Sarah of Granville Street
By Francesca Sullivan
In a small retail space tucked away off a leafy square in Dokki, a fascinating mixture of office and kitchen is home to an innovative culinary project devised by Sarah Khodeir, whose foodie posts on Instagram have been making mouths water now for some time. But what is her business all about? In person, Sarah is a fascinating mixture herself, tall and striking with a strong physical presence combined with a passion for her calling. A food consultant with big plans to open a retail outlet in Cairo for her all-natural recipes, she took time off to talk with Cairo West Magazine about what’s cooking…
CWM: Tell us about your background and the origin of your brand name?
SK: I was born to Egyptian parents but grew up in Vancouver, where my lifestyle has always been very influenced by a natural philosophy of living. Granville Street is a street in Vancouver famous for fine art galleries, theatre, music and a big culinary scene. It’s really the place where I became ‘me’. In my family everyone is an artist and a good cook! Although I studied architecture and design, food for me is a passion.
What inspired you to create your multi-faceted operation?
Every summer I would enjoy coming to Egypt, but I grew increasingly frustrated at the lack of options in the food and beverage industry and the non-availability of ‘natural’ products. I have always had a strong identity here, and following the 2011 revolution I felt inspired by events to come and resettle; I felt I could make a difference. I determined to research the market, find out what was really needed and what people could accept.
At first, it was a struggle being here, and I returned temporarily to Vancouver to study with Delores Custer (an internationally known food stylist and educator), training with her in recipe writing and food styling. Re-motivated and with a new energy, I came back to Cairo in 2013, but in the meantime I’d already begun to develop an Instagram following with my food pictures, and whenever I was here I’d do ‘sample recipe leaks’, sending them out to people who’d contacted me on Instagram, and getting their feedback. I’m a very visual person, and taking pictures of my recipes is something I’ve always done. Somehow the nature of the images seems to have appealed to people, and the Instagram account developed a big following. The food in my pictures is not stylized and polished as it is in most food photography. I like to capture ingredients as well as the natural mess created by cooking, and my pictures are usually taken with natural light.
I established the Granville Street name and began working as a food consultant in recipe development and styling. TBS (The Bakery Shop), Crave and Good Cals are examples of some of my clients, companies looking for new ideas and a more ‘real’ approach to food. Part of it is about fixing things: training staff, rearranging clients’ cooking processes, food budgeting and supplying a manual at the end of the consultancy period to enable them to continue on their own. I see this work as a bridging process before launching my own products.
What are your most popular recipe inventions?
I have developed new product ranges for clients that include sandwiches, salads and desserts, but some of my biggest successes have been in baking. For example our ‘Magda blondies’ (as opposed to ‘brownies’), Raspberry Peach Brulee galettes, and a new invention: dark chocolate gluten-free Earl Grey cookies, flavoured with Earl Grey tea – I like working with tea! In the New Year I’ll release a ‘dark chocolate rose bunt cake’. I like to combine ingredients that might not traditionally go together, in fact my very first recipe was a healthy cookie for kids, using fruit, carrots and sweet potato. I was disturbed by the diet I saw Egyptian kids being fed, full of additives and chemicals. I use natural ways of producing great colours, such as my beetroot and lime glaze on a vanilla doughnut.
Do you see an increasing awareness of organic and organic products among our community?
Definitely. Since 2013 I’ve noticed a huge jump, with people talking about fitness and trying out new, healthy food products, and there are more and more organic farms as well as farmers’ markets. With increasing awareness, we can push the changes further; it’s slow but it’s happening.
I feel that part of my mission is about capturing the culture of food and helping people become more connected with where that food comes from and how it is grown. Although in Egypt there is too low a priority placed on quality (tea and cigarettes somehow seem more important than nutrition!), on the other hand if you look at the fast food industry here there are some positives. Forget MacDonalds; if you buy a fried chicken sandwich on the street in Egypt it actually has a higher nutritional content than the stuff served in many Western fast food outlets.
What challenges did you face setting up your business?
There have been a lot of challenges, mainly stemming from the fact that, Egyptian or not, I’m an outsider. Conceptually, even my own family have had a hard time understanding exactly what I’m trying to do even though now they’ve seen my work in action, but they are still very supportive. Initially, I didn’t have enough help and it was hard to find the right team, especially being a woman in a very male dominated industry. Catering in a commercial kitchen is very tough job, and male chefs – especially in this culture – usually don’t like to take advice and direction from women! One of my idols is Julia Child; when I think of what she achieved as a woman in this field I am in awe of her.
What are your plans for the future?
My future plan is to open a retail outlet for my products and to launch my own range. I would also love to have a wider influence on peoples’ food habits, especially in schools and food preparation for children – the Egyptian Jamie Oliver!
Tel: 01202255599 or 01002201990