Interviews

Eran Tibi, Bala Baya

We talk to the head chef of Bala Baya in Southwark, London.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I like spending time nurturing the team who will lead the opening of the next Bala Baya, to inject motivation and to see my family around me grow each day. It sounds cheesy, but I really mean it.

Name three ingredients you couldn't cook without
Flour, lemons and tomatoes. It sounds simple but it took experimenting with 28 types of flour from all over the world to create our unique pitta recipe. Since I was born, my mother always had two lemon trees in the garden and they supplied us with tonnes of fruit which we zest and juiced to be used in almost everything – desserts, any savoury dish, salads and drinks. Finally, tomatoes are definitely an integral part of my cooking, they represents sunshine and it’s such a versatile ingredient. I love them.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
I’ve seen a lot of traditional home cooking arising, but with modern twists and chefs really finessing it and elevating it to what a restaurant should be doing – serving food guests may not be able to cook at home and would happily pay money for.

What is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
I think consistency is the top priority of any chef and sometimes when someone has cooked the same thing a hundred times they assume it’s all OK and don’t taste it. This is a downfall that can affect many chefs.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of the fish and fennel; it reminds me of the countless days spent by the sea and it’s rare now to see a whole fish being served in a restaurant with the head and tail so you can enjoy every part of a beautiful fish. Infused with our burnt mountain herbs and butter anise dressing, it continues to steal the show.

Who was your greatest influence?
My Bala Baya, my matriarch, my mother, Rachel Tibi, who raised five kids by herself while my dad worked long hours at the bakery. We all grew up to become foodies and brought friends home, she fed a table of at least 10-15 people every night and did this with such ease it always eluded me. She created the most mind blowing dishes out of very little and for this I salute her. This was even more impressive given we came from a very modest and humble background.

Tell us three chefs you admire
Sami Tamimi, Jamie Oliver and ‘mama and papa’, better known as Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer, founders of Honey and Co and now Honey and Smoke.

What is your favourite cookbook?
I love reading Nigella Lawson cookbooks because they are mesmerising and so much fun to read, but one of the most exciting and influential books I have from my mum was Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck. This book tells the secret recipes and the rich culture and cuisine of Syrian Jews from back in the days. As my mum’s heritage is almost gone (only she and her twin sister survived) it was important to her that we carry the tradition forward.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
My passion came from the stimulating environment of home with a wonderful mother and a dedicated, professional baker as a father. Mum got us involved in the kitchen from a young age and any spare time was spent helping out at the bakery. This carved a hunger and passion to learn more and do more, further developing my love for all things related to food.

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