Interview with Samira Effa representing North East on Great British Menu 2024 – Women In the Food Industry
Great British Menu (GBM) returns to our screens on January 23rd for season 19. 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, Head Chef at Grantley Hall‘s pan-Asian restaurant, Bar & Restaurant EightyEight.
How did you start working in the food industry and where did you train to be a chef?
While I was at school that was when I first realised I wanted to be a chef. I did work experience and they sent me to a restaurant in Huddersfield called Bradley’s. I did work experience there for two weeks and they offered me a part time job. 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. I had worked my way up to Chef de Partie when I was still at home and finishing college. Then I worked in a number of restaurants around the country – Derbyshire, Edinburgh, Cornwall, and Cambridge. But I knew at school that I wanted to do food technology and wanted to be a chef and that’s where it all stemmed from.
How did you get onto Great British Menu this year and how did you prepare for the Olympics theme?
I was asked by one of the producers if I would be on the show again, but I had just taken on the Head Chef role here at Bar & Restaurant EightyEight. I said I might be interested, but there was a lot going on here with my new role. They said they would call me again, which they did. We did a Zoom interview and I was invited to appear this year.
For the Olympics theme, it wasn’t super hard. I wanted to make it really personal, like the first time I went on to Great British Menu. Because the Olympics is so vast, it was quite easy to be able to find different avenues to find different dishes. I had good support here at Grantley Hall and at home.
You have been on Great British Menu twice before, how did this time compare?
Going into it again, it’s exactly the same pressure and I don’t think that people would really understand what the pressure is like unless they have done the show.
Once the first filming day is out of the way though, you relax more and you can enjoy it. It was nice to see all of the producers and all of the camera people who were there the first and second times I did it. It was like a reunion and it’s like a little family for the amount of weeks you are filming it and it was great to see everyone again.
Which was the hardest course to prepare for when you were researching for GBM’s Olympic theme?
My fish course, because I was very adamant about what I wanted it to represent but I didn’t at first know how to show it on the plate. You need to be able to read it on a plate, without having a prop next to it. It was the course that was messing with head the most before I went on the show.
Did you embrace the props on the show?
I used props a bit but not massively. The producers help you with your visuals, but essentially the food has to tell the story. I tried to embrace that as much as possible and in a way tried to make the food look like a prop.
Which chefs that you have worked with have given you the most inspiration?
My first one is the late Paul Kitching who I worked with at 21212. That was my first Michelin starred restaurant that I worked in. It really opened my eyes to Michelin starred food and training.
My second is Guy Owen who works at St Enodoc in Cornwall, who has been on Great British Menu too. I worked with him when I was at the Idle Rocks for two and half years. He taught me a lot about food but his management style is what I took the most from him. That’s what I have incorporated into my Head Chef role now. The way he managed the kitchen and managed his menus, I got a lot of that from him.
If you were marooned on a desert island, what was the one type of dish you could happily live on?
It’s a hard question but I am going to say curry. I love curry, any type of curry. I like Thai curries, Indian curries, that’s what I would be happy with.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you could have told your younger self about being on the show?
Not to overthink anything. When you go into a competition like Great British Menu, the first thing you think about is am I going to come across well, how will people perceive how I am. But if you put your head down and work hard, you will come across well. The fact that I still got asked to come back on the show, even though last time I didn’t perform as well as I’d hoped, is really humbling and makes me feel proud. In the long run whatever happens in the competition people will still support you which is really, really lovely.
Samira will be appearing on Great British Menu from Tuesday 23rd January 2024 representing the North East. Look out for more in our series of interviews with the great women chefs on Great British Menu 2024 this page will be updated regularly.