In discussion with Simi Rezai

The Queen of Persian cookery gives me some of her time.

Ever since I decided I wanted to write an article about Simi Rezai, I have pondered how I wanted to write it. It seemed easy to talk about her being a pioneer for Persian food in the UK or to talk about how delicious her food was but I wanted to think about how she had influenced me as a cook and as a person.

This involved looking a little deeper but I started by asking her about her food and her inspirations.

What has been inspiring you in the kitchen lately?

Lots of seasonal wild greens such as the wonderful wild garlic, wild chives, nettles then the woody herbs like sage, rosemary and myrtle as well as sorrel and rhubarb.


What is your favourite dish to enjoy with friends and family? And what do you like to cook for yourself on a quiet night in?


Osh, as it varies with seasons. Now I’m making osh with some the greens I mentioned above. We made it at our Neston Farm Supper Club and I think everyone, that is the guests and your crew really enjoy it. It isn’t just healthy it is delicious, comforting and aromatic.


To me, Osh is a wonderful thing and really sums up what I felt I have learned from working with Simi. In essence its a soup which is made wonderful by a combination of a really well flavoured stock for body and freshness brought from fresh herbs (aromatics). The body is made up with grains and pulses.

Now I think I fell in love with this dish before I fell in love with Ramon. They use the same concept. Traditionally in the case of Ramon, its a great stock with fresh aromatics and noodles for body.

But as I said, I wanted to look further into this to look at her influence on me. To do that, I wanted to ask her about what makes her tick.

Who is your food hero / heroine?

I have many, but on an international level I am very impressed by the slow food movement and all those involved. My family and then locally Dan Smith. I met Dan through BOG and he has always impressed me with his can do, field to fork attitude. He is extremely generous and in my first year at the garden he grew and gave me some saffron. I’m lucky to have him as a friend. A couple of years ago we built a cob oven at BOG and that year he grew wheat. On the day of our annual harvest party he threshed the wheat, ground it by hand, made a loaf which we baked in the oven.  

As for famous people, so far I’ve met several of them.  Anna Del Conte and Claudia Roden who have both become friends and have kindly encouraged me. I’d like to meet Darina Allen, Sheila Dillon and Carlo Petrini.


Now, this started to make me realise that we had some of the same food heroes. To hear her say that Anna Del Conte was her friend filled me with ore. The Queen of Italian food. There is a wonderful documentary where she meets Nigella Lawson called ‘The cook who changed our lives’. It must be good, because I lasted a whole hour watching Nigella… Mind you, in this she isn’t in her night gear eating straight from the fridge.

Among so much, Anna Del Conte talked about how in Italian cookery you wouldn’t use both onions and garlic in a dish as they do the same thing. Seems obvious and a rule I’ve stuck to ever since.

I like to ask people what they would cook for the queen if she came to their house, In this case I feel the same question is appropriate for Simi’s food hero.

What would you cook for them if they came to your house?

Depending on when they come, what else but a seasonal osh?  I believe if you cook the food you love your self and are proud to share then people feel that pride and love in the dish.


Slow food and Carlo Petrini is a subject very close to my heart. ‘Slow food Revolution’, a book where he is in conversation with Gigi Padovani was a huge influence on me when I read it many years ago.

I think Simi has become the ‘real life’ personification of the slow food movement to me. The understanding of cooking with tradition and passion to gain so much pleasure from eating such simple food.

I still felt the need to look that one step further. It is Simi as a human that inspires me. I have been fortunate enough to be invited to her home for a tasting of her menu and her hospitality is so genuine and kind. She is a quiet person and at times appears to lack confidence. I think I see a lot of myself in that.

Simi Rezai runs her own cookery school and does food demos across Bath. Find out more…

How do you feel the people of bath have responded to your style of food? What could they learn from it?

Well over the years doing events in and around Bath such as the Glorious Garlic event at Prior Park National Trust, then demos in Kitchens and Rossiters, and of course events at Neston and Hartley Farm I’ve had a chance to get direct feedback. I’m pleased to say people really love it. At first I think they seem surprised at how the subtle the flavours of Persian food is. They also like and therefore cook and share the dishes with their friends and family as they are easy, crowd pleasers which are healthy and balanced.
I have also been baking cakes for a few places in Bath over the years and my gluten and dairy free brownies are always a hit. In season I pick local fruit and vegetables either from my organic allotment or Bath Organic Group Garden affectionately known as BOG and make seasonal cakes and preserves to order.

 

 

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