Sabrina Ghayour, Persian and Middle Eastern Chef, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th February 2014

Sabrina Ghayour is a chef, food writer and the host of the hugely popular supper club, Sabrina’s Kitchen Supperclub, where she cooks Persian and Middle Eastern cuisine.

Her family left Iran when she was just two-years-old. At age six she taught herself to cook mostly Chinese and Indian dishes and by her late teens was taking on her native Persian cuisine. Soon she was hosting her own supper parties in the evenings and weekends whilst working in events for several top hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants.

After her take on Thomas Keller's French Laundry Pop-Up went viral in the form of “The French Launderette”, she moved into cooking full time and has never looked back. Most recently she was nominated as one of The Observer Food Monthly’s rising stars of 2014. Her first cookbook, Persiana, is coming out later this year.

What’s it like having a load of strangers eating in your living room?

Scary! At first I was like, I don’t understand these supper clubs with people coming into other people’s homes, that’s nuts! I suppose it is kind of bonkers and you do hear some really bad stories but, touch wood, I’ve never had any incidents in two-and-a-half years. But then again I’ve got 15 knives on me; in events I’m used to slinging out massive rugby-playing city traders who are a bit worse for wear and I’ve got no problem confronting them, so I’d like to see the person who tries!

Do you have any help in the kitchen or for service?

I’m literally marketing, sales, chef, cleaner, waitress – the works; but that’s kind of what people want because I used to do it before where I was just the chef with 20 people at my friend’s house and everybody would be like, “can we see Sabrina?” So then I thought, even though I have to work twice as hard at least people see me and it’s what they want; they’ve been following you for two years on Twitter so they kind of want to talk to you.

How did you move from hosting dinner parties in your spare time to becoming a famous, full-time supper club host?

I lost my job working in the city doing corporate events two-and-a-half years ago. I’d just joined Twitter and all I knew was that I didn’t want to go back to working in events. I kind of floated around for a while and I really wanted to go to Thomas Keller’s London pop up of the French Laundry, then I found out that it was going to be in Harrods and cost £250 for a ticket so I thought it probably wasn’t sensible, having just lost my job. I joked on Twitter that I should do my own for £2.50 and call it The French Launderette. Somebody said: “You’d never be able to do that.”

So I decided to do it. The next day it went viral and I had meat suppliers, restaurant venues and so many different people out of nowhere offering me stuff for free. It was even in The Independent in the morning. I was getting literally 300 emails every day from around the world asking for tables; I even had some of Thomas Keller’s own staff asking for places. I had an office line that I’d converted for the task and every time, day or night, that I’d plug in the phone, it would be ringing and I’d just unplug it and go “Oh my God!”

How would you define Persian cuisine?

It’s the complete opposite to the rest of the Middle East in that Middle Eastern cuisine is very much about the clever use of spicing whereas Iran doesn’t use spicing. We produce two spices – cumin and saffron but our main flavours are about simplicity and regionality of ingredients with lots of citrus flavours and an abundance of herbs – we use masses of herbs in stews, side dishes and rices. They are quite simple dishes so if you don’t really like spices you’ll love Persian food. Persian cuisine is delicate, subtle and aromatic and not aggressive at all.

What would the typical herbs and other ingredients be?

Parsley, coriander, dill, fresh fenugreek, basil, chives, pretty much everything apart from the woody herbs like thyme and rosemary. Other ingredients would be tomatoes, aubergines, lamb; we revere poussin – baby chicken – as opposed to chicken, and of course everything is served with flatbread.

How has Persian cuisine influenced other cooking cultures?

The combination of fruit and meat together and nuts and meat together is something that we’ve had a famous history of, so tagines are attributed to Persian cuisine. Indian cooking, especially in the era of the Moghul empire, was heavily influenced and actually biryani is a Persian dish. Kebabs come from the soldiers of the Persian empire; the reason you see kebab skewers with a flat blade in Turkish and Greek restaurants is so they look like swords because the Persian soldiers would set up camp, kill whatever was around to eat and grill the meat on their swords.

What does the future hold for you?

Would you consider opening a traditional restaurant? Never. Absolutely never. I have worked long in enough in the restaurant industry – the best part of two decades – to know that it doesn’t matter how amazing you are as a chef or how well connected you are, or how much backing you have; making a restaurant successful is a hard, hard, draining business and I’ve seen much better chefs and much more

Would you consider opening a traditional restaurant?

Never. Absolutely never. I have worked long in enough in the restaurant industry – the best part of two decades – to know that it doesn’t matter how amazing you are as a chef or how well connected you are, or how much backing you have; making a restaurant successful is a hard, hard, draining business and I’ve seen much better chefs and much more well-connected business people fail. You see it every day on Twitter, so I’m under no illusions. I don’t need my name over the door somewhere to know that I’m good at what I do or that I love feeding people. It’s a money pit and frankly, I have a family that I love and a partner that I love and I don’t want to be away anywhere six, seven days a week, 16 hours a day worrying about it. It’s no life for me. I like variety. Variety is the spice of life.

Sabrina’s cookbook, Persiana, is available on Amazon now and  you can find her on Twitter at @SabrinaGhayour




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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th February 2014

Sabrina Ghayour, Persian and Middle Eastern Chef, London