As an individual who employs alliteration on as my literary device of choice on a frighteningly frequent basis, the Cheeky Food Co. had me at hello. Or, rather, at ‘Tickly Tamarind’, ‘Messy Mango’ and ‘Silly Sesame’. I also admired the audacity of anyone who’d boldly and knowingly dub a product ‘Smelly’, as is the case with a pungent garlic pickle.
And then I encountered Swati Biswal – Little Miss Cheeky herself – had a good old taste test, and the deal was sealed; I am proud to loudly declare myself as an honorary Cheeky girl, and to introduce you to the lively, lovely woman behind the brand.
Who are you – and what do you do?
I’m Swati. I grew up in a large family in India and, after living on three continents, landed here in London to raise my family of four. I am a mother, a wife, an engineer, and a mathematician; but most of all I am just a very passionate, fun and hardworking person who – annoyingly – seeks perfection in everything.
Food brings back the fondest memories from my homeland, and so I founded Cheeky Food Co. where I an in charge of operations, finance, marketing, sales, tasting, PR… and pretty much everything for my young brand.
How did your business come into being… and are you as cheeky as you claim your same-named food range to be?
Cheeky started out of my need to find easy and quick ways to make everyday meals delicious, without compromising on ingredients or wholesomeness. I found it hard to make home-made meals everyday while looking after my young children, so I dipped into family treasures of pickles, chutneys and sprinkles that could be used to add flavour to everyday meals.
I speak before I think, which often lands me in trouble. I am so glad I can now get away with most of it under the ‘Cheeky’ umbrella!
As a fine food maker, it should follow that you’re also a fine food fan. Where do you love to dine?
An easy stop for us would be Saravana Bhavan in Southall. My daughters love the dosas, and we love that it offers proper authentic regional food from India – unpretentious, vegan, mostly gluten-free, and just kick-ass delicious. I’ve also recently discovered Mildreds in Soho, and love the chaat at Roti Chai – but that’s more for a night out with friends.
I stay far away from any restaurant that has a ‘balti’ or ‘madras’ on the menu!
Did growing up with forty five family members make you especially adept at cooking for a crowd? And do you care to share any mass-catering tips and tricks?
Not really. I only started cooking when I was 22, but I suppose most of my family recipes were designed towards easy mass cooking.
My trick to feeding a large crowd is to delegate; to people, or to your kitchen gadgets! If something can be roasted, don’t sautee it. If something can be blended, don’t chop it. You’re not cooking in a posh restaurant, so don’t think ‘pretty’, think ‘flavourful and delicious one-pot dishes’. And unless you are my grandma, don’t even think of cooking chapati for 20 people – stick to aromatic pulav or spicy biryani.
Do your recipes have roots?
Oh absolutely. All our recipes belong to either my or my husband’s family. These recipes have been in our families for generations and have seamlessly been a part of the kitchen and the dinner table for years. Often when people look at our sprinkles and say, ‘wow, that’s ingenious’, I have a little cheeky chuckle in my head.
Suffice to say, I quite like your condiments. Could I include them in every meal of the day – and if so, how so?
Our savoury sprinkles – Nutter Coconut, Silly Sesame and Pecky Peanut – can be sprinkled on salads, soups, stir-fries or even morning toast. Think of them as flavourful garnishes for rice or quinoa, as a spice rub for fish, or a special topping for roast potatoes.
The Smelly Garlic Pickle is a mother’s easiest ‘hack jar’. Make a big pot of soup, casserole, stew or curry for the family, keep some aside for the kids, and top the rest with Smelly Garlic for a proper flavourful kick for the adults.
What are the weirdest, most wonderful ways you’ve seen your products used?
One of my friends smears the Messy Mango Pickle on rice cakes and tops them with slices of cucumber to cure 4pm hunger pangs. Another has baked the Nutter Coconut into a slab of chocolate, and someone else drizzles the Tickly Tamarind on fresh tomatoes as a sweet and sour dressing. I suppose our range brings out the cheeky best in people, and we love that.
Picking a top product is a bit like choosing a favourite child… But do you have one that’s extra close to your heart?
It would have to be the Messy Mango Pickle. I am a total mango pickle junkie and just couldn’t find a ‘proper’ one here in London. So after a lot of moan, moan, moan, I decided to make some of my own. My husband taught me this recipe, so it is extra special to me. But shhh, don’t tell the Smelly Garlic – he’s a real hot head!
You share the specialty food scene with some awesome artisans. Care to give any of them a shout out?
British gourmet popcorn-maker Joe & Seph’s is quite a cool brand, and it’s so inspiring to see the company keep production in-house to maintain a premium, handmade positioning.
Perhaps Joe & Seph’s could create a popcorn with your sprinkly spice blends! Any secrets to share about what’s in the pipeline for the Cheeky Food Co.?
Ohh, I wish I could say. The response we received at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair recently was overwhelmingly great. There are so many brilliant companies we are talking to about working with in the near future, but it’s too early to reveal any more…
Cheeky girls aren’t backwards in coming forwards. Before we say a fond farewell, are there any chefs or foodies you’d like to cheekily invite to take a taste of your wares?
Jamie Oliver ! I love that he stands for easy, home-cooked, fun food that ‘sings’. It also looks like he is quite a cheeky chap. so would be a great brand ambassador for us. I hope he reads this!
I also hugely admire chefs of Indian origin like Cyrus Todiwala, Atul Kochhar, Alfred Prasad, and Anirudh Arora. They are such champions of regional Indian recipes from India and help put the days of chicken tikka masala being the height of ‘Indian cuisine’ behind us.
THE CHEEKY RANGE
Messy Mango Pickle
None of that sickly sweet sticky glue you get on a curryhouse condiment tray – this stuff is the real deal, made with sharp, toothsome chunks of green mango, crushed spice seeds, and just enough oil to make your lips look like you’ve spent time applying gloss rather than stuffing your face.
Smelly Garlic Pickle
Don’t mind the name – this one’s aromatic alright, but it’s not quite potent enough to earn a spot in Buffy’s vampire-slaying arsenal. Slow-roasting serves to both sweeten and soften the garlic, which is warmed up with a well-judged dose of chilli and made super-savoury with dry coconut.
Tickly Tamarind Chutney
If you’ve always been enamoured with sauces HP and Worcester, you’re already into the tang of tamarind, even if you didn’t know so. An essential ingredient in achieving that lip-smacking ‘chatpata’ taste, this jaggery-spiked, gingered sweet-sour chutney is as good with cheese as chaat.
Pecky Peanut Sprinkle
Podis are the South Indian answer to the dukkah of the Middle East – marvellously-coarse dry blends of nuts, spice and all things nice that add attitude to anything they’re strewn upon. This savoury sprinkle is almost pure peanut, with the final 2% made up of salt and a secret blend of spices.
Silly Sesame Sprinkle
You might not closely associate sesame seeds with India, but you’ll find them adding their roasty, toasty, beautifully-bitter savour to sweets, chutneys, and gravies – especially in the south, where sesame oil is a popular cooking medium, and where one suspects this garlicky, piquant powder would be a big hit.
Nutter Coconut Sprinkle
Ever used a coconut grater? They look like medieval torture devices but they do the job. Slooooowly. Better to let someone else dry those nuts out, chop ’em, roast the resulting heap of meat and grind it into a mind-blowing melange with garlic, salt and spices – like the Cheeky Food Co’s kindly done so here.
THE CHEEKY LITTLE STIR-FRY
In the cheeky spirit, I pinched this speedy supper from Swati’s site, when you can find many more recipes…
Serves 1 | Ready in 20 minutes
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil (or olive oil)
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, julienned
- 1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced
- 4-5 baby corn, thinly sliced
- 10-12 mangetout, halved lengthwise
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1/2 a lime, juice only
- handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp Cheeky Food Co. Silly Sesame Sprinkle
Heat a large wok and add the oil.
Once the oil is hot, add the onions and ginger while stirring constantly.
After 1 minute, add the rest of the vegetables. On high heat, stir the vegetables regularly. Cook for about 5-7 minutes till the vegetables are soft.
In a separate bowl, mix the soy sauce and lime juice.
Pour the dressing into the stir-fry, and cook for another minute while stirring regularly.
Serve piping hot, garnished with the coriander and the Silly Sesame Sprinkle.
- To visit Cheeky Food Co’s website, click here
- To meet ‘That Hungry Chef’ Pratap Chahal, click here
- To read about more great Indian condiments, click here
- For more Indian foodies’ restaurant recommendations, click here