Jagdish Singh, exec chef of India's Castle, on passing the ginger test
This is part one of my interview with Jagdish Singh, exec chef of India's Castle; part two of our interview will run tomorrow.
Jagdish Singh is prepping himself for a photo shoot, and he's not happy with the ski cap pulled down over his dark hair. He leaps up from the table, hurries to the kitchen and returns donning a stark white toque...embossed with Mickey Mouse. It's an American icon that Singh, the executive chef of India's Castle, wasn't familiar with growing up in Punjab, India. But his mother, who taught him how to cook, gave it to him years ago, and it reminds him of those days on the family farm. "I got into cooking because after years of watching my mother cook in our kitchen at home -- everything she did was vegetarian -- I realized that I, too, had a natural niche for understanding Indian cookery," recalls Singh.
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"I would experiment on my own and try to replicate my mother's recipes," he adds, and "if the aroma of my recipe wasn't similar to that of my mom's, I'd try again, and that's the process that really got me started on my cooking career." On the farm he learned value of hard work, too. "I was reminded daily that in order to put bread and butter on the table, we had to shed sweat -- and a lot if it," he recalls. "My parents tried their best to send myself and my siblings to school to earn an education -- and we all cherished the opportunity -- but as soon as I grew into my teens, I knew I could do very well in the culinary industry, so I pursued it."
He landed his first professional job in the kitchen at sixteen, cooking in a five-star Indian restaurant, where he stayed for five years before taking a leap of faith and jetting off to New York. "I wanted to go to a different country and have a better life, and I had family and friends there," says Singh. But the food he was cooking was very different from what he'd eaten and cooked in India. "The biggest difference was that people here, especially those who are new to Indian cuisine, assume that everything is a curry and really spicy, and that's not the case at home," he explains.
Still, he persevered, adapting his dishes to American tastes, and then after six years in New York, he packed his bags and relocated in London, a city that has a curry house on every corner. "I have a sister in London, who owns a few Indian restaurants there, and I was missing my family, so I took some time off from America to be closer to her," recalls Singh.