THE URBAN RAJAH
INTERVIEW BY MARIANNE VOYLE
Having grown up in Britain with a rich family history of food and travel, author and traveller Ivor Peters wants not only to share his precious recipes and skills for authentic Indian dishes, but to inspire the sense of adventure, community and good deeds that come hand-in-hand with great food. With his infectious laugh, great stories and passion for all things spicy, we’re big fans of The Urban Rajah, and you will be too.
After working in publishing and running a PR agency, Ivor guided his career path towards his passion for food, which would have been “a life of Pot Noodles” had he not learned to re-create the food he grew up on. He has now been cooking for 20 years, and his new book, The Urban Rajah’s Curry Memoirs, is an almost edible scrapbook that will engross you in hilarious and touching family stories laced with the recipes – even religious experiences relating to lamb chops. “My dad and his brothers were raised in Karachi, but they left and travelled through the Middle East and Europe. I was interested in understanding their journey and the food that followed them, and I knew that unless I wrote their stories, as in most Asian households, it would only be passed on verbally.”
Did he have to conduct some intense, family interviews for book research? I asked. “I had to really work on them!” he laughs, and tells me how casually telling his father about a masala dish he’d made would spark a story about his grandmother and her own masala recipes. “I think that recipes definitely taste better when they’ve got a story attached to it.”
Being such a personal account of his family history, I wanted to know why he chose to divulge his secrets. “Indian food is such a sociable cuisine and it’s something that you share” he said. “If you cross the threshold of the home of an Asian family you cannot leave without being fed. I’d pop over to see my mum for a quick cup of tea and leave with a huge box of Carte D’or Curry. Not even tupperware, just ice-cream boxes full of food. I wanted to share this heritage and take some of the mystique out of Indian food by equipping people with a bit of confidence and making recipes accessible.”
He exclusively reveals with pride that he’ll be touring with the 2013 winner of the Great British Pub Food Award, Indunil Upatissa, to provide gastronomic guides of the Indian subcontinent this summer.
But it’s not just the UK that will benefit from his culinary know-how. He currently runs highly-acclaimed pop up restaurants to raise money for families living in poverty in the slums of Chennai. “My wife and I talked about what we could do that combines our passion for food, gets people together and would make a tangible difference. That’s where the Cash ‘n’ Curry started. We host a supper clubs in people’s homes or local community environments and the diners simply pay what they feel the meal is worth. The money raised then goes towards those causes. It’s highly sociable, you get to eat some fantastic food and you will change someone’s life irrevocably.”
With the rise in the number of pop-up restaurants, we discuss whether they could inspire more of a sense of community in Britain. “With the Cash ‘n’ Curry evenings, more often than not you’ll be sitting opposite someone you won’t know but they live in your neighbourhood,” he says. Unlike going to a restaurant, this is about community dining with home-cooked food and we treat people to a six course feast and engender that sense of discovery as well. People are desperate for the next one because they’ve made new friends.”
Speaking of new friends, after working under the same publishers, he’s formed an acquaintance with The Fabulous Baker Brothers. “They’ve just launched their cooking school and I’ve got a master class scheduled there for June. I think they’ve adopted me as their resident spice master.”
Whilst deliberating whether or not he should become the third member of the Baker Brothers team, I prepare to ask possibly the most crucial question of the interview; ‘How much moustache wax do you use a week?’ After a slightly unnerving pause he bursts into loud laughter. “A lot. I never leave home without a tub of Captain Fawcett’s. A man with a ‘tache – it should always be groomed!”
Ivor’s book, The Urban Rajah’s Curry Memoirs, is out now. You can book your Indian Street Food Workshop at www.hobbshousebakery.co.uk . And if you can’t wait that long, Ivor has some tasty recipes on his website www.urbanrajah.com.
CHICKEN RUSTLER KEBAB
Serves 4 as an appetiser
1 large onion, roughly chopped
Bunch of coriander leaves
1 tbsp fennel seeds
4 green chillies, chopped
120ml natural yoghurt, at room temperature (I like to use one with 10% fat)
100ml single cream
½ tsp clove powder
½ tsp ground mace
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
Salt and pepper
750g chicken breast, sliced into skewer-sized chunks
In a blender, attack the onion, coriander leaves, fennel seeds and chillies. In a bowl, combine the yoghurt, cream, clove, mace, garlic and ginger pastes. Season with salt and a twist of pepper. Tip in the blended ingredients and mix thoroughly.
Score the chicken breast chunks and baptise them in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Thread on to metal skewers or soaked bamboo ones. Keep the marinade for further basting.
Over hot barbecue coals or under a preheated grill set to a medium heat, roast for 8–10 minutes, rotating regularly. Baste with some more of the marinade and grill for another 4 minutes or until cooked. The chicken should have a firm springiness. Spritz with the juice of a lemon just before serving.