When it comes to 2014 trend forecasts, I prefer to hedge my bets just a little longer. Plus, 2013 was a vintage year for me, and I’m finding it a little hard to let go. So please indulge me as I don my swankiest rose-tinted, Vaseline-smeared glasses and take a look at the moments that made the last year no mere timepass.
As the months ticked away, a lot of time was passed with Nilanjani Pai, talking, working and eating Damn Good Curry. Hours were lost to extended phone conversations, thumbs got cramped from typing messages on a touchscreen, and I don’t feel a single moment was wasted. Out of the kitchen, a great mate; in the kitchen, The Boss. And I couldn’t be prouder to serve supperclub guests her bindaas khana.
Talking of bindaas khana, everybody needs Angus Denoon’s Jhalmuri Express in their lives post-haste. Along with serving cones heaped high with cracking snack mix, the fantastic fellow is a bit handy with a camera. I was fortunate enough to see his film first-hand as I passed out puchkas and dished up dhokla at a screening of the splendid street food movie Angus shot in Calcutta.
Angus doesn’t just document Indian ingenuity; he lives it. At the Diwali launch of Carom’s Tea Light Lounge, the genial genius debuted his ‘Wandering Star Tonic Bar‘, brewing a trio of traffic traffic-light-hued infusions from a custom-built stall he’d built with his own hands. So impressed was my mate by Angus’ set-up that he set his heart on booking the Express as part of his next-year nuptials.
A new masala dhabba is always momentous, and receiving mine also marked the start of a new friendship with the sender – Sanjay Aggarwal of Spice Kitchen; the aforementioned groom-to-be. He might be new to this food business malarkey, but Both Sanjay and his mum Mrs A. have thrown themselves in at the deep end with gusto – and I’m happy to be able to help them learn to swim.
Across the pond, I discovered fellow Indophile Kathy Gori and her ‘The Colours of Indian Cooking’ blog… and also discovered just how small the world is, when it transpired one of her close friends lives just down the road from my buddies at Cinnamon Culture in Bromley. A much-anticipated meet-and-eat is in the pipeline for 2014.
A lunch to launch Cinnamon Culture’s October Game Festival was another much-anticipated meal. The multi-species menu was gobbled up by discerning diners including Joanna from Foodepedia and Fiona from London Unattached, along with supperclub chefs Selina Periampillai and Nilanjani Pai… and Little Miss Pai discovered she was rather more game for wild meat than she’d thought.
My mate Sabbir Karim is also game for showing off various species at his restaurants Namaaste Kitchen and Salaam Namaste; and the November relaunch of the latter provided an always-welcome chance to hang out with the chef. Receiving a pair of Asian Curry Awards soon after meant the celebrations carried on for Sabbir – a creative, warm-hearted chap whose news of his latest successes never fail to put a dopey smile on my face.
My frown is always flipped upside down by seeing brilliant businesspeople get their just desserts. A fitting expression when it comes to both Aneesh Popat, The Chocolatier who spent the year stuffing royals and us mere mortals alike with his cracking creations; and Asif Walli, who as his alter ego, the Duke of Delhi, was inspired to infuse spiced chocolate bars with his signature snack mix.
My friend in the North, Mike Tattersall, meanwhile, mixed up batch after batch of his multi-award-winning kulfi, even serving his Indie Ices to icy-eyed Paul Hollywood in the ‘Pies & Puds’ series on the tellybox. And, by all accounts, the super stuff got the presenter more than a little hot under the collar. Where next for this cool dude in 2014? Well, to serve his wares at Spice Kitchen Sanjay’s wedding, for a start.
Here’s hoping the union between Sanjay and his lovely lady will end up every bit as happily harmonious as Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala, who gathered the whole clan to launch Cyrus’ cookbook, ‘Mr Todiwala’s Bombay’. I decided to rustle something up from its pages for the occasion – only the ‘macchi’ ‘in the patrani I presented to the chef was a foil-wrapped fish cast in chocolate; a jocular way to wish for future prosperity.
More prosperity, please, for Kalyan Karmakar in 2014. My friend also known as ‘Finely Chopped’ has weathered a trying 2013, as he so delicately documented on his blog. He may be many miles away now, but Spring sprung Mr Karmarkar onto London’s streets – and into the lives of me and The Spice Dad. Sometimes it only takes a single shared supper; dinner at Mien Tay was the meal I feel that forged me a friend for life.
Another one of those ‘lifers’, that rascally old Angus Denoon, introduced me to another friend who’s now found faraway. Back in the summer, film-maker Paul Gomes was making a documentary for Bangla telly about Bangladeshi Brick Lane; where we met, pounded the pavements; chatted culture; and feasted on the food I subsequently introduced Bombay buddies to; stuff he’d not had in three years of living in the UK, and can now relish daily back in Dhaka.
The brilliance of Bangla khana was hammered home still further on a long, hot afternoon in South London; cooking a traditional wood-fired curry under the expert tutelage of Yasmin Choudhury; a one-woman powerhouse determined to drive interest in – and tourism to – under-represented countries. Miss C’s Christmas gift to me, a leather wristband from her Lovedesh atelier range, is a constant reminder of Bangladeshi beauty and bounty.
Brilliantly, more bounty was handed to Find Your Feet, as the charity’s supporters once again got our heads together in June to raise awareness and cash for the cause. FYF works with rural communities at ground level, and understands that it’s the little things that can really impact the day-to-day health and happiness of the involved individuals. Once again, I was chuffed to be a ‘Curry For Change’ champion, and am already scheming on how to make 2014’s campaign even more excellent.
All sorts of excellent opportunities punctuated my calendar – the chance to scribe fortnightly thoughts for Anjum Anand’s Spice Tailor site; being appointed food editor for the launch issue of trade title Ethnic Restaurant Magazine… not to mention starring in a super-glam photoshoot at my favourite hangout, Dishoom Shoreditch. Granted, no-one’d pay much for a mugshot of me, but the memory is priceless.
More Dishoom deliciousness at Eid and Diwali, with the signature storytelling session sending a shiver up The Spice Scribe’s spine; and paan and mithai sending me onto the streets on a high. And high-fives all round at the end of The Urban Rajah’s book launch, where I was honoured to help lovely Sri Lankan chef Indunil Sanchi feed Ivor Peters’ nearest and dearest.
Ivor’s ‘Curry Memoirs’ even made the finals of the World Food Awards; but it was ‘The Ultimate Nepalese Cookbook‘ that ultimately triumphed. The title has been close to my heart since my review connected me with editor Annie Watsham; and that heart was filled with joy on learning that I’ll meet both her and Gurkha super-chef Pemba Lama at Rajiv’s Kitchen’s next supperclub….
…Where I’ll proudly be serving Rajiv’s Nepali nosh to a hoard of hungry-bellied guests. I met the sweet supperclub chef when I waitressed at his streetfood feast; the first time I’ve been welcomed to work with the popping open of Prosecco. The tables turned at a Christmas do, when Rajiv presented plate after plate of the dumplings that earned him the title of ‘Momo Monster’ to me, Nilanjani, and our new acquaintance, the cheeky Spice Monkey.
More momos were in evidence at every Darjeeling Express event I attended as staff or guest. In 2013 I saw Asma Khan go from strength to strength; from supperclub host to resident chef at esteemed venues including Babur and Vivek Singh’s Cinnamon Club. Everytime we speak she’s achieved another aim – the latest a partnership with Tilda. Let’s hope she’s a head for heights – in 2014 I reckon she’ll be hitting some dizzy ones.
What else got me in a spin? Cramming down cake with top bloke Tony Singh at the Macmillan coffee morning chef Jay Morjaria hosted at Sutra Kitchen; copyediting ‘Devnaa’s India‘ – a Gujarati veggie cookbook from the sibling duo who make marvellous Brindian mithai; brilliant burfi from Sonia Chandsure’s ‘Indian Rose’, along with her melt-in-the-mouth nankhatai; and a heart-meltingly happy day celebrating Janmashtami at the beautiful Bhaktivedanta Manor.
So what will 2014 bring? If food writer Marryam Reshii has her wonderfully wicked way, a red-and-gold sari and a suitably handsome suitor for The Spice Scribe. Perhaps, but I’m equally excited to spend more time learning from the spice master Arun Kapil of Green Saffron; discover more of the Mauritian food I was wooed by when working with Selina of Yummy Choo Eats; and simply attempt to satiate my ever-increasing appetite for all things Indian food.
I hope you’ve savoured my whirlwind tour of the tasty year just past with as much relish as I have. Whatever’s on my cards for 2014, I’m so eager to get started that I’ve already rolled up my sleeves in anticipation of serving forth all sorts of banging Bombay bits and bobs at the next Damn Good Curry. I’d be delighted to dish up your helping – and it’d be my pleasure to meet you there.