Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh both love food. They believe traditional British fare is among the finest in the world, while its homegrown produce is the very best money can buy.
Their passion for British grub is also the reason the pair, who call themselvesThe Incredible Spice Men, first met back in 1999.
Singh, a fourth-generation Scottish Sikh, had won a local cooking competition in Edinburgh and headed to London soon afterwards. His food philosophy – cooking British classics with an Indian twist – led him to seek out Todiwala, who had recently relocated from Mumbai.
Todiwala’s mission was to cook Indian classics using the finest British ingredients, and he quickly became known as one of the most exciting chefs in London.
Fast-forward almost a decade-anda-half and the two have just released a book, The Incredible SpiceMen, and have completed a five-part BBC Two series with the same title.
“We’ve thought about doing something like this series and book, independently, for so long,” says Todiwala.
The TV series shows them delivering a batch of recipes that are a blend of their cooking styles, while travelling the length and breadth of the UK in search of the finest produce. When they find an item they return to their kitchen where they offer up a spicy new recipe as an alternative to triedand-tested preparations. Todiwala and Singh say it’s important to let people know what they mean by ‘spice’. “What do you think when someone says that word?” asks Singh. “Everyone just thinks it means chilli, but there’s so much more [to it] than that.
“People already eat spices – things like vanilla ice cream, cinnamon doughnuts, nutmeg on hot chocolate, or pepper, the most common of all.
“Wars were fought for the stuff, explorers went all over the world looking for it,” he adds. “Spice is about all sorts of things, all sorts of flavours and interesting combinations that serve to enhance the taste of the main ingredient.
“We’ve used spices since the Romans were in Britain, but we’ve drifted away from that.”
The two chefs’ recipes include a goat-cheese tart flavoured with caraway seeds, and an orange and fennel Victoria sponge, which they tried out on the notoriously hhard-to-please ladies of the WWomen’s Institute.
Then there are the sstrawberries dusted with bblack pepper and cinnamon; tturmeric and cinnamon hhoney-roasted chicken, and ttraditional fish and chips wwith spiced batter, which tthey bravely served to a gang oof bikers.
“I was scared when they tturned up, I tell you,” says TTodiwala. “But they were ffabulous people and they ttook to it brilliantly. The mmain thing is they all said they’d order it again.”
Their spicy delights went down well with almost everybody, the exception being an ice cream-maker who wasn’t too impressed by the addition of chilli. “But she was pregnant,” explains Singh. “She was worried it was going to bring on her labour.”
He sums up their philosophy, saying, “All we want is for people to get over the hurdle of spice equalling hot, and to think about easy ways to liven up their food.” Todiwala adds, “Pick things up in the supermarket and try them. Experiment with an ingredient you haven’t used before. Let your palate be your guide, and try a bit of something different.”
To get you started, here are two recipes from The Incredible SpiceMen.
Tony Singh (top) and Cyrus Todiwala say spice doesn’t always