Singh for Your Supper: An Interview with Tony Singh, MBE
We join Tony inside his beautiful Edinburgh home, also the location of his popular Supper Club, to talk all things food and flavour.
Tony let us start by asking how you got into the industry, what made you want to become a chef?
Food. My family are all great cooks. When I was younger, if you helped in the kitchen you got extra helpings. So very quickly I picked up on this perk and I always loved helping out.
What was the first thing you remember cooking?
Well, the first thing I remember doing was helping my gran, in her kitchen. I would help with the lentils and the rice, and I would pick through the spices, to get rid of all the stones and the debris, as it wouldn't come ready-packaged. Working with my family was the first thing I remember, which was great.
You were brought up in Leith, in Edinburgh?
Yes, I was born in Leith, went to the local primary, to Leith Academy, and then to Telford College. So, I stayed local.
You are known for creating innovative flavours in your food, what would you say are the main influences on your food?
Oh, definitely Scotland's larder, which is the best produce in the world, and my Sikh heritage. The use of spices - being brought up around good food and seeing how spices were the easiest and quickest way to add drama and colour to food - is fantastic, and the rest of the world have opened up to them recently, which is great.
If you could only have one more dish before you died, what would it be? What would be your death row meal?
That is great that you asked, the whole thing with death row meals is in a fanciful world where you know you're going to die and you could have anything you wanted, it is not what you would have to eat, it is who you would share it with. And I would share a dram with my grandad, I never met him.
So, it is about the company?
Yes, totally. You could have a great meal or a cheese sandwich, and it is elevated with the company that you have.
And that ties into your Supper Club which brings together great company within an intimate environment.
I know the hospitality trade is a business, but so often you are in, you're out - you're a number. The essence of hospitality is to be looked after.
Tell us about a typical night at the Supper Club.
So, you book online, it is only 12 people so it could be any combination of guests. It is usually a wide mix of people who will come in, get a couple of aperitifs, always a champagne cocktail, and always a whisky cocktail - because you are in Scotland.
A lot of people have had bad experiences with whisky, so they are not looking to have more and are looking for something else; well, I don't give them much choice, they are having whisky. I always go for a take on a Whisky Mac or a Highball or something like that, or an Old Fashioned or a Sour but I'll make it a little bit sweeter or a little bit fruitier just to get them over the fear of having whisky. It is usually a blend or if I use a single malt, I will do something a bit lighter. I would never start with anything too strong; you need to work up to it throughout the night.
You can do a lot with whisky, with food, and with spices, but it comes back to what you want to get across when you prepare a meal. At the end of the day, you can go to the best restaurant, have the best mouthfuls of food but if you leave and still want to eat something else, that means they've failed. So how many courses you have, how your structure portion sizes, how you structure the intake of alcohol is important. When we know we are having guests who do not drink in advance we can tailor a non-alcoholic pairing for them to suit the meal.
Once the guests have had their cocktail, they sit down for eight courses with wine pairings and it's a great night. They pick their own music, which is great fun, so every Supper Club has its own soundtrack. From September to the end of 2021, we have created one big playlist which everyone has added to and so far, there are over 170 songs. The music is great. The only rules are that you must listen to the songs people have added that night, but if you ever come back and it is not there, then it was a rubbish song!
What do you like about inviting people into your home?
I like how it is completely different every time, and the good thing about it is getting to chat to them. Once it stops becoming fun, I will need to find something else to do.
You have also opened a street food venture in Edinburgh in August 2021. Tell us about it.
Yes, Radge Chaat. It is located in a converted shipping container in Tollcross, and we are looking at doing collaborations down in London.
Do you think Radge Chaat is opening your cooking to a new audience?
Yes, I hope so, because most people think I only do high-end cooking, but I do everything!
I have always done street food and pop-ups which has been a great passion of mine - it allows me to go back to my roots and share my food with anyone and everyone. It's great fun and Radge Chaat brings lip-smacking Indian street food right to the heart of Edinburgh.
In my humble opinion, if you live without spice in your food, it is like living in black and white. I think it is like drinking vodka and gin all the time, why would you when you've got whisky? People should embrace and try new things. Whether it be my food, or the Japanese fried chicken made by Kaptain Karage, or the fusion food made by Exile Cooks next door to me, if it brings anybody out to try different food and flavours, it can only be a good thing!
Do you remember what your first ever dram was? What got you into whisky?
It is not what got me into whisky, it is what got me out of whisky! When I was 18, I was up in Aberdeen and we were out drinking with oil workers, things got a little out of hand and I ended up being hospitalised. From then my body had a physical reaction to even just the smell of whisky.
The way we used drink whisky in the house, was very different. My dad and the "old-timers" all had whisky and thought a "European" two-finger measure was far too small. They wanted double that, and if they didn't get a dram that size they would have sent it back. That was the only way they drank it; they would never mix it.
That is one of the reasons I never liked whisky. I just drank it, I never tasted it. I was a Malibu and Lilt guy. But when I began going abroad as a chef and everyone was like, "oh Scotsman... you should drink whisky," I got back into it, and I respected what a fantastic dram it was.
Let me ask you about your TV appearances, you seem to feel very comfortable in front of the camera.
The live stuff is much better to me because it is unscripted. Because I am dyslexic, I find scripts difficult to memorise, and it is not in my own voice. I enjoy anything where I can chat and feel comfortable with people, and I just forget the camera is there.
When you are on Saturday Kitchen it looks so natural, just like you are round at someone's actual kitchen, just like here.
Well, that is the thing, you just crack on and you smash it, it is brilliant.
I caught you on the Amazon show Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham, alongside Outlander stars Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish, how was that?
Yes, that was a fantastic opportunity, and I was very fortunate to still be able to do it during lockdown! Since they had enough of a budget to operate while keeping everyone safe - sending my family away while the set was up at our house, quarantining in different hotels and testing everyone involved for two weeks - it was a tremendous effort and the show turned out brilliantly.
Sam and Graham were both great laughs and up for trying anything. It made the entire experience, and I even got to taste Sam's Sassenach whisky - outstanding!
You have had a varied and exciting career so far, what would you say are your proudest moments?
Apart from having my kids, getting married and all that stuff. I would say having Olorso, my first restaurant, open.
Being awarded my MBE at Buckingham Palace by Her Majesty The Queen was also pretty awesome. I was invited to a lunch with The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, and people from her household. There were only eight guests in total and it was brilliant, a good laugh.
How was the food?
The food was very good, and I got to see the kitchens; chefs always get taken to the kitchens wherever they visit.
What are your plans for 2022?
Well, I love television, so I would like to do more TV work. I was trying to do stuff with Cyrus [Todiwala, a fellow chef whom Tony has worked with previously, including on BBC Two's The Incredible Spice Men: Todiwala and Singh], I might do some Supper Clubs down in London and collaborate with him, so we will see. It is brilliant, all good fun!
To find out more about Tony's Supper Club, visit tonysingh.co.uk and keep updated with his latest projects @mctsingh on Instagram.
The original feature is from the Spring 2022 edition of Whiskeria, delivered to the door of W Club subscribers and also free with any Whisky Shop purchase in store or online. Click here to read the full Spring 2022 issue of Whiskeria online for free.