Known as the girl with the spark, Hong Kong-based Simran Savlani is passionate about food and cooking – passions we share. She’s trotted the globe and has more than a decade of experience under her belt as a restaurant consultant and, now, author.
Simran has been busy and is keeping us on our toes; she’s just launched a cookbook (also named after her brand), A Spark of Madness, that focuses on vegan and vegetarian pan-Asian recipes and also recently headlined at Test Kitchen. The cookbook is now available at Bookazine and online at Amazon and her website.
The range of sauces that complements her recipe book provides beautiful colour and flavour to your home-cooked dishes, with some containing a spicy kick. If you haven’t tried these sauces yourself, the Crack Sauce (which is sweet, salty and spicy) will be all the convincing you need to buy into her line.
In this exclusive interview, Simran talks us through her new cookbook, her background and what inspired her to launch the brand.
Your brand name, A Spark of Madness, sparks curiosity for me. Can you share the story behind it?
A Spark of Madness started back in 2016 when I decided to give up my job of seven years working in media and lifestyle. I had the dream of launching my own restaurant, so I moved to Paris to study at Le Cordon Bleu. During my internship, I saw how a restaurant was built out and later became a consultant working in Jakarta, Hong Kong, Lagos and Bombay (which included my tenure at Soho House Mumbai).
In 2020, I was going to open my own eatery, but COVID-19 hit, and I was stuck in India for six months during its most severe lockdown. With my time spent indoors, I ended up immersing myself in a self-taught culinary programme, which led to the creation of my cookbook.
As Robin Williams said famously, 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 (idea), go pursue it, give it your best and then see how the universe responds to it, but whatever you do, always hold onto the madness.
Can you give us some details on the cookbook and what inspired the recipes? Do all the recipes require you to use Spark Sauces?
The cookbook took nine months to be created, containing Asian vegetarian recipes, with some gluten-free and vegan options. All the recipes can adapt to any diet and are inspired by my travels across Asia, including the dishes I love to cook and eat at home.
The recipes are foolproof, complete with easy-to-find ingredient lists, as well as substitutes and hacks to make do with what’s in your fridge or pantry. All the A Spark of Madness cookbook photos are taken by me and spotlight how realistic the food turns out, rather than being commercially plated. I wanted it to look a bit messy and mad and to show that cooking is meant to be fun and delicious.
A few recipes use Spark Sauces, and all the recipes for the sauces are mentioned, so you can make them yourself!
You’ve travelled the world, from Asia, to Africa, to Europe. What did you learn in each country you worked in, and did your experiences contribute to creating your sauces and cookbook?
I love to travel, and I’ve been around the world. I was born in Taiwan, so several recipes are from my childhood, such as the Taiwanese scallion pancakes and popcorn chicken mushroom from the night markets at Shilin and my twist on sweetcorn soup (one of the first dishes I remember eating and loving).
I spent my teenage years in Bombay, so I’ve included recipes such as pulled jackfruit kathi rolls, bulgar khichdi and oven-baked Manchurian balls, a typical deep-fried Chinese-Indian dish that you only get in the street stalls around the country. I’ve avoided a lot of deep-fried foods and have included, in several alternatives, baked, roasted and air-fried dishes as well.
I’ve included some local dishes such as cheung fun, curry laksa and European cooking styles with an Asian twist; during exchange and high school, these were the dishes I devoured. In total, there are 116 dishes in the book. Some are true to their cultural origins, while others are my takes on culinary touchstones and the rest have gone through “a spark of madness”.
At your launch, we tried your sauces, and I found them irresistible. How did you come up with these three flavours, and what was the timeline on finding the perfect concoction for each one?
Spark Sauces came into reality during the beginning of September, when I began creating my marketing plan for my cookbook. I was thinking of merch to add, and because I love feeding people and seeing the joy on someone’s face after the initial bite of something delicious, I created the sauces to complement.
It took a year to create the sauces, and it was quite the process. I was getting friends and family to test each batch and tell me what they liked/didn’t like. I didn’t have a hard time coming up with the sauces and came up with three Cs: Crispy Chili Oil, Caramelized Spring Onion and Crack Sauce.
All are Asian inspired and are not necessarily needed only for Asian food. The sauces can be applied to so many different meals. I love my pizza with Crispy Chili Oil, my Greek salad with Caramelized Spring Onion and my French fries with Crack Sauce. Another favourite is chocolate ice cream with the Crispy Chili Oil! You can use one, or all of them to make a combination of your own, but the best way to experience the best of all three is mixing them with cold noodles and digging in.
What’s your favourite recipe from the cookbook?
My favourite recipe from the book is a yakhni pulao. I know I shouldn’t pick favourites, but this dish stands out to me. The perception of Indian food is always heavy and an overload of flavours. This one is a Kashmiri delicacy and is extremely delicate is flavour, prepared typically with lamb and lamb juices. I’ve replaced these with morel mushrooms and morel juices (never underestimate mushroom water; it can put any meat juice to shame!). Alongside, I’ve added asparagus spears to the dish, and it’s topped with crispy onion. It’s beautiful – you have to try it to believe it.
Are there any new products that we should look out for before the end of the year?
There is one more product coming up for the holidays, but for now, you have to stay tuned to the A Spark of Madness Instagram page for more details. Spark Sauces have been extremely popular as gifts, even as quarantine gifts, so I see them being a great addition to a Christmas stocking – or the book under the Christmas tree.
If you could only choose one Spark Sauce to keep, what would it be and why?
Crispy Chili Oil. I love all three sauces, but this is the one sauce I have at least twice a day. Sometimes I wonder if it’s wrong to love your own product so much, but I just can’t help it. It adds a spark to everything!
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