Defin­ing spice

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

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

equal heat

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