Jagdish Singh, exec chef of India's Castle, on passing the ginger test
He cooked in London for a few years, and then a friend -- a man he says is "like family" -- encouraged him to come to Denver to open a new restaurant: India's Castle, where Singh is also a partner. "I've been here for eight years, and I love it here. What I love most about cooking," he notes, is that it "involves multiple human emotions and actions. I have to be patient yet precise, bold yet soft and, most important, creative yet practical, and learning to balance these emotions and actions has to be the best part of cooking."
In the following interview, Singh weighs in on the ginger test, explains why Indian food deserves more of a following and reflects on the day he felt like a celebrity.
How do you describe your food? My food is unique to the palate, authentic in origin, exquisite to the senses and bursting with flavors from the fresh ingredients and the blend of traditional Indian spices used during each preparation. My experiences throughout my life, from the smells of my mother's kitchen to the bustling restaurants in the U.K., to critics' reviews in the United States, have encouraged me to cook and innovate all while keeping every recipe as authentic as possible. It's true that the majority of Indian cuisine is curry-based -- curry literally means a dish that contains sauce or gravy -- but there are many dishes that aren't curry-based, like the tandoori specialties or the dry vegetables, not to mention the deep-fried fritters and stuffed naan breads. And regarding all Indian food being spicy, first do the ginger test: If you can put a piece of raw, peeled ginger in your mouth, chew it and tolerate it, then you can easily tolerate any type of Indian food. Ginger is always the spiciest spice added to the base of Indian curries, besides the actual chile peppers or the cayenne peppers, and if the ginger is too spicy for you, then just ask us to make your food mild.
Ten words to describe you: Hardworking, charismatic, honest, determined, adventurous, optimistic, friendly, kind, committed and generous.
What are your ingredient obsessions? Garlic and ginger paste is essential to an Indian kitchen, and I find it to be the most aromatic combination of fresh ingredients that a nose has ever smelled. This paste will blow your senses away -- literally. If you just take a few fresh cloves of garlic and fresh peeled, or even unpeeled, ginger and grind them to a fine paste and cook the paste in some vegetable oil, you'll realize why I'm so obsessed. Even after decades of cooking, I still look forward to that aroma every time I cook.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: Mint. My partner Jay grows mint leaves in his back yard, and because we make a significant amount of the mint chutney for our customers, we like all the fresh and organic mint leaves we can get our hands on.
What are your kitchen-gadget obsessions? Sharp, high-quality knives and high-quality nonstick pans.