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Rishim Sachdeva
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The (mostly) vegan kitchen helping London eat less meat

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Interview with chef and founder of Tendril Kitchen, Rishim Sachdeva

The early years

Rishim grew up in a large family where every meal was an occasion. Cooking with his mum at eleven or twelve, he was making full-blown dinners at thirteen. Realising at this early age that he was going to be a chef. “There’s nothing else I would even consider doing”.

He graduated with a hospitality and tourism degree from Oxford Brooks University (parental pressure over a passion for the classroom). Before moving to London to take a junior position at The Oak Room with Marco Pierre White.

“This was when I realised that this is what I want to do my whole life”.

Rishim has always been passionate about travel and exploration. And this comes through in his cooking. His food is inspired by many places and cultures but remains grounded in technique.

“At The Oak Room, I realised that French food really is the foundation. I spent the first six years of my career perfecting this.”

Becoming increasingly experimental and ready to explore his next challenge, Rishim set his sights on The Fat Duck. “I got rejected for a stage eighteen times”.

But he didn’t give up. “Applying was part of my monthly routine. I’d rework and improve my application and try again”. And two and a half years later his persistence paid off. Rishim was offered a six-month stage and two years later, a junior sous chef position.

Progressing through the ranks was an incredible experience for Rishim. Experimenting with ingredients and techniques on the one hand. Pursuing simplicity on the other.

The pursuit of simplicity

With a growing passion for being close to nature and understanding the seasons, a move was on the cards.

“I set about finding restaurants that were mastering that”.

Rishim joined the brigade at Almeida and worked there for two years. Including a few months under Robin Gill. The two hit it off and Rishim followed Robin to his first solo venture, The Dairy in Clapham, shortly after opening.

The death of Rishim’s mother prompted a return to India where he spent eight months discovering the country’s evolving culinary landscape. Having left the country at seventeen to pursue his career, he’d never known the restaurant industry there.

Returning to London to continue learning and developing his nascent personal cooking style, Rishim took the sous chef role under Nuno Mendes at Marylebone’s Chiltern Firehouse. Followed by a second stint at The Diary.

“We were playing with textures, flavours, and techniques. Watching Nuno create dishes is an experience in itself. A humble zucchini gets layers and layers of memories in a bite. I can still taste it and crave it."

Returning to his homeland

Rishim’s brief time in India had been on his mind. With so many brilliant restaurants opening in Delhi and Mumbai, he felt compelled to get a piece of the action.

“Going back to India was a complete culture shock! I’d never worked in the country. I was still figuring out my style but I knew that I wanted to work with the seasons and with local growers and producers”.

It was at this point that the vegan seed was sewn. “Until now, vegetables were always a second thought for me. The emphasis was always on meat, whilst vegetables were taken for granted.

“In India, 60% of the population is vegetarian so you can’t get away with second rate dishes. People started coming back for my vegetarian dishes. Even the meat-eaters”.

Rishim was executive chef at the multi-award-winning Olive Bar and Kitchen in the trendy neighborhood of Bandra, Mumbai. Owned by arguably the country’s most revered restaurateur, AD Singh, it was a brilliant platform to both showcase and refine his approach to cooking.

A hit with the discerning local audience and the media, Rishim won many awards, making a name for himself as one of the country’s most exciting chefs.

“The culinary genius behind the restaurant is sourcing organic produce from across the country, local artisan cheese, and working with techniques such as fermentation and preservation to extract unique flavours and textures.

“For blurring the boundaries between the traditional and modern, chef Sachdeva won the Johnnie Walker breakthrough chef of the year award” - Conde Nast Traveller

The decision to go vegan

In late 2018 Rishim was newly married and expecting his first child. Thinking long and hard about what he wanted his life to look like and where he wanted to settle. The couple made the decision to return to London and it was at this point that the idea for Tendril Kitchen was born.

Shortly after returning to London, the self-proclaimed ‘hardcore carnivore’ used Veganuary 2019 to challenge himself. “Can I create food that satisfies my cravings as a meat-eater whilst also giving me satisfaction as a chef?”

The answer was yes and he’s never looked back. Under the Tendril brand, Rishim hosted multiple supper clubs and catered to several private events. Also running a three-month pop-up close to his home in southwest London. And a second in Hackney for Veganuary 2020.

A bumpy ride

A meeting with the team from The Sun & 13 Cantons in October 2019 led to him being offered the opportunity to take a slot on the roster of emerging chefs at the pub. An established platform that has launched several successful chefs and restaurants. Including Asma Khan’s Darjeeling Express.

His residency was scheduled to launch in March. Just as the country was going into lockdown. He admits that 2020 has been a rough ride, but takes comfort in the fact that his food has been a hit.

Rishim has a growing collection of loyal clients who order Tendril's delivery boxes each week. And people from all walks of life have come through the door at “The Sun”. He’s excelled at converting the pub’s regulars, too.

“A couple of guys who were having a beer in the afternoon weren’t interested in vegan food. So I sent them some free stuff to try. And over the course of the next six hours as more of their friends joined, I ended up serving them 18 portions of the same dish”.

Overcoming adversity

Rishim is committed to changing the perception of vegan food. And to bring it to a wider audience in a fun and imaginative way.

But he’s all too aware of the stereotypes he faces as an Indian chef cooking non-Indian food. And how important it is to challenge this.

“The perception is that if it’s an Indian chef, it’s got to be Indian food. But I’ve never trained in an Indian kitchen. I may just about be able to knock up a curry at home, but that’s about it. I can’t cook Indian food.

“I feel like I have to get my sales pitch right in a way that British chefs don’t need to”.

And this extends to people in the industry too. “Junior chefs would come for interviews for Tendril and the first thing they say is that they don’t have experience cooking Indian food”.

Rishim relishes being part of the hospitality support system and is a great believer in the industry’s ability to evolve. And with the support he continues to receive from chefs including Robin and Nuno, he feels that things are changing.

What the future holds

There’s a certain synergy between Rishim’s desire to challenge these perceptions and his passion for challenging those of vegan food. “My cooking style isn’t bound by nationality. Vegan food is so flexible. It unites all my experience, influences, and the inspirations from my travels”.

Rishim is enthusiastic and positive about Tendril’s future. Despite the ongoing challenges that hospitality faces in the wake of the pandemic. Itching to get back into Soho, he’s keeping himself busy delivering meals three times a week to his growing number of fans.

And what’s next for the business when the residency at The Sun comes to an end in March? Rishim would rather not say. But whatever he has up his sleeve, his passion, and energy for what he does is as unfaltering as his modesty.

“At the end of the day, it’s just tasty food. I worked hard, learned from everyone around me, found what I liked, and built on it.”

After the government announced that London would come out of lockdown in tier two, the immediate future of the Christmas menu he’d been planning is uncertain. So it’s all eyes on the government’s review on December 16th.

Rishim is looking forward to launching his Veganuary menu next month in one way or another. Because after all, it’s the month that inspired him to create Tendril in the first place. And that’s certainly something to celebrate.