Scotland’s Celebrity Chef

Khushwant Singh

Tony Singh MBE Scotland’s Celebrity Chef

17 August

The Edinburgh weather had started showing its true form, with torrential rain taking over the previous day’s bright and sunny atmosphere. I took a bus and reached Oloroso where I enquired about Tony. ‘You mean Chef?’ asked a young boy who was setting the bar. ‘Yes,’ I replied and I was guided to the kitchen where Tony stood dressed in his white attire with ‘CHEF’ stitched on both sleeves, ordering supplies for the day. Tony gets in the kitchen by 8.30 a.m. every morning. ‘Your clothes are ready.’


‘Yeah,’ announced Tony. ‘Change into the kitchen clothes, for you are going to spend the day with me, in here.’

‘You’re kidding me,’ I replied.

‘That’s the way we do it here,’ he said.

‘Yes, Chef,’ I replied. ‘Yes Chef’ is the buzzword in the kitchen. All staff, including junior chefs, replies ‘YES Chef’ as soon as Tony reads out an order, or probes them. Everything is set before they formally start taking orders for the day. Subject to change, there was a battery of seventeen chefs working in the kitchen, hailing from different continents. There was a Moroccan chef, one from New Zealand, a couple of local guys and the rest from England.

‘Dressed Buckie crab with Thai mayonnaise and toast,’ shouted Tony, as he read an order clipped on a glass pane by one of the waitresses. ‘Yes, Chef,’ pat came the reply from the concerned chef.

‘Will you help me with scalping out meat from oyster shells? I’ll teach you how.You hold the oyster shell tightly in your left hand with a napkin, with the cap side up. With a blunt knife called a shucking, the cap is then split open. Once open, the meat is carefully scooped out without leaving any marks on it. It is then washed in cold water, to retain its freshness, and placed back inside the cavity.’

‘So where did you acquire your culinary skills?’ I enquired.

‘The inspiration to cook eclectic was from cooking langar (community food) at gurdwara functions or at the house. Rest has been acquired from premier culinary institutes,’ replied Tony Singh. Though Tony’s strength remains making sauces, he has taken classes in chocolate preparation, has done a sugar course, level one and two from Jewel & Eske College, Scotland, a spirited course from Wine and Spirit educational trust at Napier University, and a yeast and ferment goods course from Greywalls. He completed his higher education from Telford College that opened his eyes to the vast cuisine variety available worldwide.

From Telford, he acquired an equivalent of City and Guilds 7061 & 7062 Hotel Management Diploma. He remembers dabbling in culinary activity since childhood; he even won an award in school that he had to keep secret because cooking was not a ‘boy thing’. After school, he started cooking at bars and pubs till he got his first break at the Balmoral. He is a member of various prestigious organizations like the Craft Guilds of Chefs and the Scottish Federation of Chefs. A couple of hours had passed scalping oysters till the heat got to me. With all the heat gadgets on, it was quite hot inside. ‘I’m stepping out,’ I said, wiping the sweat from my brow.

‘Hey, not in the kitchen,’ he said. ‘Fuck, we’ll be sued!’

‘Ok, ok,’ I said and changed back into my casuals. I spent the day savoring coffee and eating fish cakes with a white wine and chive sauce for lunch.

After the sumptuous lunch, I walked the Royal Mile, enjoying the activities of the Edinburgh Fringe festival till it was time for a rendezvous at Roti. Besides the peculiar location, as mentioned earlier, Roti is a quaint restaurant with a seating capacity of thirty. The restaurant is devoid of lush interiors except for its nicely arranged seating and a well-stocked bar. And instead of paintings, exquisite and delicate silver Rajasthani jewelry is exhibited on the walls, with a price tag. If you have a fat purse, one of the necklaces could be yours.

Another gorgeous waitress, of South African descent, strode to us for the food order. The menu is split into four parts: starters, bread, sides, and mains. Skipping the starters, though the Shaami Kebab on the next table seemed tempting, I decided to order the traditional Tandoori Kukkad, Dal Makhani and Naan (chargrilled poussin with creamy lentil and bread). ‘Great choice,’ said Tony, ‘because, I have got an authentic tandoor (traditional Indian oven made of clay), especially baked for the restaurant.’ The dish prepared by an Indian chef was served in an ivory color deep dinner plate. I took the first bite, and before I could comment on the food—for, in all my years of international travel, I was yet to come across more authentic Indian cuisine abroad—an old English couple walked up to Tony and said, ‘We believe that you are responsible for this extraordinarily excellent food? God bless, haven’t tasted anything like this in London. Keep it up, young man. Good night.’

September 2017

My meeting with Tony in 2017 regrettably was not in as picturesque a setting as the first, since much has changed in the last decade. Yes, Oloroso had ceased to exist. The creation now exists in the avatar of a Thai restaurant and perhaps still remains the most prized restaurant in Edinburgh. Sadly, it also no longer belongs to Tony Singh, who paradoxically in the years between our last meetings has risen phenomenally in reputation and unfortunately slid in business.

However, his business adversity, which also included the closing down of Roti wasn’t going to hold me back from boarding a train from London’s King Cross to Waverly Station in Edinburgh. That he is a celebrity chef, who in the last few years has metamorphosed himself into a great ambassador of the international food and drink industry is a fact of the matter−the MBE prefixed to his name, a clear give away of his rise. The Member of the British Empire or the MBE had been awarded to Tony Singh in 2017 as an acknowledgment of his creativity of combining Scottish produce and food with various world cuisines.

This meeting, after twelve long years, was fixed at his new business address, Tony’s Table, a pop-up restaurant at the Apex Grassmarket Hotel, Edinburgh.

‘What happened to Oloroso?’ was my first question, the desire to meet him in the surroundings of Oloroso clearly visible in my query.

‘It’s a long story. I should have sold it the moment I had bought out all the investors,’ replied Tony. He ordered an English breakfast tea, which would become the drink over which Tony would share the last decade or so of his tumultuous yet endearing journey. A journey that made him a household name in the culinary world, but yet so unstable, the seed of advent of which lay in the global recession in 2008.

Khushwant Singh