Sabrina Gidda: 'I'm cooking the food of my culture but through the lens of my professional experience'

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Chef Sabrina Gidda on her new cookbook Modern South Asian Kitchen

Related tags Sabrina Gidda Indian cuisine Chefs

The former Bernardi’s and AllBright chef is best known for cooking European food but has just penned a cookbook that explores her Punjabi roots.

This is your first cookbook. How did you find the process of putting it together?

It’s been a bittersweet time. My mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2021 and we lost her towards the end of last year. I got to cheers the deal with her. She would have been incredibly excited to see it published.

Tell us about Modern South Asian Kitchen

The book is an exploration of my culinary heritage. Most people don't associate me with Indian food because I've largely cooked modern European food over the course of my career. I launched Bernardi's (an upscale Italian restaurant in Marylebone) as executive chef in 2015 and have competed in The Roux Scholarship twice. But it all began in the kitchen at home for me watching my mum cook Punjabi food. 

The title of the book suggests it’s not only Punjabi recipes…

Yes that’s right. I'm cooking the food of my culture but through the lens of my professional experience. But a lot of the recipes are my mother’s. It’s been a very emotional project for me. All the recipes were created in her kitchen in my family home in Wolverhampton (Gidda now lives in London). My father – who was previously the eater of the family rather than a cook - was promoted from third commis and KP to sous chef. He was actually an enormous help and it allowed us to journey through the loss and grief together.

Cover Shoot Modern South Asian Kitchen

Tell us about the recipes

It reflects the food I had as a child in that the dishes are cultural mash-ups between Indian and UK food. When I was growing up, we had a cupboard full of beautiful Indian spices but we also had Bird’s Custard and frozen potato waffles. A good example of this fusion is my mum’s cauliflower cheese paratha. Other recipes in the book include masala bouillabaisse; methi chicken Kyiv; butter chicken pie; and my mum’s trifle.

Tell us about Biji’s Chutney 1967

That’s an interesting one. My grandfather was one of the first Asian men in the country to own a pub, in fact at one point he had three of them. My grandma made samosas and kebabs to sell on the bar. Back then the supply chain was not what it is now so to recreate a tamarind dipping sauce she combined ketchup, brown sauce, mint sauce and garam masala. Her side hustle got so big that she brought herself three houses with all her samosa money. The recipe works surprisingly well, so we included it in the book.

Other than working on the book, what are you up to at the moment? 

Since my departure from AllBright (a female private members club with venues in the UK and the US) I have been focused on consulting along with writing my book. I love working with different teams, on varied brief's and also with an international mindset - it's such diverse work and appeals to my global style of cooking. Projects recently include work for Carte Blanched (part of Ennismore), a Surrey-based pub group and a progressive London-based bar and dining room. 

Will you do your own thing at some point?

Yes. I’m enjoying consulting but I do miss having a brigade that I work with every day. But it’s tough out there at the moment. Right now feels like a good time to be honing my skills and learning from people – timing is crucial in this industry. I’m not sure what it will be. But it could be a pub serving Indian food. Given my family’s background in the trade it’s an itch I’m going to have to scratch at some point. I love a good pub.

You have recently become an ambassador for Pancreatic Cancer UK. What will that involve?

I'm kicking things off with a 100-mile cycle from central London to Essex and back as part of RideLondon. I’ve signed up six chef friends and one friend that is not a chef. We’re hoping to complete the route in 7.5 hours. I only bought a bike five weeks ago but I’ve barely been off it. I’m my mother’s daughter – if I put my mind to something it will get done.

Modern South Asian Kitchen will be published on 30 March (Hardie Grant, £27). To sponsor Gidda's ride and support the work of Pancreatic Cancer UK head here.​   

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