Scotland’s Celebrity Chef

Khushwant Singh

Tony Singh MBE Scotland’s Celebrity Chef

That the 2008 meltdown, which brought peril to the world economy, also triggered the downfall of Oloroso is what I could gather from Tony’s conversation. ‘Damn, they canceled all those credit cards of the corporate honchos overnight,’ said Tony in his studded Lothian accent. This economic slide suddenly saw the dining guest list drop and the tumble kept getting bigger, till Oloroso was no longer financially viable. ‘We bought out our investors in 2005 and in hindsight that’s the time I should have sold Oloroso,’ says Tony. ‘But it’s very difficult to let go of something that you have created with so much passion and love,’ he adds, reminiscing. ‘I was very proud of what I had created,’ he says, even though his other project, Tony’s Table bistro in Edinburgh’s New Town after running into financial problems years had shut down two years ago.

Tony tried his best to hold on to Oloroso, but thanks to the meltdown the world no longer saw dining out as normal. They saw dining at Oloroso as a luxury as it was top end. In a desperate attempt to save it Tony even requested one of his friends, Chris Potts to help him run the business. They tried to hold on to Oloroso, but eventually Tony had to part ways with his dream creation in 2013.

As every adversity also presents an opportunity, Tony was lucky to get one alongside his roller coaster ride. His reputation as one of the great Scottish chefs had reached far and wide and he had started getting media attention. The difficult phase had also convinced him that fine dining was not the area he would get into. He was convinced that punters were no longer looking for Michelin starred top-end cuisine but food that was fun, top quality, delicious, and captured the dynamic vibe of the area.

During this phase, several television channels approached Tony for food talk shows and documentaries. The massive break that would give him big time international acclaim came in 2015 when he teamed up with Cyrus Todiwala, another renowned London-based Parsi chef.

His new career soon acquired the title linked to his passion for spices. Along with Chef Cyrus Todiwala, Tony embarked on a journey of spreading their message of Indian spices via television. Titled, ‘The Incredible Spicemen’ this half an hour show on BBC One, which was telecast in many countries, became their flagship programme as both of them traveled the length and breadth of Britain, finding the best ingredients and then cooking and spiking them with Indian spice twisters.

‘The concept of spice in the UK is that it is hot but very few realize that saffron, cardamom, turmeric are allspice that adds flavor and character to food.’ Though the programme received mixed reviews, as some thought it wasn’t as comical as the duo tried to make it while cooking, no reviewer ever questioned the cooking skill and reputation of Tony Singh. Dressed in the traditional Scottish kilt at times, the Scottish chef was a rising star in spite of some more failed attempts at opening restaurants, including one in a village close to Edinburgh. This was also the time when Tony Singh made up his mind that he would not open up another restaurant ever, but collaborate with pop-ups or lend his name to existing business entities, which he did in Glasgow, Jersey, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, etc. He would lend them his mastery of bringing food alive and give people great dining experience.

Business failures notwithstanding, the media publicity and food journalism were working well for him as he soon traveled to India in 2015 to cook with the Patiala Royals in Delhi. This was part of another BBC programme that focused on Tony Singh rediscovering his heritage. He went to Amritsar and visited the house his family had lived in when they had come from Pakistan, post partition. ‘I wish the social media and this publicity had happened when I was opening restaurants.Things would have been different,’ says Tony Singh.

‘But then everything happens with time and things don’t always happen the way we wish,’ I said, as it was time to head out.

In the evening I went to Oloroso and I smiled as I sat sipping my Laphroaig. I raised a toast to Tony Singh in his absence, thinking about the Sardar who has spiced up global cuisines many a notch.

Khushwant Singh