Perhaps there’s something in the water of Asansol, West Bengal, or in the air, or some other ember of magic in the dying coal industry which once dominated the city’s landscape. Chef Vivek Singh, one of the city’s many luminaries certainly agrees. Like everyone else in his generation, a young Vivek was expected to become an engineer, following in his father’s footsteps. “I loved food, like the rest of my family, but I think I ended up in catering school mainly because the course sounded the most different from an engineering degree,” he says. The catering school he joined was the Institute of Hotel Management in Delhi, following which he got into the elite Oberoi Centre for Learning and Development (OCLD) for a gruelling two years.
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Singh, 45, is in the city to celebrate 50 years of OCLD, with Amranta’s chef Tejas Sovani at the Oberoi in Gurgaon. The two chefs will be reinterpreting Indian classics with modern techniques at the restaurant from January 18-22, the first of a series, which will have other OCLD graduates work with Sovani at Amranta.
After graduating from the course in 1995, Singh, stayed with the Oberoi group, working at various properties, and ringing in the new millennium at the iconic Rajvilas property in Jaipur as head chef. The new epoch marked new beginnings for Singh as well, as he teamed up with Iqbal Wahhab, publisher of Tandoori Magazine, a UK restaurant trade journal, to transform the historic Westminister Library in London into The Cinammon Club, a modern Indian restaurant, in 2001, which soon became a darling of the city’s culinary cognoscenti.
Singh’s marriage of Indian spices with seasonal British produce and modern cooking techniques proved so successful that more Cinnamons sprouted up around London. 2008’s Cinnamon Kitchen was a more informal space than its elder sibling, located at the erstwhile headquarters of the East India Company, with London’s first tandoori bar and grill. His third restaurant, Cinnamon Soho, which opened in 2012, blurred lines even more, serving up fare such as a Rogan Josh Shepherd’s Pie and a Bangla Scotch Egg, while 2016’s Cinnamon Bazaar drew inspiration from old world bazaars and souks.
“A decade ago, maybe a little lesser than that, you couldn’t help but notice how little had changed in Indian food over so many years. Now, suddenly the food scene is vibrant and dynamic, with something for everybody. You have the classics as well as a host of new dishes, ideas and cuisines,” he says.
Singh’s work as an author kept pace with the restaurant openings. His most recent work, Spices at Home, brings together recipes from his native India and his adopted UK. At the Singh home, menus are equally eclectic. “It could be anything from a humble khichdi to a Thai curry with seasonal ingredients. I’m blessed to live and connect with my past, present and future through my family.”