Chef Samira Effa on eating at McDonald's and Michelin star restaurants, appearing on the Great British Menu and her new role at Grantley Hall
Samira Effa is back in the buzz of a busy kitchen.
Last month, Yorkshire-based five-star hotel Grantley Hall appointed her as head chef for its pan-Asian restaurant, Bar & Restaurant EightyEight.
She and her team have changed the menu completely since she took over and the Huddersfield-born chef has her sights set on securing another AA Rosette whilst she’s at the helm.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, keep pushing, try to evolve the food a bit more each time we change the menu,” Samira says.
“We’re working on a new menu for autumn-winter now and we want it to be better than the last menu and keep pushing.
“More often than not for me it’s not too much about trying to get accolades, it’s creating food me and the chefs enjoy creating and people enjoy eating.”
Samira, who lives in Ripon, is back in her first head chef role after a period at TRUEfoods, where she worked as a senior production chef, developing premium products for the food and restaurant industry.
“I left the kitchen and did development for two-and-a-half years when I worked at TRUEfoods.
“They had a chef’s table there for ten people and we did that Friday and Saturday nights so I still had that creative side of developing dishes, serving them to guests and talking them through it.
“It was very up close and personal. They would sit right in front of us and we’d cook in front of them and tell them everything about the dish in detail and it was great.
“But after two-and-a-half years of being there, I missed the buzz of a busy kitchen.”
When Simon Crannage, executive head chef at Ripon’s luxury Grantley Hall offered her this role, it was an easy ‘yes’.
“Taking the role was a bit different for me because I’ve never worked in a restaurant that solely does Asian cookery,” Samira reflects.
“We’re calling it pan-Asian and we’re taking inspiration from Asian cookery and putting it together with the kind of food I like to do and what I’ve learnt in the past.”
It’s fair to say she’s picked up a lot, with a wealth of experience working all over the country in various Michelin-star restaurants including 21212 in Edinburgh, Alimentum in Cambridge and Bohemia in Jersey.
At the former, aged 21, she learnt from chef Paul Kitching’s flavour combinations and discipline, but it is Guy Owen, today of the St Enodoc Hotel in Cornwall, who she credits as the chef she looks up to the most.
She was his sous chef at The Idle Rocks in Truro. “Not only did I learn cookery techniques from him but also a lot in terms of management as a head chef,” Samira says.
“When I left him, I went into my first head chef role and I had learnt a lot from there. The way he manages his team, I think it’s the best I’ve ever been in.”
Being asked to compete in the 2019 and 2020 series of the Great British Menu also shaped Samira’s career, seeing her recognised for her culinary talents.
“I got asked to do that when I’d just taken my first head chef role (at Alimentum). That was really humbling to be recognised for the food I was doing when I’d only just started doing my own sort of food.
“The first day was really daunting and exhausting but I loved it. After a couple of days being there, you just settle into it and it was fun. So when they asked me to do it again I said yeah. It is really hard work.
“The lead to the filming is probably the most stressful because you have to come up with your dishes, you need to sort out all your crockery and props and practice your timings as well as doing your day job so that’s probably the most stressful part but doing it is actually really fun.”
“Since doing it I’ve had lots of support from people I don’t even know,” Samira adds. “I think it’s made not only people in the industry but people outside of it recognise me as a chef which is lovely.”
When eating out, variety is the spice of life for Samira. “There will be days I splurge and go out to a two or three Michelin star restaurant and use that experience or the flavour combinations and take inspiration from that," she says.
"And then there are times when I want to go out for a cheaper meal or a pizza or a burger. I’m really not one of those chefs who’s like I will only eat this, I only eat high end stuff. I’ll go to McDonald’s. It just depends what mood I’m in.
“I do really like eating out in Michelin star restaurants. My first Michelin star restaurant was The Fat Duck and that was three star and I was 18 years old and since then I’ve eaten in loads all over the world...It’s nice to be able to sit down in a Michelin star restaurant and take inspiration from it.”
Her cookery style is very diverse, influenced not only by the places she has worked - and eaten - over the years, but also her family background and upbringing. Her love of rich flavours developed thanks to her Iranian mother and Nigerian father.
“My parents weren’t together when I was growing up so I’d have different meals with my dad compared to with my mum,” she recalls.
“Mum was a lot of rice dishes, big stew dishes, lots of saffron. Dad was big stews again but lots of chilli, scotch bonnets in absolutely everything.
“Me and my sister would be sat at the table crying because it would be so hot. Two very different styles of food but I loved them both.”
She enjoys the creativity of being in the kitchen, exploring different ingredients and cooking techniques.
“I can’t really remember from a young age anything else I wanted to do. I think I always wanted to be a chef.
“My mum always tells me stories of me sitting with her whilst she was watching cookery programmes when I was really little. I think it went in my head along the way somewhere and ever since then I’ve always wanted to cook.”
Her first taste was work experience with the then Bradley’s Restaurant in Huddersfield whilst studying food technology at school.
At 15, they offered her a part time job, and she spent more than three years there whilst also undertaking a BTEC National Diploma in Hospitality Supervision at college, where she was introduced to the admin side of running a kitchen.
“There are definitely restaurants that are struggling. There’s well known restaurants popping up on my Instagram and saying we regret to inform you we have to close later this year, which is really sad.
“Everything is really expensive. When I’m creating new menus, I’ve got to make sure I’m not using crazy expensive ingredients and make sure I’m still hitting my GPs (gross profits).
“It brings out our creative side, having to use lesser used products and not going for the really high end prime meats etcetera. It has changed the way we look at menus... It has changed the industry massively and I think it will keep changing the industry.”
- Samira Effa will be doing a demo at the Harrogate Food and Drink Festival at Ripley Castle on Sunday, September 4.