Chef Vivek Singh is a celebrated name in the culinary industry. For the past many years, his cooking has been thriving the hearts and souls of London with his four successful restaurants – The Cinnanom Club, Cinnamon Kitchen, Cinnamon Soho and Cinnamon Bazaar – each representing his unique take on the vibrant and cultural landscape of India. Also an author of five bestselling cookbooks, Chef Singh attributes his background as one of the motivating factors in guiding him to excel in a hectic and challenging profession. “Partly because of my background and where I come from, I can always draw courage from the fact that there are a lot of people all over the world who have it much harder than we ever do, and we really shouldn’t be complaining. That in itself is a huge driver for me.”
Born and raised in West Bengal, India, Chef Singh was introduced to a wide variety of cuisines only after he had completed hotel school and had enrolled in an intense chef course in India. He says it opened his eyes “to a whole world of possibilities and journeys that cooking could bring.”
With bountiful experience of two worlds, Chef Singh’s cooking is a remarkable tale of east of west which he beautifully captures with his classical notes of the east and graces them with the stimulating flavours and cuisines of the west. The year 2017, is filled with exciting events for this chef- from his latest book featuring recipes from India’s festivals to chef collaborations and new restaurants, there will be plentiful reasons for Chef Singh and Cinnamon to share the spotlight.
You grew up and worked in India and then shifted to London. How has your cooking evolved over the years?
I have had various influences with food throughout my life including memories of attending Bengali weddings as a child, to the trauma of having travelled in southern India as a 10-year-old, to loving Northern Indian style cooking when I moved to Delhi, to working with some of the finest chefs and ingredients at the Oberoi hotels, reading books by Marco Pierre White, interactions with acclaimed French chef and friend Eric Chavot, and of course the everyday simple cooking of my mother. My cooking style is evolving modern Indian, and whilst it’s rooted in traditional Indian techniques and flavour combinations, these are combined with western techniques and the very best seasonal produce that money can buy.
Your restaurants carry distinct moods and settings. Which one resembles Chef Vivek Singh the most?
At the very essence of each one of our restaurants, they all reflect an aspect of me. Being slightly contrary, cheeky and irreverent to tradition and customs, we are forever looking to challenge perceptions and push boundaries. All of the Cinnamon restaurants in some way carry this ethos of challenging the status quo.
The Cinnamon Club, at the time of opening, was itself an effort to liberate Indian food from the straitjacket of tradition. As it become really popular, around its ethos of using good quality seasonal ingredients in our cooking, and letting the ingredient speak for itself rather than drowning it in heavy spices or sauces, as we became more comfortable in our skin, Cinnamon Kitchen was born with a view of making the high end Indian food adventure more accessible to a wider, younger audience that wanted interaction, recognition and theatre in their dining experience. Cinnamon Soho’s arrival was taking that same accessibility to a different level. And Cinnamon Bazaar now is pretty much a reflection of how we live and work these days, which is a 24 hour, all day, all night buzz and energy that is so typical of an Indian bazaar. In some ways, they all have a reflection of my personality.
As an Indian origin chef residing in London, which ingredient do you think is the most underrated in the western world?
Turmeric – not that commonly used and yet possibly the most versatile spice known to man. It is a great all-rounder to have in your cupboard; it can be added to any and everything (most meats/vegetables/fish) and has great health benefits; an intake of tiny quantities is said to build up the immune system.
With a career spanning over several years and two continents, what would you describe as your most defining moment so far?
For years I thought it was the opening of The Cinnamon Club – the audacity of the idea, the romance of going for something which most people considered impossible, was a challenge in itself, and I used to think like that until quite recently. The time we decided to close down The Cinnamon Club for 7 weeks and undergo a refurbishment when the restaurant was absolutely full up to its rafters, everyone seemed to love the place and love the food, and the restaurant was booked up months in advance, it was possibly the most counter-intuitive thing that I’ve ever done, deciding to close down a very busy, very successful restaurant and trying to reinvent it. That probably has now taken over my most defining moment; the fact that we closed down, refurbed, took that big risk and re-opened, to even more success.