Huddersfield chef Samira Effa has returned to Yorkshire. Catherine Scott finds out what her plans are for the future.
It has been a difficult couple of years for Samira Effa.
First Alimentum, the former Michelin-starred restaurant in Cambridge where she was head chef closed down. Then her job as head chef at the renowned Box Tree in Ilkley ended after just five months.
But the 28-year-old chef refuses to let any of this get her down neither does it diminish her love of cooking or desire to excel in her chosen profession.
“Being in the kitchen is what I do best,” she says.
And she has just taken a job at Truefoods in Ripon with Mitch Mitchell, working between development and production in the business that makes top end products such as stocks for Michelin-starred chefs.
“I am super excited to be involved in a growing business and look forward to working with Mitch, Aled and the rest of the team.”
She will also be involved in Chefstable at Truefoods, also the brainchild of Mitch Mitchell, which brings some of the country’s top chefs to Ripon for an exclusive private dining experience.
It will be a departure for Effa who has worked in traditional restaurants since before she left school.
Her love of diverse cooking styles comes from her mixed parentage, she says.
“My mum is from Iran and my dad is from Nigeria so I grew up eating a variety of food,” says Effa.
“With my dad, dinner was always a sat-around-the-table affair, but with my mum it was very different.
“She always tells stories about how I’d sit and watch cookery programmes with her as a child.
“I can’t say I massively remember doing this but apparently it must have gone in somewhere along the line.”
Her dad was a doctor in Huddersfield, where Effa was born.
“I used to cook with them when I was younger, but it wasn’t until I was doing work experience in a local restaurant when I was at high school that I realised that I wanted a career in food.”
That work experience was at the then Bradley’s Restaurant in Huddersfield where she was offered a part-time job while still at school.
“I just loved the buzz in the kitchen. I started out making salads and slowly progressed to sauces and deserts.”
She was at Bradleys for more than three years in total before moving to Derbyshire where she spent jus over a year as Chef de Partie at the Devonshire Arms in Beely.
From there she moved north of the border, taking a job as senior chef de partie at Paul Kitching’s 212121 restaurant in Edinburgh – her first taste of working in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
“It was a massive eye opener,” says Effa, who celebrated her 21st birthday while working there.
“Paul Kitching knew exactly what hew anted and it was refreshing to see that.” From there she moved to Alimentum as sous chef, where she met her partner, John.
After 18 months the couple left and moved to Jersey where Effa worked in one Michelin-starred Bohemia before they moved together to a restaurant hotel in Cornwall.
“We were there for two and a half years when I was offered the Head Chef role back at Alimentum. It was really good. The food was good and I had a lot of freedom.”
It was during this time that she was approached to appear on the Great British Menu.
“I had watched the programme and so decided that it would be something I would quite like to be involved in.”
But, shortly after filming, the owners decided to pull the funding and Alimentum was forced to close leaving Effa and her partner out of work.
“It was frustrating as we had only been back ten months.”
But within a matter of weeks she had been approached by chef patron of the Box Tree Ilkley and offered the job as head chef.
They decided to return home to Yorkshire, her partner John, who is from Rawdon, works front of house at Michael Wignall’s Angel at Hetton.
Although Effa was excited about the prospect of helping the Box Tree regain the Michelin star it lost last year, after just five months ‘professional differences’ between Gueller and Effa saw an end to her second job in a year.
But this determined Yorkshirewoman was never going to be long out of a kitchen.
“I miss it too much,” she says. “This is what I want to do and it is what I am good at.”
Someone who was clearly impressed by her cooking was Leeds Michelin-starred chef and Great British Menu North East Regional judge Michael O’Hare.
“I really respected Michael’s comments,” says Effa who won through the finals of the North East region but was pipped at the post by Tom Anglesea, originally from Durham, but now head chef at The Laughing Heart in London.
“I was quite nervous. I really liked the brief but we didn’t have long to plan it and I was working full-time at the time at Alimentum so it was a bit stressful,” says Effa. “But in the end it was really fun and I would love to do it again.”
The theme of this year’s series of The Great British Menu is British pop music, marking the 50th anniversary of the last time that The Beatles played live together. The banquet will take place at Abbey Road recording studio.
Although Effa didn’t make it to the banquet this year, she is determined to get there in the future.
Great British Menu is on BBC 2 on Wednesdays, Thursday and Fridays at 8pm. Yorkshire Michelin-starred chef Tommy Banks will be a judge on the programme on may 8 and 9