The Taste with Vir: Famed chef Cyrus Todiwala’s culinary journey, his restaurant Café Spice Namaste’s closing and imaginable revival amid coronavirus pandemic – art and culture

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Whether you watch food shows on TV — or if you’re a committed foodie – then you’re going to realize who Cyrus Todiwala is. Even though you missed The Spicemen, the show he co-anchored with a Scottish sardarji in a kilt, the chances are high that you have read his cookbooks, which are simple to use and packed with foolproof recipes.

I have known Cyrus and his wife Pervin from 1981/2, when they were both at the Taj Aquada/Holiday Village complex in Goa. Those were simpler and happier times. The people who came to the Taj (particularly the Village) tended to be professionals from Mumbai and the super-rich had not yet determined to create a ‘Goa scene’. There were no imported ingredients to be had so Cyrus developed first, a kitchen garden and then, even tried to breed pigs. (In those days, commercially-available pork in Goa was once not all the time secure.)

 

His food was once excellent. He had come from the Mumbai Taj so he understood Western food .Partly as a result of his own ethnic background but chiefly because he had been made to cook for the Tata directors at Bombay House, he was once a master of Parsi food. In his years in Goa, he also immersed himself completely in the native cuisine.

By the end of that decade, Cyrus had vanished from Goa and when I next heard of him, it was once in London. He had opened Café Spice Namaste, which, together with the Taj’s Bombay Brasserie, became the most influential Indian restaurant in the United Kingdom.

Final week, Cyrus announced that he was once closing Café Spice Namaste after 25 years. The news created any such stir that The Caterer, the publication of the British F&B commerce, led with the story and in every single place the United Kingdom, foodies were left sad and despondent.

 

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The news isn’t all naughty, though. I spoke to Cyrus after The Caterer story caused a stir and he told me that he hopes to open another avatar of Café Spice Namaste soon. Three steady guests at the restaurant, (they have got been coming since it opened), Nick Gooding, John Minton and Howard Townson, have set up a Friends of Café Spice Namaste fund to help with a move to a new location and donations are pouring in. Cyrus reckons that whether all goes timed, they could open a smaller version of the existing Café Spice Namaste somewhere else by next spring.

So why, whether it has such a lot of loyal customers, is Café Spice Namaste closing? Polite, partly this is because the building where they were located has new owners who need to retain the entire space. But the closing may be a consequence of the crisis that afflicts all restaurants in every single place right through the pandemic.

 

In the United Kingdom, though the government has tried to help, almost each and every restaurant has run up immense losses (and they’re closed again now as a part of a second UK lockdown) and plenty of have quietly gone into liquidation leaving creditors holding bills that may never be paid. Cyrus has two restaurants at hotels, at Heathrow and Canary Wharf, either one of which are shuttered for the lockdown. And a small suburban Goan-Portuguese place he owns, which was once doing okay, has also had to shut. All in all, he reckons, he has missed out on 800,000 pounds of revenue since the pandemic began, which must be the kiss of death for any small commerce.

Obviously, I sympathize with him and hope that Café Spice Namaste will open again soon at a new location. But I am also —- speaking as a friend — rather proud of Cyrus when I see how loyal his customers are and what a big deal the destiny of Café Spice Namaste has grow to be in the United Kingdom.

Many top Indian chefs work in London’s high priced West End but Cyrus has been satisfied to stick to an retro a part of East London, convinced that his customers will come to him. He has refused to play the Michelin star game (though Café Spice Namaste has had a Bib Gourmand — marking top quality at less fancy places — for so long as I will be able to take note) and while TV has made him well-known, he’s lucid that he’s not a celebrity chef.

His contributions to Indian food out of the country are phenomenal. At a time when India was once represented in the West by a version of Punjabi food, he introduced Goan, Maharashtrian and Parsi flavours to his menu, keeping alive the spirit of Mumbai. He was once the first Indian chef to take top quality ingredients, from freshly-shot game to the most productive pork and show that they could still shine through from under all of the masalas. The British establishment has recognized his commitment to quality ingredients. He’s a patron of the British Lop Society (a Lop is a famed British pig breed), Ambassador of the Infrequent Breeds Survival Believe, Chef Ambassador of the Shellfish Organization, etc.

In all of the years I have known him, I have all the time admired Cyrus for his commitment to Indian flavours and techniques. Whether I post a picture of a Goa chorizo sandwich on Instagram, he’ll immediately WhatsApp to say that I must mix potato with the sausage (it sucks up the oil) . And in terms of the food of Mumbai, there is not any greater expert. He’s, of class lesson, the most famed Parsi chef on the earth, the JRD of Parsi cuisine, something that I incessantly feel isn’t recognized enough.

Provided the immense outpouring of public affection, my sense is that Café Spice Namaste will open again and soon. But will it be as influential as the first Café Spice Namaste?

I realize what Cyrus and Pervin are capable of. So I am betting that it’s going to.

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