Chef Interview: Vivek Singh

Chef Interview: Vivek Singh

We chat to Vivek Singh about his passion for seasonal ingredients, his London restaurants and how his background shaped him…

Vivek Singh, CEO and Executive Chef of The Cinnamon Collection, grew up in Asansol, West Bengal, where food and feasts played a big role.

Asansol’s Anglo influence meant that Christian festivals would be celebrated alongside Hindu celebrations, and Vivek revelled in the sights, smells and tastes of it all. He tells us: “Most of my childhood memories are about food or lots of people around food, but it wasn’t until later on in my life that I decided to pursue a career in this industry. Whether it was family meals cooked from scratch, packed lunches at school or community feasts, food was always at the centre.”

He says it was his “insatiable greed” that inspired him to become a chef. After hotel school, he worked for the Oberoi Hotel Group. He adds: “Whilst my greed may have got me into the kitchen, it was the buzz and the energy of the service that has probably kept me in!” Marco Pierre White and Raymond Blanc were a big influence on him, and he would read their books when he was younger. When the opportunity came to open his first restaurant, The Cinnamon Club in London, Vivek says that Eric Chavot was a helpful mentor who he would speak to regularly.

Vivek’s background influenced his cooking style, combining Indian flavours with Western techniques and ingredients. He’s now one of the UK’s most influential modern Indian chefs, with five restaurants to his name, including Cinnamon Kitchen Battersea. He is passionate about seasonality. “There is the notion that cooking with seasonal ingredients does not matter in Indian cuisine, so everything should be available throughout the year. However, the truth is that regional Indian cooking is all about hyper seasonality.”

The Cinnamon Club is known for its game dishes. Says Vivek: “I absolutely love cooking with game, and we were the first Indian restaurant to introduce grouse on the menu, which I’m particularly proud of.” Vivek has written several cookbooks and he still very much loves cooking at home. His favourite home-made dishes include Hyderabad lamb biryani, as well as his old Delhi-style chicken – one of his favourite things to eat.

Photo credit images 1 + 3: Johnny Stephens Photography

Away from his restaurants, he enjoys dining out. Any local favourites? “I love The French Table in Surbiton: my old friend Eric Guignard and his wife Sarah have been creating magic there for well over 20 years. There is also Dastaan in Epsom, which is a popular choice and always delivers.”

Much has changed since Vivek started out in his career. He says: “I come from a time when it was considered rude to have your phone out at the table to check an email or respond to a text message, let alone take pictures of every course from your meal. Fast forward to now when it’s considered rude not to take pictures of your food and ruder still not to post about it on social media. Having said that, the more that things have changed in the industry, the more things have also stayed the same, so great, well considered restaurants, quality seasonal produce and an all-round restaurant dining experience is valued just as much now as it was then.”