The other week I was invited to Poggenpohl’s North London branch for a champagne reception with a celebrity chef. I love Poggenpohl kitchens and plan on having one in my new house. In fact, I have already bought the kitchen but that is a story for another time. The celebrity chef was Cyrus Todiwalla, owner of Cafe Spice Namaste and co-presenter of BBC television show, The Incredible Spice Men.
Chef Todiwala was fantastic! Seriously, I’m a fan girl now. He’s really witty, charming and an amazing cook. I usually lose interest in cooking demonstrations (eating is my thing!) but Chef Todiwala was really informative. He peppers his demonstration with random trivia which holds your attention.
I learned more than I thought possible about onions and about rice, both of which are very important in Indian cuisine. Chef Todiwala says his four restaurants use about 11 tons of rice a year and so the man clearly knows a thing or two about rice. He suggests that after you start the rice on the stovetop you transfer the rice for the rest of the cooking time to the oven in a closed oven-proof pot. I’ve cooked Risotto in the oven but never basmati. I may have to try this technique because risotto is so much easier in the oven. In addition, he rejects the idea that you can not store leftover cooked rice. He says you can keep rice by cooling it first uncovered in the refrigerator. As soon as you cover it when it is warm, the moisture builds up and bacteria can grow on the bottom of the rice. By the way, did you know rice can go stale? I didn’t, but then again, we never keep rice around long enough in our household to go stale. Apparently, you can’t smell the staleness of rice unlike lots of other ingredients. However, if you hold rice near the light and it glows, then the rice is past its best-by date.
As for onions, Chef Todiwala suggests you buy small onions. Large onions just have more water and less concentrated flavour. In addition, larger onions are harder to chop because the sections split up. When you chop an onion, cut off the bottom but retain the top so that you can use it as a stem to hold the onion as you chop. The small cheap onions sold by the bag in supermarkets are the best onions. Finally, you should store onions in the wine fridge because that is the best temperature for them.
I thought it was charming that Chef Todiwala brought along his pre-measured/sliced etc. ingredients in little Tupperware containers even though he could probably afford some high-end variation of containers. It’s very Indian to have a whole collection of these little plastic containers. Most Indian households (including mine which isn’t very Indian really) have a cupboard full of plastic containers.
The appetisers at the reception were delicious. They were traditional dishes but with a modern twist which is Chef Todiwala’s signature approach. My favourite, though, was the lentil fritters which were even better than my mother’s ones.
Chef Todiwala’s demonstration involved some favourite dishes from his Parsi background using the Poggenpohl kitchen and Gaggenau appliances. (Parsis are ethnic Persians who relocated many generations ago into India.) Before our eyes, he whipped up a handful of dishes, including rice, a vegetable curry, a baked chicken and a pan-cooked egg and potato dish.
Poggenpohl had large-screen televisions set up to show the cooking demonstration throughout the showroom.
Chef Todiwala has several books to his name – Cafe Spice Namaste and Indian Summer both from 1998, Mr. Todiwala’s Bombay: Recipes and Memories from India (2013) and The Incredible Spice Men (2013). He says all of the dishes he cooked are in his books. For someone who is a fan of spices and has a television show about spices, he says you can get away with having only a handful of spices (coriander, chili, cumin, turmeric, cloves, cardamom and peppercorns) and still create amazing dishes. If you would like to try out some of his dishes, they are available on the BBC Food website.
Chef Todiwala is a natural teacher which is readily apparent. Probably a good thing because Chef Todiwala and Poggenpohl are teaming up to offer cooking classes at his Cafe Spice Namaste restaurant near Tower Bridge. You know I’ll be there!