Top Indian chef Cyrus Todiwala takes time out of his hectic schedule to tell Katherine MacAlister what makes him tick

Indian chef Cyrus Todiwala has several TV series under his belt, two restaurants, another opening this week, several cookbooks, an OBE and endless awards to his name.

How he finds the time to drive to Chipping Norton for a book signing on Tuesday remains to be seen, but for him it’s as important as any other date in his diary.

“You make time, of course you do. TV will come and go but people are there for ever and they are the most important thing, they make your business.”

Which business is he referring to? “Not TV,” he says dismissively, “the restaurant business.”

Because everything else is just trappings. To Cyrus, his restaurants are his beating heart, having set up shop here 30 years ago, after moving over lock, stock and barrel from Bombay.

“People have been coming to my restaurants for years and years so if I have a challenge it’s keeping my customers happy. It’s all about them,” he says.

Bucking the trend and grabbing Indian restaurants by the scruff of the neck, he single-handedly reversed Indian food in this country by opening Café Spice Namasté in 1995. “When I was in Bombay I got my friends to send me Indian restaurant menus from here and they were all the same. I thought they must just share the same printers,” he laughs.

The reality was that curry was stuck in a rut, and Cyrus took it upon himself to rescue us by introducing “authentic” Indian food to our palates. “It was a big challenge because people would just walk out of my restaurant saying there wasn’t anything they recognised on the menu,” he remembers.

“It wasn’t until the Evening Standard reviewed us that things started to change. So that was the biggest challenge of my life, turning that around.” Cyrus hasn’t looked back since, curry fans crowding to eat his food in their droves, desperate to try his ever changing food. The TV shows, cookery books and accolades soon followed.

So what happens when it all gets too much? “I go into the toilet and scream,” he laughs. “No, it does get difficult sometimes but it’s all exciting and besides I have other people to help; a wonderful wife, great chefs, a good team, so we manage. And when it all gets too much I just shut myself off, go into the kitchen and cook, that’s where I relax.”

Cyrus’ fame for innovative, experimental, imaginative cooking is legendary, but there must be a pressure then to stay on top of his game? “The fame element doesn’t bother me. There will be a time when I am forgotten, that’s how it is. But the challenge is for my customers – it’s about keeping them happy, not whether someone is doing better than me.”

Not that Cyrus ever stands still, and is currently opening Assado, a new site on Waterloo Road in London, this week, based on Asian food with a Portuguese twist, to follow the ancient trading routes. “I wanted to address the journey of the seafarers. I did a TV series for the Discovery Channel and it gave me the idea,” he says casually. So what next? “Changing British attitudes that Indian food should be cheap. They have discovered that some restaurants have been using beef instead of lamb, but if you want cheap food they will use cheap ingredients so I hope that will be eradicated in the next few years. The British public spend money on other cuisines, why not Indian? I just hope I’m around to see it.”

And why wouldn’t he be? “I’m In my 50s so not that old,” he laughs, ”but you never know.”

At least all Cyrus’ hard work has been recognised with an MBE in 2000, and an OBE in 2009. So why did he choose London in which to embark on this culinary odyssey? “It’s the epicentre of the world, but it’s also very homely and I’m very comfortable here. It’s where things happen first.

“However, I was being headhunted from all over the world, especially in India (he trained at the Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces chain in India, and rose to become executive chef for 11 restaurants within those hotels) so it could have been a very foolish move coming to the UK. I guess I just wanted to make it difficult for myself,” he shrugs.

“But there is still time, although I suppose my life is more stable and comfortable now than it was. But it’s only thanks to all the help and support I get.”

And what do his family think? “They think I’m mad. In fact never ask my wife that question, because she’s got lots of stories I’m sure” he laughs. “But it’s lovely. In fact a girl stopped me on the Tube the other day and asked if I’d do the cooking for her wedding,” he smiles.

And what did he say? “Yes of course, why shouldn’t I?”

TV chef Cyrus Todiwala will be appearing at Jaffe & Neale bookshop in Chipping Norton on Tuesday for a food-tasting and talk. Tickets cost £10 and include wine, nibbles and a £2 discount on his latest books The Incredible Spice Men and Mr Todiwala’s Bombay Recipes and Memories from India. Published by Hardie Grant, £25.

Call 01608 641033 to reserve your ticket.