“When people enter the kitchen, they often drag their childhood in with them”. From Home Cooking (1998) Laurie Colwin.

Back in the early eighties, paying the rent any way I could with a specialist skill set barely warranting a c/v, I garnered some freelance income by building models for a special effects film company in London’s Soho. Its director, Brian, was also its director; by that I mean he ran the company as well as directing short commercial films – annoying adverts to you and I. His filmmaking skills in this specialist area required comprehensive technical know-how and a well-honed engineering acumen, coupled with a high degree of visual and cinematic awareness. When I enquired as to where he had gathered all these remarkable skills he replied, “from father’s garagewallah”.

His father lived in an era where numerous, undistinguished ambassadors were strewn across the globe, their job to oversee our colonial interests and try to dissuade locals from arranging periodic uprisings. Apparently he was much loved by such locals; but given that most of them usually worked for him, we can take that with the nominal pinch of salt it deserves. However, Brian, from a very young age, had been tutored, fed and cosseted by a household staff big enough to have its own football team – when it wasn’t feeding and cosseting father’s polo ponies that is. One of his warmest memories was assisting the resident engineer, who, amongst other duties, kept papa’s Bentley Continental in racing condition. His father even bought him his own set of spanners at the age of eight so that he could assist the loyal garagewallah. One can only imagine how euphoric said wallah must have been with the new trainee.

Thanks to such unusual early training, Brian, now domiciled in Battersea, went on to become a much-respected and sought after special effects filmmaker. Transferable skills or what?

He had also become addicted to curry. As his father ‘s postings included India, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, our ‘son-of-Empire’ took a shine to indigenous cuisines en route via a galaxy of ever changing household cooks.

So when the Rasa Sayang restaurant opened a few doors away from Brian’s Soho film studio in Frith Street, he instantly made it the works ‘canteen’ (ironic as it’s a word originating via the Hindi language, although Brian would have doubtless known that). On shoot days, in the middle of complex stop-frame animation, when the studio was rammed with a ravenous film crew and lunch consisted of assorted sandwiches or super-sized burgers, Brian had discreet supplies of Laksa, Tom Yam or Satay, Tandoori, Rendang or Sambal, quietly conveyed to his office. Mind you he would do the same when the studio was empty too.

But one notable side effect of his enthusiastic ordering approach was a consistent over-supply.

Once again his early years came to his aid, this time it was in the form of Curry Puffs (even the name is redolent of colonial nursery food), describing these little pick-n-mix pockets as his all-time favourite supper dish. I can see young Master Brian, after a long day working on the Bentley, craning up to see cook deftly wrapping these little packages, whilst at the same time redeeming a batch from the oven and occasionally passing one down whispering “don’t tell the Memsahib”. What a little rascal.

At the end of a day in Soho, and by way of re-enacting this adolescent scene, Brian would mix together surplus curries of whatever stripe, transport it home to his wife Liz, who, in a well-rehearsed and patient ritual, would set about wrapping the variety of chopped components with pastry. The Cornish pasty of Southeast Asia, assembled in nearby SW10, courtesy of thrifty cooks from across the Indian sub-continent and the Far East. Sounds like a comedy set-up hunting for a punch-line.

Back in the early ’80’s most of my generation could barely spell recycling, let alone undertake it. So my early love of curry puffs, made from over-zealous portions of take-away meals and the provision of an inexpensive next-day supper, cast me as commendably woke long before the word became blessed with common usage.

Whether from freshly cooked ingredients, leftover meals or when the same generous approach to ordering takeaways is in evidence today, this common re-cycling habit of generations past has become a regular kitchen standby for me to this day. However, I undertake such traditional procedures in joyful isolation, as Brian’s commensurately paid wallahs are unsurprisingly difficult to attract these days.

Simply chop and mix all cooked ingredients, including any rice, and wrap and seal in puff, short or filo pastry. Re-heat on a baking tray in the oven at 180°C for 20-30 minutes, or deep fry if you wish, until pastry is fully cooked. Serve with raitha perhaps.

For more years than I care to remember, variations on Curry Puffs have been a family standby and due to a variety of changing ingredients, no single batch has ever been the same. If that’s a downside, I can’t see it.

It’s not so much a recipe or even an assembly, more a sustainable woke tendency borne out of  young Brian’s motley colonial memories.


Wine thoughts

Utterly dependent on the contents of course, but something white, dry and chilled should cover the waterfront here.