Sarah Woods, the author of Desi Kitchen, left her corporate role at a leading pharmaceutical company to pursue a career in food. She honed her cooking skills at Ashburton Chef’s Academy in Devon, prior to taking the leap and then debuted on BBC One’s ‘Britain’s Best Home Cook’.
During the Covid lockdown, she established a thriving Desi food collection business, and now hosts regular supper clubs and pop-up restaurants in her hometown of Wilmslow, in Cheshire. She has a passion for making authentic Indian home cooking accessible to all, which leads us straight into the release of her cookbook, Desi Kitchen.
Described as “A unique culinary roadmap to the diaspora of the Indian subcontinent in Britain today,” the cookbook showcases how British Indian food varies around the UK depending on the migration history of the region; from Nepali influences in Kent to Punjabi cuisine in the Midlands. Recipes include the ‘Fish tacos in thepla flatbread’ from Leicester’s Gujarati Indians and ‘Carrot and kale bhajis’ from the Mancunian Bangladeshis.
The book is best described by Sarah Woods in her quote below:
“Food is about past, present, and future and forms part of the fabric of a person’s culture and identity. It’s about balancing preservation and evolution. There are classics alongside twists that reflect the blending of different cultures; which is what Desi identity is all about. However, it’s important to provide that community-specific cultural context, too. Much like a good curry, we’ve got layers and complexity, dual regionality, diversity, and storytelling. Desis are entering a period of redefinition, and my book aims to be a celebration of who we are and what we contribute.”
If you could add one more recipe to the book, what would it be?
We actually had to cut quite a few recipes as we were overrunning significantly; what can I say Punjabis are innately generous! That’s a tough one as there are a few. But it would be the Chipsi Mayai Omelette which was cut from the chapter on the African Indian Community, and it’s a masala omelet with French fries cooked into it!
While writing the book, you created, quite literally, a melting pot of culture, identity, and food. Did this process take you on a journey of your own? What was that like?
Isn’t that what being Desi means, the balancing and blending of different cultures? I feel by writing the book it’s been an educational piece for me, by not just telling my own story but that of brothers and sisters from other desi communities too. I wanted to provide a vehicle for these authentic voices and lived experiences of generations of immigrants that amplify the positive contribution that has been made by the South Asian diaspora. In doing so I’ve learned about communities, traditions, and religions that aren’t my own. I’ve learned that the nagging struggle with a complete sense of identity and belonging is felt universally by all Desis to some degree or another — all of the anecdotes have this thread in common. I’ve learned about brown history, about the shared history that we are not but should be taught about at school. I’ve learned about all kinds of new recipes and techniques that make my soul sing. Desi Kitchen is about a celebration of modern Britain and in telling that story I’ve learned to love and lean into my heritage that little bit more, as well as be proud of the country of my birth that little bit more too.
If you had to define one recipe as ‘home’ which would it be?
What is home? The home of my childhood nostalgia and childhood memories or the home I’ve created as an adult for my own family. I guess our parents had the same dilemma upon being asked that question, living in a country you were not born in but craving the comforts of the one you’ve left behind, yet I was born and raised in Britain. Home to me smells of chapattis being cooked fresh off a hot tawa or home-cooked chips every Friday with gravy as that’s what I grew up with. For my son, it would be a roast dinner with a little mirch-masala.
What’s next for Sarah Woods?
Who knows — kismat — but I’m ready for it.