We chat to Sassy’s former Director of Business Development and accomplished cookbook author Simran Savlani about the Asian-inspired recipes in her book, her 2022 goals and cooking tips…
It’s always exciting to catch up with a former Sassy gal to see where life has taken them. Since parting with the team, Simran Savlani has been tirelessly working to follow her passion for food and cooking. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu and working around the world as an F&B consultant, she decided it was time to take the next step in her career. But when her dream of opening up her own restaurant had to be put on the back burner due to the pandemic, Simran ended up creating a line of original Spark Sauces and putting together a cookbook of 116 recipes, titled A Spark of Madness, inspired by her travels around Asia and beyond.
Ahead, we chat with Simran to ask her 10 questions, covering everything from the inspiration behind her cookbook, her goals for 2022, and where she likes to shop for ingredients in Hong Kong…
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you lived in Hong Kong?
I am a “made in Taiwan” baby, I was born there and lived there for 7 years before moving to India and then Hong Kong. Hong Kong has been my home for the last couple of decades and seven of those years were spent working at Sassy! I eventually decided to leave the city to pursue my dreams of learning how to run a restaurant, enrolled to study at Le Cordon Bleu and hopped on a plane to Paris. After completing my diploma I started working as a Restaurant Consultant and worked for restaurants across Melbourne, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Lagos and Bombay, including Soho House Bombay.
In 2020, I finally thought I was ready to open my own restaurant – but along with the rest of the world, my life came to a standstill. I was stuck in India for 6 months during the most severe lockdown. For the first time as an adult, I didn’t have a job and all I was doing was cooking and eating. I decided to make lemon curd meringue out of lemons and put myself through self-taught culinary school – the accumulation of which resulted in my cookbook.
As Robin Williams, famously said, “You’re only given a little a spark of madness, and if you lose that… you’re nothing.” I adhere to this religiously, if you have a spark (or idea), go pursue it, give it your best and then see how the universe responds to it, but whatever you do, always hold on to the madness.
What ignited your passion for food and cooking?
I have always been curious about food, there is nothing I dislike and too many things I like. Talking about food and brainstorming flavours and combinations has been the foundation of some of my best friendships. You can get me talking for hours on how I like a dish to have the perfect balance of sugar, spice, salt and a crunchy texture.
I started baking at a young age and have had my fair share of goof-ups, such as putting salt instead of sugar in my sister’s birthday cake or keeping things in the oven for much longer than needed, but that didn’t stop the curiosity.
However, at Le Cordon Bleu, I trained to be a restaurant consultant and not a chef as I don’t have the patience or acumen to follow details. I prefer free-styling and tossing things into the wok as I go along. So, the irony of me having written a cookbook hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. I have never followed a recipe line-for-line myself but now I have written a cookbook with 116 recipes!
We’re big fans of your Spark Sauces. What is your favourite thing to make with them?
I love sauces and when designing Spark Sauces, I wanted to ensure that firstly the taste wasn’t one dimensional and second that the usage wasn’t one dimensional either. Despite being Asian-inspired sauces (and they do taste amazing on dumplings and fried rice), they can be paired with a wide variety of cuisines and dishes from all around the world.
I made Spark sauces for you to have fun with, experiment with and play with. Use them as a condiment, for cooking or have them on their own. I love having my pizza and burrata with Crispy Chili Oil, my Greek salad and Elote Corn with Caramelized Spring Onion and my French fries with Crack Sauce. Sometimes I just toss all three into a bowl of cold noodles. Another favourite pairing is chocolate ice cream with Crispy Chili Oil!
Congrats on launching your first cookbook! Would you say this is your most meaningful milestone so far?
Writing a cookbook was never part of the plan, it was a pivot from the plan. My dream, for as long as I can remember, has been to open a restaurant. But when I had to put that dream on hold, I decided to feed people through a cookbook. There is no greater joy for me than seeing people eat something they love. That look takes over their face and the excitement is worth all the work.
A Spark of Madness, is an Asian vegetarian cookbook – I have travelled extensively and eaten across each of the cities mentioned in the book. I’ve also included personal anecdotes about each dish – Why is it in the cookbook? What is the story behind the dish? Where did the ingredients come from and how did they become such a key part of the region’s culture? I am intrigued by these stories and hence wanted to share it with everyone.
At the end of it all, the biggest joy was to see the cookbook go from being a manuscript on my laptop to being on the bookshelves of households around the world.
And on the flip side of that, what has been your biggest challenge?
Writing doesn’t come easy to me and the cookbook challenged me to the core – I suddenly had to have measurements for all my recipes, words to my crazy ideas, and learn how to publish a book along the way! I did know I wanted a few things to be represented in the book for sure. All of the recipes are fool-proof and flavourful, with an easy-to-find ingredient list. I personally get annoyed when I have to visit five grocery stores to make a single dish, hence in my book I’ve specified whether an ingredient is essential or can be substituted with something that you already have in your fridge or pantry.
What are five goals you hope to achieve this year?
The year 2022 has started off feeling a lot like 2020 but hopefully this time we are better equipped mentally and physically to manoeuvre and thrive despite the pandemic. My goals for this year are:
- To grow Spark – I want it to be an international brand. I want to share the sauces with everyone and further grow the product range.
- To read more – having only read my cookbook manuscript (over 10 times) in 2021, I would love to get back to reading regularly again and I’ve started with Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.
- To be more comfortable in my body – for most of my adult life, I’ve struggled with my weight so this year instead of going for the cliché goal to lose weight, I aim to be more comfortable with myself.
- To challenge myself – I truly believe the greatest ideas and growth comes from moments of chaos and confusion. It is easy to live an easy life but going out there and putting yourself in uncomfortable scenarios is what I always look for.
- To build a better relationship with money – it’s a topic that is not discussed often and we are always questioning how much we need, but I would like to spend time this year to understand my relationship with money.
What are three things you do to maintain work-life balance in your day-to-day?
Balancing is a tough act, I struggle with this as when I am in work mode, I like to focus solely on my work and everything else can take a back seat. In all honesty, I can’t say I have a daily work-life balance but a motto I live by is “work hard, play harder”. So, when I am done working, I make it a point to take some time off to recharge and rejuvenate. This could either be by going on a whole day hike (I have currently finished three out of the four Hong Kong Trails and am excited to complete the final one). I will have my phone switched off the whole day and just enjoy the challenge of completing a trail. Or it could be spending time with my sister and girlfriends giggling over the silliest things, with copious amounts of wine and fries.
Where do you like to shop for ingredients in Hong Kong?
I love the streets around Sai Ying Pun wet market, you have several local grocers there selling everything from fresh noodles, sauces, vegetables, tofu. There is a Fineprint around the corner where I get my latte for the day, and then I begin to tick items off my grocery list. You also have all the ethnic Indonesian, Thai, Filipino and Indian grocers in the area. It is the perfect one-stop street to get all your ingredients.
What would your last meal be?
Ah, this would be an easy one! Vegetable dumplings with Spark Crispy Chili Oil, egg fried rice, a bottle of Chianti and to finish, a warm chocolate chip cookie with sea salt flakes. Easy, right?
What advice do you have for someone who isn’t confident in cooking?
Don’t overthink it. Find a recipe that excites you. A recipe is usually much easier than it seems. Don’t forget to keep tasting along the way, it helps to give you more control over the taste. I’d also recommend listing to A Spark of Madness Spotify playlist (created by yours truly) whilst cooking! It helps to calm my nerves, and I hope it can do the same for you!
All photos courtesy of Simran Savlani. Follow Simran on Instagram to see more.