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10 burning foodie questions with... Aktar Islam

by Helena Lang
10 burning foodie questions with... Aktar Islam
Chef Aktar Islam

Aktar Islam is the award-winning Michelin-starred chef and owner of Birmingham Indian restaurant Opheem. Here, he shares his foodie secrets

1. Takeaway or Fakeaway?

Takeaway please, it’s easier and so much quicker.

2. What’s your signature dish?

It’s a biriyani, the perfect one-pot meal. My recipe is a real crowd-pleaser, and it’s a Hyderabadi style that I learned in India using goat meat. All my mates are chefs and it’s what they all ask for when they come over.

3. What’s your favourite cookbook?

Like most chefs, I’ve read and enjoyed Marco Pierre White’s classic White Heat, but more important for me isn’t a recipe book, it’s an Indian court manuscript from the late 1400s. The sultan at the time was a real epicure, and it’s a documentation of the food and lifestyle of the period. What the chefs of the time went through to shape the food was outstanding. There is a recipe for paneer samosas, and they even reference the colour that the cows should be to milk for the paneer and what they should be fed on, including lavender and honey! It really inspired me and made me want to continue to work in such a detailed way.

4. Starter or dessert?

Starter. Always. My favourite is a liver parfait with some crusty bread and a good chutney. Brawn is also one of my favourite things but something you don’t see on menus very often. We do a brawn using wild boar and make it into a spiced croquette.

5. What’s your last supper dish?

A really good steak. At my other restaurant, Pulperia, we have built the menu around beef like a proper Argentinian restaurant; it’s so good, it’s one of only seven restaurants like it to be featured in the Michelin guide. I eat a steak once a week without fail.

6. My favourite ingredient to cook with is...

Anything citrus. A lot of people don’t understand how wonderful citrus is. I use it as a seasoning and it’s almost as important as salt. It can bring out the sweetness or acidity in a dish. For example, in the summer we were using Isle of Wight tomatoes at the restaurant, and a splash of lemon and lime makes the tomatoes sing!

7. Any kitchen disasters to share?

All the time. Life is a learning curve. The worst was probably when I was appearing on Great British Menu a few years back and was making a recipe for ‘flaming ice cream’ – except the alcohol I was meant to use had evaporated, so there was no flame. That was in front of several million people, but I survived…

8. What’s your guilty food pleasure?

A friend of mine owns a McDonald’s franchise and I occasionally take the team down there for a Big Tasty. They are very satisfying.

9. Which food trend would you like to see the back of?

Watermelon steaks. I mean, watermelon is never going to be like a steak whatever you do to it, no matter what the Instagrammers say.

10. Pineapple on pizza. Yes or no?

Definitely not. I used to own a pizzeria, so I should know.

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