Cover Simran Savlani is sprinkling her magic on the F&B scene (Photo: Affa Chan)

Le Cordon Bleu graduate Simran Savlani released her first cookbook, A Spark of Madness, along with range of sauces to complement the recipes. She reveals how Robin Williams inspired her and why 130 friends and family members got involved in the process

What is your earliest memory of food and how did it inspire you to launch A Spark of Madness?

Two of my favourite questions to ask people are, “Have you eaten?” and, “What did you eat?” It gives me joy knowing what my loved ones have eaten and I love seeing the glow on someone’s face when they are about to dig into their favourite comfort food. My earliest memories are of family on Sunday afternoons, sitting around our living room and digging into my mother’s homemade biryani, and my best friendships have been formed over fries and vodka—both very key forms of potatoes, in my opinion.

At Le Cordon Bleu, I trained to be a restaurant consultant, not a chef. I don’t have the patience or the acumen to follow specifics in a kitchen. I have never followed a recipe to the tee. I am just a girl who loves food and who loves to feed people. I wanted to make cooking accessible, easy and fun.

Where does your spark of madness come from and what inspired the name?

The inspiration for the name came from Robin Williams’ famous quote: “You’re only given a little spark of madness and, if you lose that, you’re nothing.” I am trying to make sure I don’t lose mine. My sparks get ignited when I think creatively and turn my ideas into reality. The peaks in Hong Kong and the beaches of Mumbai have given my dreams momentum and my thoughts wings. It is my madness that has got me to where I am now, and I am counting on it to continue pushing me forward.

Why a cookbook?

I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant. Every decision I’ve made has been to inch closer to that goal. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu Paris in 2017 and working as a consultant for restaurants in Mumbai, Lagos, Jakarta and Hong Kong, I was finally ready in 2020. I had a business plan and concept, and started to look for restaurant sites, but then Covid-19 struck, and I was stuck in lockdown in Mumbai for nine months without much to do. I decided to use that time to get creative in the kitchen and channel everything I’ve learnt into a book. 

All the recipes in your book are vegetarian. Are there any preconceived notions about vegetarian food that you’re trying to quash?

I’ve been vegetarian for 20 years so to advocate for a recipe, I had to try it myself and ensure it worked. That is the only reason the book is vegetarian. That being said, I never want to tell people what to eat: food isn’t meant to have an agenda. The book is meant for everyone to enjoy and it’s not just for the meatfree. There are several vegan and gluten-free recipes. There are healthy dishes and some indulgent meals, too. I wanted to showcase a wide variety of vegetables, so don’t be surprised if you see vegetables being used for sweet dishes and fruits for savoury dishes. I’ve included a great recipe for extra virgin olive oil muffins with courgette, dates and ginger, and there is a soba salad recipe with peaches, Brussels sprouts and basil leaves. 

How many recipes were tested and how many made it into the book?

When I started writing the cookbook, I had more than 180 recipes. I wanted to cover all of Asia in one book. However, I realised that if I did that, the book would weigh 3kg and would be quite intimidating! I narrowed it down to 116 recipes and each of these are an individual part of the madness. There’s even a curated playlist that comes with the book: a song for each recipe. The book covers recipes from Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, India, Korea, Singapore and beyond. While some recipes are classics and stay true to their cultural origins, others are with a twist. The recipes are an amalgamation of comfort food favourites: from dan dan noodles and katsu curry to ema datshi beer bread and green curry gnocchi.

Tell us about how you leveraged social media to build your cookbook.

After making each recipe myself several times over, I needed to make sure that all 116 recipes worked and were easy to follow. I decided to put them up on social media to get people from around the world to try and test them. It was overwhelming but also heart-warming because it resulted in 130 stakeholders from more than 30 different countries. The book consists of seven sections and each person was able to select the section they were keen to explore and were then given a shortlist of three recipes to choose from. After making the recipes, I asked them to fill out a questionnaire for feedback, and that transformed the idea from a manuscript to an actual cookbook. With the recipe testing, I sought criticism to improve the book before it went to print. 

You recently went on a “mad” food tour of Bangkok, Singapore and Jaipur. What has been the biggest takeaway from your travels?

A Mad Tour wasn’t a planned exercise, but due to Covid-19 and the policy changes in Hong Kong, I had to extend my trip abroad. The pandemic has taught me the art of pivoting plans. I didn’t have existing relations within the F&B industry in Singapore or Bangkok, but food really brings people together and I have now formed new friendships in all three cities. It was extremely rewarding [to see people’s reactions to my food], and it has reassured me that I am on the right path.

What’s next for you?

I have way too many dreams that I want to turn into reality. The plans are to expand my line of sauces to new markets and launch more condiments. The madness is just beginning to spark.

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