The festive season is upon us, and if you’ve ever obliterated the roast parsnips or put too much flour in the gravy, it’s good to know that even chefs sometimes have Christmas dinner disasters too.
Last year Sabrina Ghayour served up a “cremated” goose to her friends and family, and it wasn’t even the only element burnt.
Here, the British-Iranian cook and food writer, who released her latest cookbook Bazaar, with 100% vegetarian recipes, earlier this year, shares her food memories – the highs as well as some (pretty funny) lows.
Sabrina’s earliest memory of food is…
“Food memories are really tied to my mother because she couldn’t, well she still can’t, cook, but she is really instrumental in my love for food. She used to take me to places like [Japanese restaurant] Benihana when I was a kid. Back then that was a huge deal, I now realise how lucky I was.
“She’d take me to eat Chinese food and teach me how to eat with chopsticks. And she’d say, ‘This is a croissant’, ‘This is salami, it’s from Italy’ – we’d get it from her colleague who was Italian, that’s the only reason we saw salami and Mortadella before it was a thing, because it wasn’t everywhere.
“I have memories in the kitchen playing around, she put me on a stool in this kitchen [where she’s lived since she was age two] and was probably about four and I would be stirring the boil in the bag fish – cod in mornay sauce, or cod florentine, whatever that Eighties stuff was.
“Also frying carrots and courgettes together, and strips of steaks and soy, because we’d just got Uncle Ben’s here, Ken Hom was on the telly, woks were everything and every British household bought a wok. Because we were like, ‘Woah! Sauces in jars? That’s madness!’ It was madness.”
Sabrina’s big kitchen disasters include…
“I dropped food live on national television. You know the Persian rice we flip over? They made it for Saturday Kitchen in a frying pan, and I said, ‘Why did you make it in a frying pan?’ So of course because it was a smaller pan, it didn’t have the gravity, the heaviness, to sort of flip – so a third of it dropped on the floor.
“In my head, every expletive was going. It was live, no time delay. Johnny Vegas was the guest and I thought, ‘Oh no, he’s going to crucify me’, but he said, ‘Don’t worry, it feeds two people and a dog – perfect’. I thought they were going to fire me, but the producers said everyone was loving it.”
What about at Christmas?
“Christmas last year was pretty epic. We had an early Christmas on December 8 with myself, my boyfriend, my mum, and her friend. We were going to have a wonderful meal – I was going to cook a goose for the first time! So I order this goose, I was so excited. But dinner was at 11.30pm because I was about four hours late and drunk. I kept thinking, ‘It’s slow cooking, it’s fine!’ Because you can leave lamb in the oven for however long on a low temperature and it’s fine – not so much goose.
“I served a rock solid goose – there was no meat to speak of, just shards, brown shards, underdone roast potatoes, burnt cabbage, totally rock solid, cremated goose, something that resembled gravy… but the parsnips were perfect because my boyfriend did those. And we wet ourselves laughing. it was Christmas so we’d let our hair down, we were dancing before dinner.
“That was probably my biggest disaster, but it was hilarious. Thank god we had chips and salami, olives and salmon canapes and all these things that I’d made, because we didn’t have any dinner by the end of it.”
Your culinary highlight has to be…
“Recently it was the fact I got a barbecue and I made these Persian kebabs – we only have three kebabs, so our recipes are very special! It was my first attempt and they turned out flawlessly.
“I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ and I had tears in my eyes, saying to my mum, ‘They taste exactly the same!’ You don’t understand, I’ve grown up with this recipe for 40-something years, and one idiot mistake and I could have cocked them up!
“That was a real kitchen moment of happiness, when things come off like that. When I have an idea in my head, if I taste something and I want to do my recipe inspired by it, I write it down on paper then get into the kitchen and test it. And when it turns out exactly how I wanted, there’s just this solitary smug moment.”
Bazaar: Vibrant Vegetarian And Plant-Based Recipes by Sabrina Ghayour, photography by Kris Kirkham, is published by Mitchell Beazley, priced £26.