of fresh air. My food will be there, shouting out, ‘Hey, look at me.’
What do you plan to eat while you’re here? Arabic street food. Why street food? Coming from India, I feel that street food tells you a lot about a place. Food stands aren’t frequented by the rich, but by locals, and it tells you what the locals eat. It’s food as people want it at home; it’s not spruced up or made to look fancy.
What do you think of the Indian food here? You can get good southern Indian food for a fact, because half of Kerala is living over here.
You’ve been cooking Indian food in London for more than 15 years. How has the British attitude towards Indian food changed? There’s been a big shift; people want authenticity. That’s why the industry has a problem, because they can’t get the manpower. The government has put a freeze on getting skilled manpower from outside of the UK, and you won’t find that many young British people who want to take ethnic cuisine as a career. Everyone is enamoured by French and modern British cuisine. Youngsters are thrilled about putting something fancy on a plate rather than something wholesome and nourishing. Where do you see Indian food going in the future? In India, there’s a big mushrooming of classical cuisine from different regions. In Bombay, you can get food from south India, or west India. I can see that gradually transpiring this way. People are clinging to the idea that we must do more region-specific cuisine. I think, looking forward five or six years, you’ll find a bigger growth of restaurants that want to identify themselves with a region. Rather than having a general bill of Indian food, they will be identified as Indian, but Goan, or Indian, but from the south. You’re very passionate about sourcing your ingredients locally. How do you feel about the fact that Dubai imports so much food? Dubai is working to flat out conquer the world, and they don’t always look at the finer details. The rate that Dubai is growing shocks and scares me. I don’t want to sound negative about a place that is becoming a real tourist hub, but that in and of itself adds to the massive carbon footprint. The city is going to have to look at becoming environmentally friendly.
Any plans to open up a restaurant here? I’d love to. If a nice flashy hotel offered me the opportunity, I’d jump at it. I think I could create a niche over here. In England, I make Indian food using local British produce. In Dubai, I’d just use local produce to create my menu, with items from the Middle East. I’m all for using produce that will help a community sustain itself.
Cyrus Todiwala’s London restaurant, Café Spice Namasté, serves mainly organic and local produce. In 2005, Frommers London Guide named Café Spice as their ‘Favourite Indian Restaurant’, while Tatler cited Café Spice as one of the best restaurants in the capital serving Subcontinental cuisine.