The Cinnamon Club founder and perpetual dude Vivek Singh on the kitchen essentials that have kept him sane through lockdown.
Lockdown for most of us has been a rollercoaster. Aside from the uncertainty and challenges with business, I for one didn’t know what to do with myself for the first few weeks.
Then, as things settled, I realised what an opportunity this was. I thought I could do everything I’d ever wanted: learn coding; practise yoga; learn to play the piano; get fit and get a black belt; write another book; run the London marathon. It didn’t take me long at all to figure why I hadn’t done any of that stuff before. I either didn't enjoy doing these things, or, perhaps, just wasn’t very good at them!
What I was able to do was connect with my family through recipes. That’s what I enjoy and what I’m good at. I cooked and cooked more, reconnecting with forgotten skills and recipes (yes, I baked my own sourdough) and shared my love for people through feeding them. Having cooked in restaurants for over 20 years (we are celebrating 20 years of The Cinnamon Club this March) I still found cooking at home a very different experience. The different pace, limits around space, ingredients and of course the extent of washing up, and sometimes not being able to get all the correct ingredients when the markets run out! All this meant that I had to find alternative ways of doing things, which has been a different but refreshing experience. I discovered new favourites and some longstanding friends. Let me share these with you now.
1. Blenheim Forge knife
No one believes that things are still made in inner-city London! I was overjoyed when I discovered Blenheim Forge in Peckham, my neck of the woods for well over 15 years. It’s quite a find: a quirky place under the railway arches run by people passionate about knives. And that’s the most important bit: the knives are very, very good.
2. Holy Drops spice oils and extracts
These oil-based extracts are incredible! Check out Holy Drops for the full range – I love their saffron and masala chai oils, they add so much flavour to a glass of milk, a pot of biryani or a kettle of homemade masala chai.
3. Gochujang paste
This Korean chilli paste is my new go-to for all kinds of marinades, seasonings and sauces. Slightly salty, smokey and hot, gochujang paste is increasingly available in supermarkets and is a great addition to my larder.
4. Keelham Farm Shop ginger curd
I love this spread from Keelham Farm Shop in Yorkshire. It has a genuine kick and warmth that makes a difference from my usual strawberry jam. I like to spread it on to biscuits or shortbread (and even chapatis, I have to admit).
5. Lusso Vita anchovies
I love anchovies just to add punch, umami and knock-out seasoning into anything. This is particularly when I’m trying to cut out protein and meat from my diet. It’s a great one to bolster pasta dishes, or spike up mayo, for example. These ones are a little pricy compared to regular anchovies in the shop but they have considerably more depth of flavour and you use so little of it, it’s well worth splurging on.
6. Mortar and pestle
Every kitchen should have a mortar and pestle, even only a small one. I prefer my brass set: these are compact, relatively non-reactive and things of beauty. Don’t be fooled by the size; even if they appear small, it’s plenty for what most people need at home.
7. Various spices and special ingredients
I use some spices and some pre-prepared ingredients made by the very experienced food company Fudco. Their ghor or jaggery adds interest in puddings and desserts as a substitute for sugar, and I am particularly partial to their crisp fried onions which cut out at least 30 minutes prep time every time I’m looking to make a biryani! Among other spices, I use vandevi – compounded asafoetida to temper lentils and vegetables. For a lot of people reaching for vegan cooking, asafoetida (a gum extracted from fennel) is a great ingredient to include in your cooking (albeit in very small quantities!).
Check out Simon Rimmer’s odds and ends in the first edition of Shelf Life.
Peckham Cellars’ Henry Freestone on the contents of his actual cellar.