How chef Ayesha Kalaji really eats

Everyone’s got a food story to tell… Welcome to Fridge Raid, the delicious. interview series where people from all walks of life answer our nosiest food questions, from what’s in their fridge to the last takeaway they ordered. Each week, we ask people to reveal the quirky realities of how they really eat – and the food experiences that shaped them.

Our first guest is chef Ayesha Kalaji, owner of restaurant Queen of Cups in Glastonbury and MasterChef: The Professionals alumnus, whose modern Middle Eastern food takes inspiration from her Jordanian roots to Somerset’s local produce.

Ayesha tells us about what’s lurking in her veg drawer, why beans on toast means so much to her and choosing coffee over tea any day…

How chef Ayesha Kalaji really eats
Portrait: Vicky Steward

Pick ‘n’ mix

What would you typically find in your fridge?
More condiments than any one person could ever consume. And grapes. Somehow there are always grapes.

What can you eat on repeat?
Anything with labneh. Give me strained yogurt or give me death.

How do you make a cup of tea?
I throw the teabag away and have a double espresso.

Last takeaway you had?
Pizza from the local Italian.

Favourite kitchen item?
Hibachi grill (Japanese charcoal grill).

What did you have in your lunchbox as a child?
All the usual stuff like Babybels and cheese sandwiches. But occasionally something more exotic like lychees.

What attitude towards food did you grow up with?
That food is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Ayesha is fuelled by coffee


The main meal

How did your cheffing career begin?
At the wonderful Leiths School of Food and Wine and then on to Middle Eastern restaurant The Palomar in London.

What’s the reality of running your own restaurant?
Exhausting, stressful, but immensely rewarding. I’m a lot greyer than I was three years ago, but a lot more fulfilled.

How does your job as a chef affect how you eat?
I rarely cook for myself as I spend all day cooking. But I’m eternally grateful when anyone cooks for me. Even beans on toast, if it’s made by someone else, makes me happy!

"I’m eternally grateful when anyone cooks for me. Even beans on toast makes me happy!"

What’s the must-eat dish at Queen of Cups?
The grilled nabulsi cheese smothered in black lime honey, oregano and cured lemons. Always and forever!

What’s the story behind the restaurant’s name?
Being in Glastonbury, it was important for me to reflect the town’s distinctive nature. The queen of cups is a tarot card that symbolises compassion as well as caring and nurturing qualities, which is something I always seek to show through my food. It also sounds like a traditional pub name, tying into the history of the building.

How has the building’s previous life shaped Queen of Cups?
The pub was incredibly popular for hosting live music, so we’ve continued that tradition with a weekly blues jam every Sunday evening. We love hosting live entertainment including drag nights and open mic nights, all lots of fun and it’s great to showcase local talent. People still come in and use the space a bit like a pub, popping in for drinks and snacks. We’re very proud of our beer and ale selection – all local, all excellent!

How would you describe your experience on MasterChef: The Professionals?
Utterly terrifying and anxiety-inducing but immensely rewarding and enjoyable. A real jumble of emotions! Ultimately, it’s been an amazing opportunity that I am hugely grateful for.

My bite-sized week

What was the best thing you ate this week?
The dinner I cooked for my flatmate on a random Tuesday. Bone-in ribeye roast, baharat-spiced jerusalem artichokes, tenderstem broccoli, béarnaise sauce with sumac and lashing of gravy, of course. I just can’t resist adding sumac!

What was the most mundane meal you ate?
Mac and cheese. Although I could quite happily eat it every day.

Mac and cheese could never be mundane to Ayesha


Did you cook a meal off the cuff?
Any meal I cook at home is generally improvised. I’m not organised enough to have groceries in the fridge. I’m incredibly creative with random tins and unlabelled tubs of pulses in the back of my cupboard. Just don’t look at the sad bunch of dill in my veg drawer.

What food/drink did you buy on the go?
A sausage roll from the butcher next door. It was incredible!

What was your treat of the week?
Not entirely for me, but I was testing a menu for a wedding, which meant incredibly rich, decadent desserts. I have never been so excited to try a pavlova! Think hibiscus, rhubarb, lashings of orange blossom whipped cream and pistachio brittle galore.

Where did you shop for food – and what did you buy?
Morrisons and my local butcher. Mostly for the one meal I cooked, fizzy sweets and tangerines for my kitchen team – and much deserved wine for me.

And what did you do to relax?
I don’t get a lot of time to unwind, but this week I tried a women’s self-defence class! I also watched a popular drag competition with my housemate and my three cats while having a dram of whisky. Pretty blissful to be honest.

Find out more about Ayesha’s restaurant, Queen of Cups in Glastonbury.

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