Sarah Ali Choudhury: Simple, Sumptuous Dishes

Sunetra Senior Sunday 22nd April 2018 21:06 EDT

Sarah is a rapidly rising chef, writer and teacher of cookery at Bournemouth College of Hospitality. Having been in the creative food business for about two years, she has already appeared on Channel 4’s My Kitchen Rules which involves contestants creating a successful pop-up from their homes, following her string of very successful YouTube videos. “My cooking journey is one that has come full circle,” Sarah commented. “I used to work in front-of-house at a restaurant where I would witness the joy of people eating together but had an apprehension that the kitchen was a hot and stressful place to be. Now, after a career in banking and also property, and having a family, I’ve gradually discovered the simple magic that’s hidden in that bustling environment. I realised just how good at it I was when the kids seemed to prefer my home-cooking to eating out!” Indeed, innate talent advertises and grows itself. Rustling away such accolades as the New Kid on the Block Small Award and qualifying as a finalist in the International Indian Chefs Awards, 2017, Sarah’s culinary momentum has only continued. She was also recognised as the youngest Indian woman to manage an Indian restaurant when she was working at the Taj Mahal Restaurant in Bournemouth, at the tender age of twenty.


But there has been no special industry secret to Sarah’s cooking and professional success, and this is part of its unique appeal. “I enjoy what I do, and make achievable, authentic and delicious food that anyone can recreate at home. It’s that straightforward. I then enjoy teaching people about those recipes! We all want great food, but don’t necessarily have the time to do it.” This was certainly evident when we asked Sarah to be specific about some of her favourite ways to introduce great flavour really fast: “I love cooking with Scotch bonnet, a type of chilli pepper, leaving the stalk in, using dry shrimp and cooking on the bone.” But, there is yet more to Sarah’s instant popularity. As well as her food, she is also honest and open towards her passions. “I really feel you should aim for what you want. I am now in my forties and feel just as free as when I embarked on my first career. I allow my mind to wander and go where the cookery will take me. It’s good to go out of your comfort zone and push for high standards. I teach this to my children too.” Having travelled a lot and soaked in the many gastronomic influences of those many exciting international locations, Sarah even hopes one day to take her business -  the aptly named Easy Curry - to dreamy Monte Carlo. “Opening my own restaurant at an ideal location would certainly be great, but for now I’m enjoying the private catering, competitions, teaching, demos and exploring” – that of new ideas alongside the mixing of ingredients. Sarah is also an ambassador for the UK Nepal Friendship Society, rejuvenating Nepalese culture in the area of food as well as a willing participant in big community projects such as feeding the homeless in her homestead of Bournemouth. Thus, the unfettered entrepreneur shows us how preserving pure ambition not only makes for rich cuisine, but a vastly fulfilling career. Being true to herself, she hasn’t just helped herself, but also organically, others. “Truthfully, my greatest influence has been my mother and my grandmother before that,” Sarah concluded. “I draw from that simple but powerful essence of home-cooking. The detail in the recipes is always a product of this. My husband, for example, is from Bangladesh where the type of cooking is different, but still feels that familial comfort. I take my heritage of great cooking and narrow it down so it becomes accessible to everybody.”

As well as that ‘sumptuous simplicity’ what else do you feel you bring to the table?

Being a woman in a male-dominated industry, I can also bring first-hand experience of family life and contribute to the idea of accessibility that way. It is also an achievement for me to be able to be a role model for businesswomen and women everywhere. We are taught that women cook and men work, but I’ve married the two worlds. I’ve recently been named on the British-Bangladeshi power list as one of the most influential people and won the Venus award for Influential Woman of the Year, 2017. It’s great to know I can inspire women who might be feeling insecure or shy, transforming and reclaiming a traditionally domestic space very powerfully.

Is there an alchemical element in your popular easy-to-make dishes?

The inspiration is everywhere. I give my food the attention and love, and that saves the time!

What is a culinary influence in terms of heritage?

If I’m having difficulty, I always go to my mum. I’d always sit and watch her cook as a child. She is from Guyana in South America while my dad is from India, and my husband, of course, is from East Bengal. There’s then a lot of mixture within the family which makes for original but homely dishes.

You write columns on good food too. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Yes, I’ve been able to write for publications in Singapore, Malaysia, and India and Bangladesh.

What are some of your favourite Indian dishes?

I actually have an online recipe book with a few of my favourites for people to see, but for me, the best ones are: my fish curry using white fish, put in a coconut sauce, and a vegan recipe comprising of Aubergine, capsicum and potato. The first is very creamy with quite a few spices so it has a strong cultural taste.

Finally, what grabs you most about cooking?

The feeling of the flavours exploding in my mouth and people enjoying my food. Good cooking can remind you of your childhood - just like you might remember the smell of a perfume when you went on your first date, these sensory memories stay with you. I also enjoy the challenge of getting people to see how great being able to make their own food can be. I love receiving feedback too. Personally, it’s been great being able to succeed at what I love doing.




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