No one else in her family cooked, so Sabrina Ghayour taught herself at age 5

The World
Sabrina Ghayour

Sabrina Ghayour

Courtesy of Sabrina Ghayour

Sabrina Ghayour is a British chef and author. She was born in Iran and moved to the UK as a small child. It was 1979, the year of the Iranian revolution, and the year many Iranians left the country.

In Britain, young Sabrina grew up eating ... well, it was a mixed bag, actually.

"I grew up in the rare house where nobody cooked," Ghayour said. "My grandmother didn't know how to cook, my mother didn't know how to cook and there was just nobody else in the family. So I grew up on a mixture of restaurant food, benevolent aunties, and things from the supermarkets. Convenience food was in in a big way when I was a kid, thank god, because it meant we ate!"

TV dinners

Ghayour is self-taught through and through: She started cooking when she was 5, watching TV chefs on British television and falling in love with what they were doing: "An Indian lady named Madhur Jaffrey and a Chinese chef called Ken Hom," she said.

"Being Iranian but growing up British and going to school in England and shopping in English supermarkets with British or European produce is so different to the stuff that's in the Middle East," Ghayour said. "It gave me double the playground of flavors and produce and ingredients to play with.

"My mother is — I can't even say that she's a terrible cook because she just doesn't cook. At all. But she really made my love for food grow. She introduced me to eating with chopsticks and took me for croissants when they weren't a thing and nobody knew what they were. She used to mix Betty Crocker cake mixes for me as a kid and that was really the extent of cooking with my mother. But I have my kitchen memories."

A cheese that doesn't grate

Ghayour recalled one night when her mum came home from a party. She came running into the kitchen and exclaimed "I've just had this amazing dish, and I'm going to make it tomorrow night!"

Ghayour said those were "like horrific words for my ears because I'm like, oh god, here we go..."

Her mom had eaten a tortilla-like omelette that had grated vegetables and cheese in it, and she'd loved it, Ghayour recalls.

"And she was making it the next night, begging me to stay out of the kitchen, mostly not to ridicule her," she remembered. "And she's grating this cheese and things go silent. A few minutes later she calls me: 'Can you come in here, please?' I come into the kitchen, and she tells me that 'it's one of those cheeses that clearly doesn't grate. It doesn't grate. It's not grating. It's probably a cheese that doesn't grate.' And I went, 'well, if you turn the grater around to the side where you can actually grate the cheese, it will grate.'"

Ghayour said she and her mother are very different. "She doesn't really have a clue about food, bless her. ... But she is the consummate appreciator."

Sabrina Ghayour's latest book is titled "Sirocco: Fabulous Flavors From The Middle East." She is also the author of "Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond."

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