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Durban - Being invited to cook for Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, has to be a plum assignment in anyone’s career.
And for British chef Cyrus Todiwala it was just that.
It was also an opportunity to present Her Majesty with a spiced-up version of the old English favourite, shepherd’s pie. The occasion was the first official lunch of the queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations in March. The venue was Waltham Forest town hall and 400 people were invited.
“I was not given guidelines as to what to serve, so I decided on Country Captain, an Indian take on shepherd’s pie that dates back to the days of British rule in India,” said Todiwala.
After months of planning, and secrecy, the big day arrived. Everything was going to plan when Todiwala got word to say the queen was on her way – 40 minutes early!
“There was much running around, but we made it!” he recalls.
The lunch went off smoothly, the queen loved the pie and charmed all who came her way, Todiwala included.
It was not his first meeting with the queen. In 2000, he was awarded an MBE in recognition of his knowledge, skill and commitment to the restaurant and catering industry. In 2010, he was awarded an OBE for his services to the hospitality industry.
Todiwala, in Durban recently for the Good Food & Wine Show, is a celebrity chef and champion of real food in the UK. Born and raised in Mumbai, he was inspired to become a chef by his mother’s superb cooking.
“She was a village girl who moved to the city and she was naturally talented,” he says. “Many of my childhood memories are of the wonderful food we ate at home.”
The family moved to London in 1991, where they live today. For the past 16 years, Todiwala and his wife, Pervin, have run the landmark Pan-Indian restaurant, Café Spice Namaste. In October 2011, he opened Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen, the signature restaurant at the Hilton London Heathrow Terminal 5 Hotel.
Becoming a chef was the making of him, he says.
“I am dyslexic and, as a child in India, that was seen as laziness,” he says.
“I was not good academically, but I could do anything with my hands.”
Todiwala has taken his own experience and broadened it to help troubled children. In East London, he took under his wing “kids who nobody wanted”.
“Two of them almost set fire to the restaurant,” he says.
But he persevered and over five years, 960 youngsters were placed in full-time occupation in the food industry.
“Then the government pulled the funding…” he laments.
Todiwala is passionate about teaching young people the value of good food and was in schools long before Jamie Oliver revolutionised school dinners.
“Kids have become disjointed from good food,” he says. “Much of our food is laced with chemicals and it is too easy to buy ready-made meals.”
Good food can improve children’s concentration and behaviour, he says, pointing to studies that show that children who eat nutritious, unrefined foods, perform better at school and are better behaved. He goes into schools several times a year, teaching them the value of nourishing food.
“Their bodies crave good nutrition – good foods are the building blocks of society.”
Todiwala is a keen environmentalist (he helped to establish two bird sanctuaries in Goa), as well as a champion of sustainability and buying British, having won awards for his work in these fields. He is an adviser on the Prince of Wales Mutton Renaissance Movement and on the London Food Board.
He has a passion for education and training and has an honorary professorship and an honorary doctorate, devoting time to training fresh talent and nurturing the chefs of tomorrow.
This is Todiwala’s second visit to Durban and yes, he has tried and likes our curries and bunny chows.
The father of two adult sons, one an artist and the other an actor, he cooks at home when he gets a chance – and he is neat and tidy.
“I love cleaning up and I clean as I go along,” he says. “I can’t work in a messy kitchen.”
The evolution of this dish cannot be traced though I do believe that it originated in some swanky gymkhana in the days of the Raj and spells the heralding of the very first form of fusion cooking. It is a version of the great shepherd’s pie, only richer and more flavoursome. This is purely my own recipe as this dish too has evolved in the kitchens of Cafe Spice Namaste and my own love for really good, rare British mutton. - Cyrus Todiwala
6-8 garlic cloves
1tbs cumin, roasted and cooled
1½tsp coriander seeds, roasted and cooled
2-3tbs sunflower oil
1-1.25kg mutton shoulder, cleaned well, cut into large pieces
2-3 2.5cm cinnamon sticks or cassia bark
4-5 green cardamoms
4-5 pepper corns
3-4 large dry red chillies
3 medium onions, chopped
350g tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp salt, add more if desired
1 tbs fresh coriander, heaped
3-4 large baking potatoes, boiled and passed through a ricer
2 tbs butter, heaped
1 tsp cumin seeds
hot bread or steamed rice, to serve
In a blender grind together the ginger, garlic and the roasted cumin and coriander to a fine paste with only as much water as is necessary to make the paste.
In a large casserole, add the oil and heat. Then add the pieces of shoulder. Brown well on all sides until the meat is well sealed. Remove the meat from the casserole and add the whole spices and the red chillies broken into pieces.
Sauté for a minute or so on a medium heat until the cloves swell a bit and deglaze the casserole with a little water. Scrape the base clean and add the chopped onions.
Continue cooking until the liquid evaporates. Sauté until soft.
Continue cooking for five to six minutes and put the meat back into the casserole. Check seasoning and add salt as desired. Lower the heat a bit, cover the pan tightly and continue cooking the mutton.
Turn the meat after 10 minutes, add some water or stock if the contents dry out too much.
In either case, if the contents dry out too much or the onions are burning in case of cooking on the cooker, add some water or stock, if you have any, to loosen the contents at the bottom of the pan.
In another 20 or 30 minutes or so, the shoulder should be approximately half cooked. At this stage add the chopped tomatoes, mix well and if necessary some water or stock, cover and continue cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes. If in doubt insert a thin skewer or a roasting fork and check to see if the fluid released is running clear and the meat softly opens like a tear.
When the mutton is done, the juices should run clear when a thin skewer is inserted.
Move it on to a tray and also scrape any gravy stuck to it.
Check the gravy and remove the whole spices carefully if possible.
Cool the mutton and then remove it from the bone, shredding it as you go along and adding it to the gravy. Return to the heat and cook very slowly until the meat and the gravy almost dry to a thick consistency.
Add freshly chopped coriander, check seasoning and remove contents into a casserole dish leaving approximately 8cm or 10cm from the top.
For the potato: heat the butter, add the cumin seeds and let them colour gently but do not overheat.
As soon as the cumin changes colour, remove and add to the potato with as little butter as is possible. Ideally crush the cumin gently and then sauté.
Blend the eggs into the potato and cream them until soft and smooth. Check seasoning.
Add a little cream if you like to keep it soft.
Spread the potato over the lamb evenly, ruffle the surface a little, it does not have to be smooth, just evenly spread and bake in the oven at the same temperature.
Raise the temperature after a few minutes to get a nice colour on top.
Serve with hot bread or steamed rice.
Serves 4. - Daily News