What’s your very first memory of food?
Playing hide and seek in my grandfather’s shaamba or allotment and munching on raw sweet chickpeas.
What’s the first recipe you properly learned to make?
Nan Khatais – a sort of cardamom shortbread that has roots in Iran. My Mum would take the tip of a knife and make a small cross in the middle of each cookie and it was my job to dip a matchstick in red food colouring and dot each one. It looked like a bindi caught in a frown and I loved to eat these dipped in tea.
What do you like to do to relax?
A good book – I love the author Leila Slimani’s work. Either that or a pampering facial or massage – I go to the spa at the Corinthia but keen to try the new one at Claridges.
What’s the one dish you can’t live without?
Dhal. Madhur Jaffrey called it LSD (Life Saving Dhal) and I couldn’t agree more. Its easy to make, economical, nutritious and there are so many variations too that I never get bored of it.
What ingredient would you take to a desert island with you?
Curry leaves – they have a unique flavour that can’t be substituted with anything else. I also love a good quality butter.
You can have a one-off dinner party on your island… who would you invite?
Diana Henry and Roopa Gulati – both excellent cooks and company. Nitin Sawhney for excellent music and Salman Rushdie for amazing stories.
Is there anything about the food industry that bugs you? We’d like to hear your thoughts…
I think right now it’s the lack of Government support for an industry that has proved again and again how giving it is and how vital it can be to building good communities. The rising cost of food, energy and rent combined with issues of hiring staff (thanks to Brexit etc) are crippling our industry.
As a chef, which portrayal of the kitchen spoke to you more, the film Boiling Point or the TV series The Bear?
I can’t compare them as even just watching the advert for Boiling Point was too triggering for me. I did watch the Bear which I thought was heartbreaking, brilliant and sadly relatable.
What dishes are going to be on your Christmas table this year?
A whole ham with cooked with homemade jerk paste and homemade mango chutney and a salad of roasted roots with panettone croutons. It may sound strange to use sweet panettone in a savoury salad, but I douse it with sage, garlic butter and then bake it with parmesan grated on top. It’s a great way to use it up (I am always gifted so much of it at Christmas) and it brings a comforting, subtly sweet, festive flavour to roasted vegetables. I also like to make a negroni jelly with winter citrus and orange granita for something that is a light (and boozy) alternative to Christmas pud.
What are your favourite dishes on the menu at Jikoni at the moment?
So many! There’s a woodland mushroom vol-au-vent with saffron cream and truffle that I adore, and beetroot and gin-cured chalk stream trout with tahini and soft herbs, and the charred brussels sprouts with chestnuts and hot and sour dressing. To satisfy my sweet tooth, there’s an edible Christmas wreath stuffed with salted caramel crème patisserie.
What one piece of advice would you give to a young person starting out in a career in food?
Your CV should tell a story about your values and ethics. Persevere and stay at places so you can really hone your skills and bring excellence and professionalism to the kitchen, just as you would to any other profession. Be a team player – if you can’t show hospitality to your team – you haven’t a hope of showing it to guests.
Do you have any aspirations or dreams you’ve yet to fulfil?
I’m always dreaming. Perhaps I might like to write fiction one day!
Cook up one of Jikoni’s signature dishes with our prawn toast scotch egg recipe here.