Flash-grilled: Marwa Alkhalaf

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Flash-grilled: chef Marwa Alkhalaf co-owner Nutshell Iranian restaurant London Covent Garden

Related tags: Chef, Restaurant, London, Iranian food

The co-owner of Iranian restaurant Nutshell in London on what it means to be a good chef, and why she regrets not pursuing it as career from a younger age.

Pet hate in the kitchen?
Not using common sense. Cooking in a commercial kitchen can become a habit, but being a good chef means that you constantly need to think on your feet and adapt quickly.  

Sum up your cooking style in a single sentence…
Constantly changing and improving recipes to break the routine. 

What’s your biggest regret?
Not becoming a chef at a younger age. I did my Diplôme de Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu after I did my degree in Geophysics, and it feels like I’ve wasted those years not doing what I love. 

Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
A scale and a thermometer; precision, precision!  

What’s the dish of another restaurant or chef you wish you’d thought of?
Scully’s arepa with eggplant sambal and bergamot labneh. This dish combines flavours that I grew up eating with flavours that I discovered and fell in love with during my travels. 

MasterChef or Great British Menu?
Great British Menu. 

Most overrated food?
Micro herbs. Just use the real herb for a more intense flavour and a fraction of the price!

Who would your dream dinner party guest be?
Anthony Bourdain – his storytelling and sensitivity to the importance of cuisine and link to culture goes unparalleled. 

What’s your earliest food memory? 
I was obsessed with anything Italian when I was younger and one of my mother’s cookbooks had a recipe for an Italian bread, so I decided to give it a try. Needless to say, the result was a disaster considering that I was only nine years old and had zero knowledge of baking. 

Tipple of choice?
Doogh! It’s a cold savoury yoghurt drink famous in Iran. Traditionally the yoghurt mix is kept outside to ferment which gives it a nice fizzy feel. 

Favourite food and drink pairing (the more obscure, the better)? 
Doogh and baklava (or anything sweet really, I would even pair it with a Snickers or Mars Bar). The tanginess of the doogh balances the sweetness very nicely. 

What is the worst meal you’ve cooked at home?
Bread cake! I didn’t have any flour at home, so I decided to use stale bread instead and freestyle the recipe. The cake was stodgy and unpleasant.

Where will be your first meal out post lockdown?
Ikoyi – I love what they do in elevation of flavours not traditionally thought that way. It’s similar to Nutshell and Iranian stereotypes in that way.

How are you keeping busy?
Improving my bread making skills. A lockdown trend, I know, but as you will see from the rest of this, but me and baking (not very well) seems to be a recurring theme here!

Houseparty or Zoom?
Zoom, just because I started using it first…

What boxset are you watching?
During lockdown I started watching US Office again - it's even more hilarious the second time.

What’s the one ingredient you always have in your kitchen at home?
Saffron. Sweet or savoury, adding saffron is always a good idea. 

What one ingredient would you stockpile?
Again saffron, because good quality Iranian saffron is really hard to find in UK so whenever we travel to Iran or know someone going there, we bring some back with us.  

Related topics: People, Restaurant, Profiles, Chef

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