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Tony Singh: 'Anything that promotes sharing recipes, getting people around the table is great'
- Deborah Chu
- 12 October 2020
The chef discusses his new weekend meal service Singh 4 Your Supper, and the comfort of food during troubling times
Like many of us during the initial shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, chef Tony Singh and his family turned to bread baking, with a hearty schmear of butter on top. 'I love Graham's butter – good, salted Scottish butter. My kids are always telling me, "that's too much", and I explain that the right amount of butter is when you leave teeth marks after you bite into it,' he says, laughing.
Times have been difficult, and we've all had to find ways to sustain ourselves through the endless uncertainty of lockdown. Through the course of our conversation, it becomes clear what's kept Singh going: love of family, and love of food. Now he hopes to bring a bit of both to our tables through his new weekend meal service Singh 4 Your Supper, whereby Edinburgh and Leith residents can enjoy the same dishes that Singh whips up for his family that weekend, cooked in his own kitchen for your table.
Serving up a different set menu each week, a pair of hungry diners can feast upon four dishes and four sides that exemplify the hearty, delicious home cooking that graces the Singh family's own dinner table. On the menu for the first weekend is an aromatic Malabar Coast fish curry and a rich Punjabi chicken murgh masala, served alongside his wife's spicy pickled onions and his family's favourite pudding, gulab jamun – fried dough balls soaked in a sweet syrup – for dessert.
This sort of home-style cooking appeals to Singh because, for him, food is as much about the heart and the mind as it is about the stomach. 'My family have been revisiting old favourites [during lockdown],' he says. 'It's cooked really long and slow, and then it's just about getting around the table. And the memories it evokes –' Singh sighs. '– you cannae beat it.' Though restrictions have ebbed and flowed since March, he's aware that not everyone has been able to take advantage of lockdown easing in the same way. 'People's security and anxiousness is coming to the forefront again,' he says. 'Restaurants are open, but you've still got to think about the community that's still high-risk or feel unsafe.' (Since we've spoken, the First Minister has announced the closure of all restaurants and bars in the central belt.)
Through the good home cooking of Singh 4 Your Supper, Singh hopes to bring a spot of comfort, joy and connection to isolated residents across the city, and those who are familiar with his work will know that this community-mindedness has been a running theme throughout his career. As a born-and-bred Leither, Singh made his name as a champion of Scotland's larder, enlivening the best in seasonal ingredients with his signature fusion of Asian flavours. His suppliers are all local stalwarts in Scottish produce – even his salt is sourced no further than East Neuk. This passion took him to posts across the capital's culinary hotspots, such as the Balmoral, Skibo Castle, the Royal Scotsman and the Royal Yacht Britannia, before his talents came into full-flourish at his much-lauded restaurant Oloroso and his popular pop-up at The Apex.
The latest feather in his cap was his supper club, in which he hosted intimate groups of twelve in his own home. The pandemic has put a kibosh on that for now, but there's not much that can keep Singh down, especially when there's hungry mouths to feed. At the height of lockdown, he and his local suppliers focused their energies on feeding frontline workers through the charity Help Them Help Us. But for Singh, cooking and eating food should be about more than just about satisfying your hunger – it can also cultivate the spirit and keep us curious.
'With lockdown, there's been lots of people learning to cook, which is great and is going to make the industry lift their game up. You can't just go out and cook a bit of fish and crushed potatoes and a bit of pesto, because people [at home] know how to do that now,' he says. 'Anything that promotes you to look at food history, share recipes, getting people around the table is great, so I love that people are getting into their cooking.'
Indeed, during this period of isolation, the memories and comfort that food evokes has been an important emotional tether. When asked about his lockdown comfort food, Singh reminisces about the jam-filled rock cakes his mum used to make during his childhood ('I grabbed one and stuck it straight in my mouth, basically got third-degree burns on my lip.'). Happily his parents currently live across the road, 'And we've been swapping stuff, but that's stopped now because you can't go into other people's houses again. But we've got a table outside so we'll put everything down there, and we'll go away, and they'll come out and take it,' Singh laughs. 'It's a dodgy food deal on the border!'
Unfortunately for some of us, our loved ones and rock cakes are a bit less accessible. But don't worry: Singh 4 Your Supper is here to make sure you're well fed, in both body and spirit. 'If you have to bring out tweezers for food, you've got it wrong!' Singh exclaims. 'If you've had a mouthful of the most amazing, the best thing you've ever eaten, but you're hungry and you have to go out and buy a bag of chips afterwards, they've failed. Anyone can make one mouthful of great food – it's how you keep interested in that dish for the meal, for the conversation.'
Singh 4 Your Supper is available for orders this weekend, each menu is priced at £60 and feeds two people. Orders are for collection only, find out more at mctsingh.com.