Episode 24 - Tony Singh MBE

Celebrity chef and TV personality

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Summary intro

Tony Singh MBE

Tony Singh MBE

Legendary chef Tony Singh MBE hails from Leith, and worked his way up to become the TV chef we all love. He chats about having dyslexia, learning, how Leith used to be, his background, food today and future ambitions.


[Music] Hello, I’m Marcus Railton, and this is the Scotscare podcast. Scotscare is the only charity dedicated to helping disadvantaged Scots in London through a range of support, including mental health therapy, financial grants, advocacy, sheltered housing for older Scots, job coaching, social events, befriending, and support for children and families. The charity has been running for 400 years to help break the cycle of poverty experienced by some Scots in London.

In this series of the Scotscare podcast, I’ll be chatting with celebrities and supporters of the charity who have forged a life, often away from Scotland, and discussing the ups and downs that can bring.

Tony Singh MBE is one of the UK’s best Loved celebrity chefs. He’s renowned for his lively personality and skill in designing quirky and delicious dishes so it was super to have him pop into the ScotsCare podcast for a chat we spoke about all sorts of things growing up in

Leath in Edinburgh in the 70s and 80s and how much it’s changed how much it’s been gentrified but as Tony says better

a cappuccino within a hammer attack on a Thursday night and you can’t really argue with that Tony’s dyslexic so we

talked about that we talked about modern education and we talked about the fact that his dyslexia has never held him

back in the kitchen he was very honest about his own diet he says when you spend all night cooking fantastic food

for other people you don’t feel like cooking for yourself and what he really looks forward to is a pizza or a kebab

so I’d like to welcome Tony Singh to the Scots care podcast some.

Hi Tony

Hi Marcus

How are you man?

I’m good thanks for doing this.

No problem.
you and I are just about the same age and the other thing we’ve got in common is that I used to work in Leith and you were brought up in Leith yes it must

have been a pretty different Leaf from what it is today what was it like when you were

like when we were knocking about and we were 10 years of age as as different but same if you know

what I mean it’s still got that amazing sense of community you know what I mean uh no it’s a bit

different it’s gentrified there’s great um incentives going on is Greek clubs

there’s all this uh growing their own food and everything which is fantastic but when I was growing up the community

was there you know I mean you had local babies Scouts all that kind of stuff but it was a bit of a rough area you know

what I mean it was a very working class area the docks were active but it’s completely different and then and it’s

late 70s 80s with drugs and everything rough reputation but I think the thing

is kept a constant through it as is that sense of community that sense of you know Lisa you know Lisa you know what I

mean and perseverance always going to be okay so yeah it’s a change I’ve had a

couple of my mates uh governments you know it’s a bit gentrified this and as well as so many coffee shops and

tattooed talking beardy weirdness I said what do you want a cappuccino or a

hammer attack on a Thursday night so it’s a couple of wins all the time so I think it’s fantastic it’s great shows

what community Spirit does and I think we’ve got buckets for it I’m really glad you said that because I used to I used

to work it was a radio station called Scott FM and you probably remember it and it was on Leith docks and this was

in 96 and there was nothing there nothing at all the dogs were active apart from that it was a bomb site and

you couldn’t get a coffee oh a Wee Man used to come round with a sandwich uh sandwich in in the back of his car and

there used to be a caravan at the entrance to the docks where I would buy stovies

my heart Tony because when I was thinking about you and thinking about Leith and I’ve not been there for 25

years I was thinking do I have rose-colored specs but it’s it’s nice that you’ve said it still retains that

Community oh no totally I think that’s why what’s there the the the the the the

young team there knows it’s got a big family it’s got a great everybody wants

to see somebody for me to do well you know what I mean and I think that’s quite this is your family like that what

did you were you from a big family in leitha family is

that were there I had I’ve got um two brothers and one sister so there was only success

and did your mum and dad cook is that where is that where it came from for you definitely I think I was very lucky and

I think most of my friends at that time uh it was that traditional setup where

the the father went to work and the mother’s cooked and stayed at home all worked and sell food or the Granddad so

we had still had that generation of everybody having home meals and I think that’s when it’s a bit of a shame that I

think both parents have to work and it’s hard for them it could be like that

tiny pressure hey help you can study could work everything is really hard so

I was very very fortunate to have always home cooked fresh food

it says that when when I say I’m Scottish to anyone in London or we live just outside London now people always go

oh deep fried Mars Bars do you think that Scottish food gets a bit of a it is the butt of too many jokes isn’t it well

we never take ourselves seriously right which is one thing but that the whole D5 Marvel is just such a

urban thing right so uh this was probably 19 1999 when the

Royal York uh was commissioned decommissioned and then Commissioners are

um Visitor Center so I was the first civilian Chef on it and we had uh we were doing a past PR

launch and there was a whole load of uh journals up from London Stein you know

what I mean so they were up another video and we just made some Champion truffles

so I deep Frozen uh by the end of the night we dipped them in a nice we really liked tempura bar fried on salt caramel

and I said oh uh Croc on the chocolate with a sale caramel oh wow I said oh

just like a chopped up Mars Bar you know what I mean it depends how you package it how you see it yes I mean nothing

wrong with deep fried chocolate you know I mean but having a whole Moss body kind of ketchup on it I think it’s anybody’s

idea of good food but it’s a thing you know I mean it’s like a crystal Pizza I did fried pizza and youth yeah you could

work it off but I think we have to remember Scottish produce is championed and loaded all over the world yeah and

it’s I don’t think what’s changing now that we are appreciating what we produce

our Farmers or fishermen couldn’t get and it’s amazing so I think that’s

changing so you’re starting people talking different models that’s fine as long as I remember sometime you know what I mean we don’t sit there and drink

iron Brew eat tons of tea cakes you know what I mean so which are all great by the way whether it’s a tea cake or a

caramel log or a snowball I like it oh yeah no it’s Brian we’ve got a sweet tooth what can I say yeah I do I want to

come on to that but do you know what I wanted to ask you can you explain your heritage to me because you’re I read

about this and I just I thought oh I’ll clarify this with you are you fourth generation Scottish then how does that

work for my great Granddad came over and he was in Edinburgh and the 40s and 50s

on my dad’s side and my granddad on my mom said he was in Glasgow uh during the

second world war he was in the home Garden everything so would that be third generation and the kids are fourth is

that right is that where it is your kids are fourth generation would that make you gotta be a great granddads first yeah Granddad and then your parents so I

mean we thought yeah you’d be thought do you know much about why you came over have you ever done that looked into your

family family history with something ridiculous called the partition in 1947 when uh Britain left India when we

gained independence but India gained independence the Radka flying some boy in Whitehall called Radcliffe dwelling

through North of the north east of India and he basically half or made Punjab and

Pakistan so oh and it was on religious divides so you had a migration of

seeks Hindus moving from Punjab to India and you had lots of Muslims moving from

India to a Pakistan so they were refugees they were fleeing

uh Bloodshed basically so the stories here um of horrendous butchering of both

sides just because of sectarian um devices horrendous so they were left

everything in Punjab from there they were refugees

omelettes of daily daily to the UK and up to Scotland can you imagine you and I

take our weather for granted but can you imagine the culture shock when your great Granddad arrived in the docks or

something I thought what the heck is this it’s Kenny you can’t imagine Heaven never mind the weather the the fact that

they’ve left their friends the family the level who’s everything negatively for their lives

just kind of understanding you think we’d learn and you see another stuff happening all

over the world it’s terrible you know I mean it’s horrendous people don’t want to move if they can’t help it it’s

always an extreme that makes somebody uproot and risk their lives to move

and he obviously thrived and uh you know had kids and went on and you know became

part of the leaf Community which was great which you grew up in and then I was reading about the fact that and I

hadn’t seen this for years but it said that you did a white yes that’ll be lost on so many people but

that was such a big thing when I was a kid well so what was the only way it was in 80s it was higher employment

everything I think it was a great thing because apprenticeships were got axed uh I think they’re coming back now I think

this is one of the things that whatever government gets in there they need to give kids a chance to try their hand at

skills they would no one ever think of but I always wanted to cook so I was white yes with Scottish Newcastle

breweries and I thought POG food was the best thing in the world because it was all freshly made and the the cooks I

worked with she was fantastic when I went to college for the first like one day a week and it was at lecturers at Telford

College open minds through the world of hook cuisine French astronomy and it was brilliant and then it was like we’ll

hold them back I loved it but were you able to go into that with a kind of you know kind of background of what your mum

had taught you at home was that an advantage to you uh well no because back

then it was a case I Was Made I made that conscious decision I’m cooking French food and when I went for jobs

that’s why it’s like Saturday they Indian food here I said no they are it was like when you were talking about

weights and kitchens never mind the chef’s weight it was a very white kitchen smashed up in Scotland I think I

was how old would have been 20 22 where I’ve seen my first other Asian

Chef and you’d come up here down south through sous chef upper m in the Balmoral and he was doing a stage and

that was it you know what I mean so it was very different was it different in

that there was just a lack of anybody apart from White faces or was there was a racism within the kitchens there was

racism all over the place but I think it was a case of when you go in a kitchen you clapped on

the chef wouldn’t stand for anything if you had a good Chef that was nasty you

know what I mean there was what would be called unpc jokes and everything like that but you gave as good as you got

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they adjust to life away from the streets when you spoke about the yts and rather than going on to like I don’t

know like I think about this I’m asking this because my son is struggling at the

moment and he they’re looking at him and saying he they think he’s partially dyslexic and I read that you were

dyslexic as well and I wondered if going into the kitchen helped you in a way because it was a

much more vocational skill than having to struggle on further at school oh

totally I think now where people have

um different ways of learning I’m a very visual learner so videos of practical

learning is amazing and I think because almost the kids are dyslexic as well and

but they’ve cracked on well you know saying that with actually we have to get

um help for them uh want to change school for one of them and I think it’s better now that the teachers are

understanding what is and there’s so many different ways to engage children that learn differently neurodiversity

you know what I mean but I think the whole thing when you speak to other people that are dyslexic they’re very

creative in other ways and I think for me cooking had never hindered me at all

you mean my recipe is my 100 instead of I should have been a doctor you should see it’s like a spider called to an

Inkwell um so I could understand my recipes and it didn’t really matter but the

Practical side of it yeah because it was Hands-On it was brilliant so it was a field where it didn’t hold me back and

you found in the kitchen there’s quite a lot of chefs that weren’t that great

or the one academic but they were very practical very craft based

um people yeah sometimes I wonder if that’s where like Traditional School education lets

us down a bit you know my son Noah who’s he’s turning 14 he’s choosing his gcses down here you know he’s he’s such a good

kid and we’ve done what you just mentioned we’ve swapped schools because we’re hoping that we can get him into an environment that kind of forced us his

talent rather than says it’s written and writing or it’s the highway you know I don’t think that’s the future for him no

definitely no but I think every government goes in whether it’s western or bang on about this education

and I think they always miss a point our education system still based on Victorian

system it’s just in the holidays and everything look at other other countries with iguana but earlier they have an

extra day but the shortly I mean it’s just done differently and you can just

take the best of other systems and start again you know I mean there’s no need to stick to what we’re doing especially if

it’s not helping people fulfill their potential do you have a good work ethic

because any any chefs I have met are the hardest working people I’ve ever met in

my life well this is a thing it’s uh if you don’t like the industry it’s one of the

worst jobs in the world because you’re grafting all the time and if you like the industry you’re in

you never think you’re working because you’re enjoying it so much but now I think in the the bad old days split

shifts 14 hours a day it was a norm I

know that’s the happy balance because you’re making fresh food it takes a lot

of time right sort of unless if you’re buying thing and more prepared it costs

more so the prices have to be more right and and you’ve not got that finesse and taste of a home cooked or homemade

product so if you’ve got your own place where you’re making stuff from scratch you

know you’re going to be doing more than eight hours a day you have to if you’re making things from scratch

and it isn’t more difficult now because there are in a good way there’s so many more types of food that you have to

cater for you know plant-based food gluten-free food not free food does that I presume that could have impacts your

margins and means more time in the kitchen well this is a a bit of a causal problem

above a controversy here is the fact is with the pressures of Staffing helpful

ingredients and everything going in a small restaurant that is not vegan or

plant-based or um gluten free or taste free because they’re in a small environment

and then expect them to have a menu for you and if you bring five guests of sixes

and one of these has gotten in tolerance what you’ll find now is if that person

is not comfortable there everybody leaves right so well that’s the case you need to make sure the phone before

beforehand let them know what it is because you’re asking a small Independent Restaurant to carry all this extra food

right and the the whole philosophy and idealism of veganism I totally care

right so if you’re a vegan you understand as well but if you’re asking people to carry plant-based menus that’s

a recipe normally four or six but if people know one person coming in that week

yeah it’s a waste of food you know what I mean get what you mean

yeah because it’s more difficult or if it’s Incorporated that’s very good

but if you’re not that kind of restaurant if you want to be a meat Dish Restaurant it’s a meat Beef restaurant

yeah we’ve got we’ve got our plant Beach we’ve got street food brand and everything I love vegan food I Love

Vegetarian if you love I love all kinds of food but I have to be very clear when I’m putting out the street food thing

this is what we do but it’s such as on how it could be 99.9 or vegan but meat dish

on and I should put vegans off because you’ve got a place where you trust the chef nothing will be cross-contaminated

than anything so you need to go on that and if you do go in a restaurant and they do carry that stuff you’re given under that trust as well so the plug out

of the restaurants yes there’s I think they’ve got more scope to carry more different types of Fe from or different

types of Cuisines but if you’ve got a specific type of Cuisine and then expect

them a cater for you I think it’s quite difficult for them to justify that now to and for

you to get a fantastic product because I think it depends video as well if you’re

in London or if you just see it up in Highland and you’re going to eat Cafe you know what I mean yeah how many

people are going and ask for that kind of thing but you’re asking them to carry that food as your street food stuff all vegetarian

and vegan well no it depends so rice chats all plant-based right if you see

vegans gives people away yeah yeah yeah and this is a thing it’s a road for their own bank and I love plant-based

food I love vegetables I love I love Dairy as well you know I mean it’s that whole kind of thing but if you want to

be plant-based it’s all plant-based but yeah rice traps or plant-based so you’ve seen a conversion towards more

plant-based food and I wonder whether it’s because they’re coming to you because as you said they will trust you as a chef well I think lots of more

people are trying it because it’s amazing variety of ingredients out there now you know I

mean and there’s chefs are skilled and the thing with vegetables we’ve we’ve always eaten lots of if you look at

Indian Cuisine it’s vegetarian food as a byword for back in

the day what would you have you go for a vegetarian Indian you know what I mean but traditionally unless which is always

lots of ghee use and everything I can unless you’re in the South there’s more coconut milk so it wouldn’t be vegan but it’s vegetarian but you can easily treat

that to make it vegan so what I’m seeing is more people are trying to be more

considerate to themselves the planet everything so we’ve seen a shift there

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you treat yourself well I had a mate years ago but when I was in Edinburgh and he was a chef and used to come into

the radio station sometimes and he would do little bits on why not cook this why not cook that and then he would go home

and he would eat cold beans out of a tin with a spoon because he just couldn’t be bothered cooking for himself and I

thought you cook for me you cook for other people and it was fantastic and he was the one who didn’t enjoy his own

ability no no I’ve never been now but at the end of the night yet you’re

normally had enough of looking at food a chef’s day is probably the worst

because you finished late you need something and it’s normally a cafe a

kebab Pizza whatever it is or no but there’s there’s more fast food places in

Urban League you go for ramen and things like that I mean there’s healthier option the southern

it’s quite healthy you know I mean when you look at it yeah yeah it depends what you have but you just need that and yeah

more chefs don’t go home and cook themselves fantastic meal that has been knocking

out all week but yeah it’s it’s uh the what lifestyle what or what

lifestyle balance case let’s get in here but it’s still hard for shares because we have cooking well everybody else is

enjoying themselves are you still kicking are you still going into the kitchen and doing it or have you what’s

a polite way to see you’ve not got too big for that you’re not you know well let’s ask the decent book is because I

cook and I love cooking I think it’s very interesting and different

there one of the things that sticks on my mind you have this trap that came to a tougher College years ago

um and this boy was going on with it you’d buy it every week religiously and you’ve

seen any future chefs are going to be a state assembled we pushed ourselves a lot often because we were on

but look at it now so you get people that come in the industry to see it as a vehicle

to be celebrity or book or teller whoever it is and this is what I like her you know I

mean you have the graph you have to enjoy what you do and I love cooking you know I mean I love the hospitality part

and I think that’s what’s missing in general in the sense of

you could have a cheese sandwich with the right company and it could be the best meal you’ve had in years yes yeah I

know I know what you mean but like all right I used to think that when I used to work away a lot and they would put me

up in a hotel a nice place and I go and I’ve eaten my dinner on my own yep and it was pointless because I was enjoying

it on my own and I was able to lean across my wife and go oh taste that oh that’s fantastic so it made it almost

pointless well this is the thing it’s all about shooting you know what I mean it’s one of these things as a species we

do that not I don’t think any other ones that we share we like to sit down and show off what we eat and share and talk

about it you know what I mean do you think social media user um try again here a holiday because of

work um yeah it’s hard yeah I just wonder because you know people go a bit mental

about there was a time where if you’re taking a photograph of what you’re about to eat people would think you were Bonkers and now everybody does it

well this is it but I always say uh eat then tweet or whatever what you do

because it’s come over and it’s hot and it’s ready to go and the best thing you can ensure is an

empty place a unique one Trail you don’t sound like you quartered the Limelight at all Tony it kind of feels as if it

found you rather than you going out there what what was that kind of Tipping Point where somebody did somebody say to

you all you’ve got a great look or you’ve got a great talent yeah last time I was on telly was

um I TV chef of the year for the millennium 2000. so it was 1999 this is

a professional cooking show ever and I was up against my peers people have seen me

guys have adopted proper Giants in industry and I won so I went superb I’m

going to be in the next Jimmy Oliver here and I went left the job went to London and everything I went in an

agency and they said yeah that’s fantastic you agree blah blah blah but you need to take illustration lessons oh

so I went and bitter you know what I mean I say I should have done it I could have been the next Jimmy Oliver and I

would have been talking to you from my private island somewhere but

accents and everything but from then people just kept asking and little bits and pieces whatever that gate is great

it’s great fun because when you’re in front of the camera you still see the teamwork and

what goes on behind the camera you know I mean it’s like a radio production the whole team in the station you know what I mean it’s amazing but fun you produce

something I think it’s obviously important for you because it’s come out here and it’s come

out of what you were talking in the kitchen you you’re not a sole operator are you you do like to be part of a team

definitely honestly um

look he sells the sizzle we cook the sausages so you eat something at the top

you mean together everybody and bring it together as teamwork there’s teamwork I

I think one of your qualities is that you do come across like whether we’re talking now or you’re on the Telly for

the BBC or you and I were just having a cup of coffee you do come across as the same the same the same that is this is

you very authentic and when you’re on that BBC program at Cook abroad and you went yeah and I thought that was I

thought that was fascinating because I I watched it and I watched it with kind of two hats on first I just enjoyed it and

the other one I was thinking I wonder what he feels did you feel because you’re Scottish you were brought up in

Edinburgh and then you went to this place and found

so blessed to do it and it was so heart-wrenching to hear the stories and

then it was so heartwarming to find the family and speak to me I mean it was such a rollercoaster emotions and it was

amazing it was amazing and that thing of being authentic and genuine is you Feliz

your mates would cut the legs for you if you try to be anything else that’s true that isn’t it I definitely

when you went and you had this amazing experience did you feel an affinity with the country and and had you been there

before I’ve been there once before my mom and dad and it was fantastic uh but we were

younger then and basically all you’ve seen is the end say the other people’s houses

being Via West film crew and everything like I was just

it was amazing we got access to places you would know of um yeah it was phenomenal were you able

to take your wife butching at that point or were you on your own no I was on well this is it so we were working we just

opened a place so I had to fly out uh couldn’t you drink on a plane because when I landed that changed in the

toilets at the airport so when you see me coming out that says rolling all

right and then coming back jump on the plane got back I was working the next day

gosh so you almost didn’t get time to really kind of Revel in the the song

you know I mean if I could still a couple of more days it would have been phenomenal yeah and you you get your

30th Anniversary so you you married young didn’t you I already went out to play too wow wow

no no she likes me I don’t know why but she does have you got four kids four

kids eight it’s because it’s I’ve got I’ve got three kids I’ve got two boys and I’ve got a little girl she’s only

four uh but I found I don’t know if you found this that my girl is like a

different species from my boys are like wild dogs they’re crazy it’s like it’s like zombie apocalypse around the house

but and my my girl was just so easy all right uh well I I don’t know markets are

all growing and they’re about older my youngest is 18. so as great having older

children and being still relatively young yourself so excellent design drivers they can cook

cocktails it’s awesome well this is it you kind of I think that as well that oh

we still do at the kind of like oh can I find a babysitter whereas you’ve kind of you’ve either got babysitters ready-made

or you just leave them and you’ve got your freedom well I’ve got freedom and they can pick us up and drop us off at the pub it’s awesome it’s awesome

do you still have ambition and I mean that generally is I still do you have a list somewhere where you think I’d like

to do that I’d like to do this I’ve got huge less there’s loads of stuff loads loads to do it’s getting around you do

it in a nice in a way that’s um efficient and productive you know I mean I always like to go somewhere and

do something last year I went to see oh I love my history so when you see all uh

I wanted to try clean Fried Chicken in Korea and I went to see the DMZ so I

went and it was brilliant and then we went off the Cambodia uh the whole Vietnam War they can body and think oh

well sometimes very interesting and when it comes with Halloween it was so but the people to see what they came through

and that they’re just amazing and the food the stand so where else I got to do

our area where I had South America it’s a few places in South America what to do and then what you’re doing Antarctica as


I’ve got a few friends who are more like me and I’ve got another couple of friends that go well do you know what

we’re 50 now maybe we should start playing golf and I I want to go sword go

off I I don’t want to slow down yeah well you could play golf and then

doctor clicking Orange Bowl here you know what I mean or you skida inside dunes and Peru there’s lots of stuff to

do there’s you don’t you don’t feel a sense you don’t mortality as you get older I think you always do this people

you’ve got any more funerals or weddings as they say um but hey you’re worrying about a day you’ll never

know the skin Tony that’s a brilliant way to end it thank you very much you’ve been you’ve been a wonderful guest thanks for being

on the Scots gear podcast no problem Marcus thanks for having me on thank you speak to you later yes bye

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