Huddersfield-born Samira started her career at a local restaurant whilst still at school, where she developed her love of rich flavours thanks to her Iranian mother and Nigerian father. Since then, the now 32-year-old has gained a wealth of experience all over the country in various Michelin-starred restaurants including 21212 in Edinburgh, Alimentum in Cambridge and Bohemia in Jersey. Samira, now based in North Yorkshire, has also worked as a senior production chef for TRUEfoods, which helps to develop premium products for the restaurant industry. Samira became head chef at Bar & Restaurant EightyEight at Grantley Hall in June 2022. She is currently appearing on the latest series of Great British Menu.

Why did you want to become a chef?

Simply because of my love of food. It sounds very stereotypical and is likely what every chef would say, but it’s true. I love how creative you can be with food and really immerse yourself in it; every day is different. One of the best parts of my job is coming up with new dishes, sharing the concept with the team and seeing it all come together for our guests to enjoy. I also grew up around lots of different types of food – my dad is Nigerian and my mum is Iranian, so when I was younger there were always lots of strong flavours and I think I subconsciously took a lot of that on as a child.

Tell us a little about Bar & Restaurant EightyEight

It is an Asian fusion restaurant and, despite me absolutely loving Asian food, it’s actually the first Asian-style restaurant I have worked in. It’s probably my favourite type of food to eat, whether that’s Thai, Indian, Chinese or Japanese. Asian food is bursting with flavour, particularly curries which are one of my favourite things to cook. I love that on the EightyEight menu we are able to explore all of those countries because of the size of our menu.

We don’t just stick to Asia for our inspiration, we have incorporated French cooking techniques, for example, alongside the Asian food which allows us to mix the menu up and make it our own. It’s great for the team and I because it means that we don’t just stick to one cuisine type, which happens a lot in a kitchen and it means that we can always develop and experiment with different flavours and styles of food. I always like to work collaboratively with the rest of the kitchen on different dishes and encourage the team to share their own ideas that we can continue to develop dishes together.

What was it like being back in the Great British Menu kitchen?

It was daunting to be asked back again, obviously such an honour, but very daunting. The pressure of filming is a lot, you have cameras on you at all times so you do feel as though you’re under the microscope but there is an incredible buzz around the programme. Cooking shows like Great British Menu are the type of shows that I love to watch, so to be part of it is amazing.

I love that you meet so many fantastic people on the show, whether that’s other contestants, the production team and, of course, the judges who it’s amazing to work alongside and get their feedback throughout the show. There is a lot of work that goes with it behind the scenes, but it’s such a good competition to be part of you can’t really turn down the opportunity.

What are some of the highlights of filming for the 2024 series?

It was great to be back on the show again after four years. The production team are always a pleasure to work with as they are just such a support to everyone who is competing. They are so encouraging and if you are ever doubting yourself – which can happen with the pressure of the show and the cameras – they are always on hand to pick you back up and give you the confidence to carry on.

I loved filming with Andi Oliver again. She is such a positive influence on the show and has such a ‘can do’ attitude which is infectious. Of course, having contact time with all of the judges is such an incredible experience. Being in one room with such talent is a once-in-a- lifetime experience, so that element of the show is something I always cherish.

First dish you learned to cook?

I remember my parents were great at teaching me the basics in the kitchen. Staples such as eggs, rice, pasta sauces and things along those lines which were all good skills to have from a young age. My dad is Nigerian and always used to make hearty stews which I used to help with when I was younger, so I remember cooking those family meals quite vividly. When I first started out as a chef in a restaurant, I was stationed on a pastry section, so I’m well versed in creating a crème brûlée or sticky toffee pudding - those dishes have stuck with me!

Most vivid childhood food memory?

With my parents’ backgrounds, spice was a huge thing in our house. I always remember eating really spicy dishes as a child which has built up my spice tolerance over the years as I can really handle the heat when it comes to my food. I was probably eating things that were way too spicy for my palate at that age, but it’s something I still love to eat to this day.

Most memorable meal out?

I’ve been lucky enough to eat out at so many different amazing restaurants over the years. Each one is different and has a unique offering, so it would be hard to cherry pick just one! My current local obsession is Bantam in Helmsley, I’ve eaten there a lot in the last year and absolutely love their offering. It focuses a lot on small plates which is one of my favourite ways to dine as you get to try so much.

Going up the scale slightly, a really special spot is Gareth Ward’s Ynyshir restaurant in Wales. I ate there a few years ago when it just had one Michelin star, it now has two stars so I am dying to go back to experience it once again. It’s unlike anywhere else – if you haven’t heard of it before, it’s well worth a look. Oversees in the States, I’ve dined at The French Laundry in Napa Valley and Benu in San Francisco both of which were incredible.

Favourite ingredient?

Chilli peppers because of the sheer diversity of the ingredient. As I mentioned before, I love spice, so no dish is complete without this for me. In EightyEight, we use Korean chilli pepper, or Gochugaru, a lot on the menu along with green chillis, red chillis and shichimi. All of which help to elevate a dish.

Your go-to snack?

Crisps – any flavour will do.

If you weren't a chef, what would you be?

I can honestly not imagine myself in any other career, I feel as though this job was made for me. It’s certainly an environment I thrive in.

When I was at school though I loved anything to do with athletics. I was a great runner and have always been competitive so perhaps this could have been an avenue I pursued. Cooking has always been my passion so I think it was always the direction I was going to head in.

Your dream dinner guest?

Anthony Bourdain would have been amazing to have as a dinner guest. He’s such an inspiration to so many chefs and has played a huge role in the hospitality industry. Another would be Marco Pierre White. His book ‘White Heat’ was my first ever cookbook so he’s always been a chef that I’ve looked up to.

What's your guilty food pleasure?

Sweets. I’m buying Mike & Ikes on repeat at the moment. Not that exciting, I know!

Great British Life: Samira Effa Samira Effa (Image: Tom Sykes)

Who are your Yorkshire food and drink heroes?

Yorkshire has so much incredible talent to shout about when it comes to chefs and I’m so proud to be from this corner of the world. It’s another reason that I couldn’t turn down Great British Menu again, so that I could represent my county. As for my Yorkshire hero, I would have to say Tommy Banks. He was a GBM banquet winner on two separate occasions which is an accolade in itself and I think the way he has developed his brand is incredible. The Black Swan is certainly one of my favourite places to visit.

A place you love to eat?

I’ve already mentioned it, but Bantam in Helmsley is definitely a favourite at the moment, although my normal days off tend to be the days that the restaurant is closed which makes it tricky to go – but I always seem to make it work because I love it so much!

Although like many of us recently, I have been trying to limit dining out as much as I used to. My partner and I recently bought a house so that has been a big focus for us. But I think it just means that eating out then becomes more of a treat.

I think that’s an interesting point for chefs and hospitality in general to remember as the market continues to change; guests are really cherishing that time out, so ensuring that we are delivering exceptional experiences time and time again for our guests is really important.

A career highlight?

It has to be Great British Menu! Being invited to take part the first time was incredible, but to be asked back a further two times was really something special. It’s an experience in my career that I will remember forever.

What's next for you and the restaurant?

I would love for EightyEight to become an AA 3-Rosette restaurant, that’s my next goal. It would be amazing for the team and I and is certainly achievable for us. Other than that, I want to continue developing EightyEight’s offering and continue to see repeat guests. It’s a tricky time at the moment for many restaurants with so many sadly closing their doors, so I just want us to keep creating good food that people keep returning for.

I think what we have here at Grantley Hall is really special and unique. Where else can you experience Asian fusion food in a restaurant that looks like you’re in a bustling city centre, but are in the heart of the Yorkshire countryside?

Great British Life: Grilled diver king scallops made with kimchi butterGrilled diver king scallops made with kimchi butter (Image: Tom Sykes)

Samira’s favourite dish

My absolute favourite dish from EightyEight is the grilled diver king scallops made with kimchi butter which was on last summer’s menu. I couldn’t get enough of this dish! We created the kimchi ourselves and so the process took around three weeks to create due to the fermentation of the kimchi itself.

I mentioned that I like to use different cooking techniques and blend cuisines, so this dish had its own take on the French beurre blanc sauce, utilising the kimchi in the sauce. The sauce was so flavoursome as we used smoked butter which paired so nicely with the delicate sweetness of the scallops.

What do you think about International Women's Day? Why is it important to have it?

I think from a chef perspective it’s important to champion women in this industry as it is still very male-led. I hope that by appearing on the Great British Menu as the only female in my region helps to encourage other young budding female chefs and inspire them to follow their passions.

Who are some of the women who inspire you?

Clare Smyth has always been an inspiration to me. She worked under Gordan Ramsay and then opened up her own restaurant, Core, which is now a two Michelin-star and she also has an MBE. I think she is an inspiration to any female chef because she has worked so hard to achieve what she has in a very male dominated environment. Her food is a true inspiration to me because of how delicate it is and how much attention to detail goes into everything.

What piece of advice would you give to women hoping to forge a career as a chef?

Don’t ever give up on your passion. Don’t be afraid to be opinionated, shout about what you’re good at and just keep working at your craft. This industry isn’t for the faint-hearted and you have to work your way to the top, but if you have the drive and determination, you can absolutely succeed.

What wish do you have for 2024?

I’m really excited to see the reaction from the Great British Menu and to see the buzz around EightyEight after the show airs. I want to continue to work towards that third AA Rosette for the restaurant and ensure that we see more and more return guests. Part of my job is to create food that people will want to come back for; EightyEight is such an accessible restaurant so I want everyone to be able to experience just how great it is.

I don’t ever want EightyEight to be one of those places that you go to once for an occasion and never return to again, I want to keep it fresh and exciting so that we can welcome you back time again.