My Favourite Dish: Riyadh Khalaf
The winner of BBC One’s Celebrity MasterChef 2020 shares the recipe that transports his dad back to his homeland
Broadcaster, author and YouTube personality Riyadh was born in Bray, Co. Wicklow. His mum, Lorraine, is Irish, and dad, Sam, comes from Iraq. In 2017, Khalaf presented the six-part BBC Three documentary series Queer Britain. Two years later, he published his debut book Yay! You’re Gay! Now What?: A Gay Boy’s Guide to Life. He went on to win the 15th series of Celebrity MasterChef, where he dedicated his semi-final dishes to his father.
"I was always surrounded by amazing home cooks and international cuisine. My mother and grandmother were instrumental in teaching me the basics of cooking and how it can bring the family together.
"Being from a mixed Iraqi/Irish household, my mum would often cook dishes that would remind my father of his childhood. This food was always an emotional experience for him, and it’s when I really saw the power that food had to comfort people and make them feel a sense of home and love.
"My mother put so much effort into making meals that were interesting and different. Each night it felt like we were tasting another part of the world, and it was thrilling – Mexican fajitas on a Monday; Irish ham, cabbage and potatoes on Tuesday; Iraqi koftas on Wednesday; an Italian pasta dish on Thursday; British/Irish fish and chips on Friday, and who knows what over the weekend.
"My father grew up in war-torn Iraq as the youngest of four brothers. There were times when food was so scarce that a meal would consist of a pre-portioned piece of bread and cheese. He was so hungry as a child that he would have to climb fences and steal cucumbers from a farmer’s field – he was once shot at in the process.
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"When my dad fled Iraq, he met my mother in London and they both moved to Ireland. She wanted him to taste a piece of home, so decided to learn how to make lamb or beef kofta kebabs served with crispy pitta, aromatic hummus, grilled aubergines, fattoush salad and tzatziki. It is without doubt my favourite thing to cook for myself and friends. It transports me back to countless delicious childhood dinners and beautiful family conversations around the dinner table about the memories it brings back for Dad.
"The kebabs are fragrant, moist on the inside and slightly charred and caramelised on the outside, and the freshness of the salad and the tzatziki cut through the richness of the meat. Colourful, tasty, nutritious and packed with history.
"We would often use the experience of eating it to start conversations about Dad’s past. No matter how many times these stories are told, we always get another nugget of information that he unlocks from the deepest recesses of his brain.
"The excitement in Dad’s face as it’s being prepared and as we begin eating it is always just as visceral. He is utterly transported and it is beautiful to see."
Make Riyadh's favourite dish – Iraqi lamb koftas with baby roast aubergines.