by Asjad Nazir
‘EVERYTHING WE MAKE IS FROM THE HEART’
An East London father and his two sons are quickly becoming the kings of the kitchen with a series of succulent sauces that are ruling the taste buds of those using them on Indian dishes.
Hardev Sahota, along with his sons Ravdip Sahota and Kuldip Sahota, have turned a passion for cooking into a thriving business powered by their Mr Singh brand.
They have also created entertaining promotional videos including spoofs of the Spice Girls and Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, which have been viewed millions of times. They also have a cookbook and exciting plans to grow their food business.
Eastern Eye caught up with the food-loving trio to talk about top cooking tips, secret sauces, culinary inspirations, men being in the kitchen and more…
When did you first get connected to cooking?
Hardev: Growing up in Kenya, the barbecue was very much a family gathering so the interest in food was always there. This tradition carried on into my adult life. The food cooked by my wife after my marriage in 1979 wasn’t spicy enough for me so I used to recook it.
I tried all the supermarket sauces on the barbecue, but found them too sweet, too bitter, not hot enough or too hot. Around 1985, we were having a family gathering at home and I created my first chilli sauce, which had all the taste, flavours and heat I was looking for.
When did you decide to turn your love of food into a business?
Hardev: It was when I was given the opportunity to operate a kitchen at our local Indian club where my sauce became an integral part of my cuisine and loved by all my customers. Later I purchased a secondhand catering trailer and started serving food at popular outdoor events like melas. The chilli sauce proved to be popular and that motivated me to carry on.
What happened next?
Hardev: From 1996 to 2007, I established a successful restaurant in East London where the chilli sauces continued to be popular. I started marketing the products and did intense research on what was required in terms of patents, barcodes, health and food standards, nutritional analysis, label requirements etc. Then on a suggestion from my brother, we developed the brand name Mr Singh. After going through the required process, we made a small batch of Mr Singh’s Dynamite hot chilli sauce for retail.
It started off slowly but progressed to over 1000 units sold at BBC Good Food show in 2008, which launched Mr Singh’s as a business. We progressed further and converted the garden shed into a mini-production plant. Later in 2010, we gained nationwide recognition through a documentary about our chilli sauce story.
How did you get your sons interested in cooking?
Hardev: I think cooking is in our genes so they didn’t need any inspiration from me. They also love and share the same passion as me for hot spicy flavours.
How did you first get connected to cooking?
Ravdip: My earliest memories of cooking are my mum cooking and us sitting around the dinner table eating as a family, and my dad on the barbecue at parties. I joined the family business because it is part of me. We put everything into making it what it is today.
Kuldip: Not having my mum at university preparing food for me every day forced me to learn cooking as well. Growing up, I knew my dad always wanted his own business and wanted to help.
I booked a stand at the BBC Good Food show using £900 on my credit card, came home and told my family to make 1,000 bottles to sell so I could pay off the card. Thankfully, everyone said yes and we sold out at our first event. This was when Mr Singh’s turned a big corner.
Tell us about the various sauces…
Kuldip: The hot Punjabi chilli sauce launched our business. We then have the barbecue chilli sauce, which is much richer in taste and our hottest creation made with two of the hottest chillis in the world (the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and ghost chilli).
We also have our Himalayan cooking paste inspired by my dad’s visit to the Himalaya Mountain foothills and our Punjabi cooking paste, which is my mum’s recipe and took two years to perfect. We also have our new chilli crisps.
What is the secret to creating the perfect sauce?
Ravdip: I don’t think there’s a secret. If you create something you love and have passion about it people will love it too. There are so many companies who just make any old crap just to make money, but that’s not what we’re about. Everything we do or make is from the heart.
How do you know what the perfect sauce is?
Kuldip: The perfect sauce has to take your taste buds on an adventure and make you smile with every mouthful.
Your promotional videos with your dad are hilarious. Which video has got the best response?
Ravdip: (Laughs) Our Spice Girls-inspired video hit a massive audience. Apart from countless views online, that video also got us five minutes airtime on American TV, which is priceless.
The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air video is epic. Hardev, how did you feel starring in it?
Hardev: (Laughs) Honestly, I was thinking: ‘What are these boy’s doing!’ Them asking me to rap gave me nightmares for weeks. The sound recording retakes were very challenging for me, but I really enjoyed the filming part of the video. I was overwhelmed with joy with its success and thrilled to see the joy on my son’s faces.
What does your wife thinking of your cooking antics and videos?
Hardev: My wife thinks I am nuts doing what I do at the age of 60-plus, but I am sure she feels happy for all of us.
Tell us about the Mr Singh’s Cookbook…
Ravdip: The Mr Singh’s Cookbook is full of family favourite recipes. Some of my favourites are the ribs, keema and my favourite ever food aloo methi! The various recipes are things we’ve grown up eating but with a slight twist. Some of the recipes are exactly how our mum makes them.
What is a common mistake people make in the kitchen while cooking?
Hardev: In my opinion, cooking should be kept simple and not be complicated with too many ingredients or flavours.
Give us a top cookery tip?
Kuldip: My top tip would be to get in the kitchen and have fun. Food is so much fun and we are lucky to have it. So get some friends over and get cooking!
What is a good cooking tip for beginners?
Ravdip: Cook what you enjoy in the first place. If you like chicken, put the ingredients you like into chicken and go from there. Adding and taking stuff away will enable you to get the flavour that you’re looking for.
Who would win if you three had a cook-off?
Kuldip: I think my dad would win in a cook-off between us, though I am really competitive and would probably deny the fact that I didn’t win!
How does the rest of the family get involved?
Kuldip: The rest of our family often have little choice but to get involved. If we have a large order, whoever is nearby or makes the mistake of answering their phone when we call gets roped into helping! In truth, it’s always really good fun when we all work together and spending time with loved ones is priceless.
Have you ever used your cooking skills to impress a girl?
Ravdip: Of course! I wine and dine the missus daily.
Kuldip: I have used my cooking skills to impress a girl. In fact, it worked so well (alongside my boyish charm) that we have been on an ongoing date ever since!
Do more men need to get into the kitchen and how can housewives get their husbands cooking?
Hardev: The best way to get men into the kitchen is for wives to cook tasteless food and make men do what I did, cook it yourself! (Laughs) With this method, more men will get into the kitchen and learn cooking.
Why do you love cooking?
Hardev: Cooking allows me to be creative and choose what I would like to eat, and how. It enables me to manipulate ingredients to create a certain type of dish. Applying this process fascinates me, and most of the time the results are as I had expected (with a tweak here or there).
Kuldip: I love food more than cooking because it brings people together in an almost magical way. As soon as your mum says she is cooking her special dish, or your friend is having a barbecue, you will rush over to be fed and be surrounded by people important to you.
Ravdip: I also love cooking because it brings people together. I enjoy going into the kitchen chilling, cooking and chatting to my family and friends while making food and having a few drinks. Then we all sit down together and have a fat munch!
Log onto www.mrsinghssauce.co.uk and on social media: @mrsinghssauce to find out more