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Updated: May 21, 2014 17:02 IST

Reluctant Gourmet - Curry goes contemporary

SHONALI MUTHALALY
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Evolving with seasons Chef Vivek SIngh
Evolving with seasons Chef Vivek SIngh

Chef Vivek Singh, Director of the trendy restaurant Cinnamon Club in London, talks about winning hearts with Indian flavours

Chef Vivek Singh's signature ‘modern Indian' food forges new paths through old cuisines. After a stint as Indian Chef of Oberoi's iconic Rajvilas, Jaipur (a job he landed, despite being just 26 years old), he moved to London as Head Chef and Director of the elegant Cinnamon Club restaurant. One of London's trendiest Indian restaurants, it is set in the restored Westminster Library, a short walk from the Houses of Parliament.

As Cinnamon Club turns 10, Vivek Singh looks back on a decade of creating a new style of contemporary Indian food, that's not just chic, light and photogenic, but also loyal to its origin, while being relevant to its time and location.

When Cinnamon Club began was it with the intention of creating a new genre of Indian food in the U.K.?

Indian restaurants have a curry-stained image with hundreds of dishes on their menus and scant respect for quality ingredients and seasonality. In 2001, when I opened TCC, it was meant to re-define people's perception of Indian food and push perceived boundaries. These boundaries were not only in the diners' minds but also ours, which meant we needed to revisit and address our issues first. We needed to change ourselves first if we wished to be seen differently. For the sake of our food, our people and, most of all, for the sake of our own sanity!

You're a popular spokesperson for Indian food in the U.K., from Master Classes to YouTube. How do you promote authentic Indian cooking in a sea of bad imitations?

In my opinion, authentic means different things to different people. Indians living in India have to broaden their horizon. Indian people have been travelling and settling in different parts of the world, carrying with them their culture and family recipes, adapted to include local ingredients (Kenya, Guyana, the West Indies, Mauritius, the Seychelles, the U.K., and the U.S. being examples). Their adaptations do not render their cuisine unauthentic.

I stress to people that the one thing that makes Indian cooking unique compared to any other cuisine in the world, is not the techniques, not the braising (the French braise), not the vessels (most people use handis, pots and woks), but the use of spices.

The use of several spices together and in their various proportions is what makes Indian food complex and sometimes even daunting for beginners. If I can help people lose some of their fear or anxiety about spices, it's some achievement.

Is there an increased interest in Indian cooking?

Home cooking has always been around in the U.K. I found that when people had been to our restaurants a few times and formed strong favourites, they often wanted to learn how to cook these dishes for their family and friends at home, so the master classes are a great way for them to learn these dishes.

They pay in the region of £200 per person for around four hours, a morning or an afternoon of cooking in our kitchens and then a meal. And the classes are always booked out months in advance!

You're best known for your contemporary Indian food. How would you define your style?

I describe my cooking style as Evolved Modern Indian — much like me!

In its essence, it combines Indian spicing and Indian cooking techniques to the very best local seasonal produce that one can find. It draws inspiration from traditional Indian dishes, but deconstructs them into its most elementary parts, putting them back together to create layers of flavours and textures using local seasonal ingredients.

The cooking style does not stand still; it evolves with the seasons, availability of ingredients, etc. Therefore, it remains relevant in any part of the world.

Mix and match

* Roast Saddle of Oisin Red Deer with pickling spices.

* Fillet steak of Wagyu beef with stir fried morels and saffron sauce.

* Lemon and coriander cake with iced double cream.

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