Vivek Singh

Vivek Singh

Vivek Singh

After ignoring his father’s advice to become an engineer, Vivek Singh has built a distinguished career as a chef. Known for offering some of the best Indian food in London, the chef aims to blend influences from tradition with up-to-date cooking techniques and presentation.

Vivek Singh was born and raised in Asansol, West Bengal in an environment where food was very much a central part of the culture. While his interest as a young boy lay more in eating than cooking, many of his formative memories are centred around food – from festivals and weddings to the daily multi-course feasts his mother would make. Twice a year, often when the moon was full, the men of the community would come together and cook outdoors. Watching his father cook – along with sampling the litti-chokha the men roasted over an open fire – had a profound influence on him as a young boy.

Vivek Singh had something of an Anglo-Indian upbringing, in part due to the still present English influence over West Bengal. Christian holidays were celebrated in their community alongside Hindu festivals, and he attended an Anglo-Indian boarding school. While the school dinners may linger in his memory for all the wrong reasons – think plain rice puddings and stewed mutton – the mixture of cultures he experienced both at home and at school had a significant influence over his approach to combining flavours, ingredients and techniques from both East and West.

As a young, man Vivek considered joining the Indian Air Force (his parents had aspirations of him becoming an engineer like his father) before choosing to follow a career in the catering industry, a move in part inspired by Marco Pierre White’s seminal book, White Heat. He attended hotel school in Delhi and his decision to pursue a culinary career paid off when, out of thousands of applicants, he was selected for a position with the renowned Oberoi Hotel group. Here he specialised in Indian cuisine, working at their flight kitchens in Mumbai and, later, The Grand Hotel in Kolkata. He then moved to one of the group’s flagship hotels, The Rajvilas in Jaipur, as head chef. During his time at the hotel it was awarded the prestigious accolade of Best Hotel in the World from Tatler magazine.

Vivek Singh moved to London and opened his first restaurant, The Cinnamon Club, in 2001 with Iqbal Wahhab. Set in the former Westminster Library, a palatial red brick Victorian building just a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament, the restaurant offers modern Indian cuisine in stylish surroundings with an admirable selection of wines and innovative cocktails. Such was its success that Singh has since opened a City venue, Cinnamon Kitchen, in 2008 and Cinnamon Soho in 2012 (which closed in May 2018).

When they first met some years earlier, Vivek Singh and Iqbal Wahhab had discussed the concept of applying French techniques to Indian cooking, and their restaurants are a testament to this original idea. In a broad sense, Vivek’s cooking style is modern Indian, in that, as the chef himself says, it ‘reflects the lifestyle, tastes and values of the young, modern and cosmopolitan India’. While there are clear roots in traditional Indian cooking methods and flavour combinations, these are paired with new techniques and seasonal produce from Europe – Anjou squab pigeon from France is served with pomegranate and jaggery sauce, Iberico pork with Goan spiced pork dumplings, for example. The tandoor oven is one of the most prized sections of his kitchen with fish, meat and vegetables coated in fresh marinades and cooked in its heat, absorbing the oven’s unique smoky flavour.

Menu items at The Cinnamon Club are governed by the seasons, and Singh has evolved his cooking to suit the desultory British climate. Autumn is his favourite season, and he has a particular fondness for game which, while steeped in Indian tradition, was banned by the government over fifty years ago. With seasonal game widely available in the UK, the chef is able to experiment, reimagining dishes from Indian history in a distinctly modern style. His Roast saddle of deer with pickling sauce is a signature on The Cinnamon Club menu, and the dish represents what the chef describes as the ‘perfect example of combining new and old, east and west, the best of all worlds.’

Vivek is also a prolific writer and has published six recipe books: The Cinnamon Club Cookbook (2003), The Cinnamon Club Seafood Cookbook (2006), Curry: Classic and Contemporary (2008), Cinnamon Club: Indian Cuisine Reinvented (2011), Cinnamon Kitchen: The Cookbook (2012) and Spice At Home (2014). Through his books, he aims to demonstrate that authentic Indian dishes are accessible to anyone, whether or not they have a background or experience in Indian cooking. He is also known for his regular appearances on popular food programmes including the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen and was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters form Warwick University in January 2015 for his significant contribution to the culinary landscape of London and the development of Indian cuisine across the United Kingdom.

Vivek is actively involved with a number of charities, particularly those which promote education and self-development, such as Wooden Spoon, the Prince's Trust and Action Against Hunger. Each year, he participates in the Curry For Change campaign, which aims to raise money for the charity Find Your Feet to help rural families in Asia and Africa fight poverty and injustice. He also strongly believes in training and growing talent from within his restaurants. The Cinnamon Collection does its bit in creating opportunities and growing its people via various initiatives such as in-house apprenticeships, management training programmes and the Mastara Chef Programme, an initiative to attract people from all backgrounds to take up a career with 'spice'.

As Vivek Singh says, his core philosophy is that ‘food does not exist in a void; it’s not timeless and does not operate in a vacuum’. The chef strives to keep his food in a constant state of evolution, with new techniques and cultural influences blending with aspects of Indian tradition until they become a tradition of his very own.