Yes. Cyrus. He of The Incredible Spice Men fame that’s sweeping the nation. The one without the kilt and who sings Calypso.
Of course, he has been around for a lot longer than just this series. He’s been in this country 20 years now, is a chef of great renown and even has an MBE and an OBE to show for it.
In 2000, he was awarded an MBE for services to the restaurant and catering industry. He was subsequently awarded an OBE in the 2010 New Year's Honours List.
He is Chef Patron of Café Spice Namaste in Aldgate,
and also now the creator of spicy pickles, chutneys and sauces over at http://mrtodiwala.com/. Alongside the amazingly patient and very sweet Mrs Pervin Todiwala, of course, who is a chef in her own right.
I will admit that Cyrus has captured the nation’s heart this year, along with his adorable friend Tony Singh. Spices have been a part of the British Empire for so long, that I think we sometimes forget that we didn't always have them, and these two gentlemen have brought them to life.
Imagine Christmas without the scents of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. The warming hit of stem ginger in cakes and the dusky heat of the ground powder in gingernut biscuits. Easter Simnel Cake or bread pudding with an abundance of mixed spice.
The English/Cypriot kitchen I grew up with always had spices of some kind. Mine still does.
Cinnamon goes with sweet and savoury things, nutmeg gets added to puddings and Bolognese sauces, or spinach and cheese dishes. Dried mint goes into halloumi pie. My roast chicken has a butter with cinnamon and garlic under and over the skin. I do tend to add ‘a little bit of spice’ to most things, as I just can’t seem to leave it alone.
I went to school with many Indian children, and spent a great deal of time in their homes, being fed delicious food by their mothers.
The Gujarati cooking of Honey Kalaria’s Mum remains etched most firmly in my mind; delicate spicing but such an array of flavours and textures. Nobody has ever made me tindora curry since then, but oh how I wish someone would. To her I owe the discovery of asafoetida (heeng) with potato, and sliced onions cooked with just cumin (jeera) and turmeric (haldi).
I had Sikh friends who invited me to their beautiful weddings, where we consumed vegetable pakoras by the ton, or so it seemed. Hindu friends from the Punjab who showed me roti (chapatti and I still cannot get them as perfectly round as they did), keema (minced meat) with peas and amazing vegetable dishes, and another Gujarati friend who gave me my first ever taste of sweet and silky srikand. From them I learned how to make spiced potatoes, by first boiling the potatoes in their skins, and then peeling, not the other way around. They seemed to retain a far more intense potato flavour that way. They also taught me how to cook rice. Very important, that.
I did become rather obsessed with Indian food, and our spice cupboard was stuffed full of cardamoms, cumin, mustard seeds, mango powder and other such delights. My mum and step-dad didn’t seem to mind though! Okra with mustard seeds was a favourite dish. It did actually get to the point where I only knew the Indian names for things, and forgot the English. Oops.
I love good Indian restaurant food, but I was brought up with the home cooking, and I do sometimes wish that restaurants turned more to the home cooking ways, rather than the Anglicised versions. I am fortunate to have visited a place called Bengal Village on Brick Lane a fair number of times, and they have changed part of their menu to showcase home-style Bengali dishes. Amazing flavours, hot but not overpowering, and a real taste of what Indian restaurant cooking can be, but so often isn’t. Their Chicken Shatkora (Bengali Lemon) Tawa just has to be tried.
Anyway, there was a point to this. I’m sure there was. Yes. Cyrus. Having watched his approach on Spice Men, to be invited to an evening where he cooked with another of my favourite ingredients, turkey, was thrilling. I met Paul Kelly last year, when we toured his magnificent turkey farm, and so I already knew how good the base product was. He also taught us how to cook turkey properly, and now I apply his principles to all my poultry cooking because it works.
Having completed a trek across London, doing battle with sets of roadworks at Bank, Café Spice was a calming haven. Welcomed with a peach Bellini or a mango lassi, Kavey and I took our seats as other guests started to turn up. I sat right at the front because there was no way I was going to miss any of this. Yes, I know, I never learn.
I couldn’t resist going and fawning a bit when Cyrus came out. I just had to tell him how good the TV series was, and to say thank you for it. MORE OF THIS SORT OF THING BBC2!
Paul Kelly of Kelly Bronze Turkeys gave us a lovely introductory speech, and then off we went. Turkey really is a much underrated meat, and it shouldn’t be. A turkey isn’t just for Christmas!
Cyrus is absolutely a delight to talk to, and so is his lovely wife. They were all happy to chat, and to share the whole experience with us, making it interactive, not just us sitting and watching.
This is Cyrus in full flow. There was a lot of flow. Admittedly being a chatterbox myself probably contributed to this a lot. Ahem.
Everything was laid out ready to go.
Note that the onions have the root cored out. Apparently those bits don’t cook down properly and so they take them out. Watching Cyrus chopping all of those onions at double quick speed, whilst not even looking was…unnerving….
And then…out came some appetisers.
Turkey samosas with a spicy tomato sauce.
Delicately crisped puris stuffed with turkey meat and topped with coriander.
Onion bhajias/pakoras with a tamarind chutney.
We should have realised that eating only one of each was the proper way to go. Oops. But they were so tasty!
The demo started with Cyrus talking to us about cooking with bits of the bird other than just the breast and thigh. Nose to tail eating, yes, absolutely. I wish I could buy turkey thighs to cook with off the supermarket shelf, because they are delicious.
We spoke about offal, and I believe I was pointed at and told “You’re Cypriot. You eat everything!”
Turkey necks are very meaty, and also exceptionally tasty, and so into a pressure cooker they went, with whole spices, to make Khari Gurdun.
Next up were the turkey livers. They are dark, stronger in flavour than chicken livers and more firm in texture but very good indeed. He cooked them quickly in a dry curry style, and I could cheerfully have eaten them wrapped in some bread with chutney.
We were shown a stir fry dish in the Goan style, and then some beautifully herbed light omelettes. One with tomatoes, onions and spices, and one more substantial with strips of fried turkey meat.
Cyrus was cooking up a storm, all the while talking to us about each dish, or about various uses of spices and herbs.
The came the turkey neck curry. Stunning. The meat came off the bone so easily, and was exceptionally tender and sweet. This is not a dish for people who don’t like meat on the bone, sorry.
The next dish was a kofte using minced turkey. At this point I gave up being sedate and went up to the cooking stage to get in closer with my camera. Cyrus very obligingly held the pan for me so that I could take a shot! Photo courtesy of @British Turkey there. Sneaky.
I did help by handing out the finished dishes though, so I didn’t feel like I was intruding too much.
Tummies were starting to fill. We looked at the rest of the menu still to come. We worried.
Out came more bowls and plates of steaming food. To say that the atmosphere was heady with spice would be to understate it greatly.
Turkey sheek kebab omelette roll, Mini turkey masala pie and Bhuna turkey dosa.
Then three types of Tikka. Mild, hot and OMG MY MOUTH.
This is Peri Peri on the left, which nearly killed me and Malai on the right. All three were beautifully tender and juicy.
Cafreal – almost iridescent green, so tasty but quite hot.
This is the Malai, my favourite both for the mildness and the taste.
Cumin rice – beautifully savoury and light.
Potato Dosa Bhaji – also very light, intense potato flavour, and gentle with nutty white lentils, mustard seeds and fragrant curry leaves.
Leeli Kolmi ni Curry – Red Sea king prawns, with coconut and cashews. DELICIOUS. When I go back – which I will – I shall be having a tureen of that please.
It was at this point we realised that dessert was still to come, and may have panicked a bit. Not least because it was getting quite late and some had trains to catch. This is the problem with keeping a chef talking when he is trying to cook. Especially a talkative one!
Dessert arrived. Saffron, ginger and cardamom creme brulee with fruit salad.
I dislike saffron and am really not keen on cardamom, but I really liked this. I could taste the saffron, and I admit that I could have done with a little less of it, but it didn’t stop me eating the dish, because it was very nice indeed.
All in all, I had a brilliant time. Cyrus and his wife are incredibly welcoming, and really made me want to go back and try the restaurant for myself.
Another lovely write up on the evening can be found here, at Snig’s Kitchen: http://snigskitchen.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/cyrus-todiwala-talks-turkey-turkey.html
Huge thanks to Cyrus, Pervin and the staff for putting up with us, and for the ever garrulous Paul Kelly and British Turkey for making turkey an excellent product again. More people need to realise that it really is not just for Christmas, it’s a fabulous ingredient.