Interview with Samira Effa representing North East on Great British Menu 2020 – Women In the Food Industry
Great British Menu (GBM) returned to our screens in March for season 15. The BBC2 show puts the nation’s most talented chefs to the test. At Women in the Food Industry we are continuing our series of interviews with the strong female line-up of chefs from across Britain competing to serve their dish at the final banquet. Our co-founder, Mecca Ibrahim, interviewed Samira Effa, senior production chef for TRUEfoods and CHEFStable.
How did you start working in the food industry and where did you train to be a chef?
I was at school when I first realised I wanted to be a chef and took food technology there. I got work experience in a restaurant for two weeks and was asked if I wanted to stay on part time. I then worked my way around the restaurant and was there overall for about three years during school and while I was at Huddersfield college. By the time I had left I knew every section.
What were the most challenging things you learnt when you moved from college to working at Michelin starred places such as Paul Kitching’s 21212?
Attention to detail was the biggest thing and focussing a lot more on flavour pairing. Paul Kitching’s palate was pretty amazing and he paired lots of things that I thought would never work, which was pretty cool to see.
What have been the biggest highlights or areas you are most proud of in your career?
There’s not really anything I am not proud of and I’m happy with everything I’ve done in my career. I’ve been asked to be on Great British Menu twice now which has been great. Every step I have made, I have learnt something along the way, even if I initially thought it was a bad move.
You have been on Great British Menu before, do you feel there is extra pressure to represent your region in finals week?
Definitely, especially with all of the new aspects. The extra courses, the fact that you could go home after the fish course, it all adds up to be more pressure than last year.
How did you find working in the GBM kitchen under the eye of the cameras?
Most of the camera crew was the same as last year, so I was quite used to it and the studio kitchen. It was really nice to see the crew again and it all felt pretty relaxed.
How did you prepare for the children’s literature theme at GBM?
At first it was pretty hard as many chefs spend more time reading cookery books rather than anything else. I hadn’t read children’s books since I was young, so I re-read a lot of favourites. There were some books which really stuck out to me when I was younger. Most of my inspiration came from books that were North East based or the authors were from the region.
There are two new courses in GBM now, which was the hardest course to prepare for?
My dessert was the hardest, as I found it hard to stick on what I was going to make and kept changing what I was going to prepare! But in the end I really liked it.
GBM is very much known for its props, did you feel you embraced the props on the show?
Well in order to meet the brief, we knew that kids were going to be at the banquet so we needed to make it fun. We needed to make it interesting, so I used props on pretty much every dish.
In your round there are an equal number of men and women chefs, and we’ve seen the biggest number of women taking part in GBM this year. Have you always worked in kitchens where women have been in the minority?
Yes, I’ve always worked in kitchens where women are in the minority. It would be nice to have more women in the industry. Now that I have come out of working in restaurants and I work at TRUEfoods it is quite balanced and is about 50/50 in production.
Who are some of the chefs or cooks you find most inspiring?
There are lots of different chefs that I aspire to for different reasons. There are legends like Thomas Keller, who I looked up to when I was growing up as a chef. But more recently I’ve been inspired by chefs that I worked with – people like Paul Kitching and Guy Owen at The St Enodoc Hotel who has been on Great British Menu this year for the South West. I worked with him for two and half years and he’s inspired me a lot. One of my favourite chefs who is cooking at the moment is Gareth Ward. I have been to his restaurant, Ynyshir, three times and every time I go it’s absolutely amazing. I could go to his restaurant over and over again and not be bored.
If you were marooned on a desert island, what was the one type of dish you could happily live on?
Curry. I love all curries. I like Thai curries, Indian curries, any kind of curry.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you could have told your younger self when starting out?
Everything happens for a reason. Last year before I started TRUEfoods I had left a job, but looking back if I hadn’t left that and gone to TRUEfoods, I wouldn’t have been in such a happy place now.
Samira will be appearing on Great British Menu from Wednesday 6th May 2020 representing the North East. Look out for more in our series of interviews with the great women chefs on Great British Menu 2020 soon.