Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery Oral History Project

Interview with Helen Saberi



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Technological University Dublin


Helen Saberi was born and lived in Yorkshire until she was nineteen years old. After secretarial college in Leeds she applied for a post in the Foreign office and moved to London. She was posted first to Warsaw, Poland and then to Kabul, Afghanistan where she stayed until 1980 when she returned to England.

In the late 1980s she met Alan Davidson with whom she worked on the Oxford Companion to Food, following which they co-authored ‘Trifles’ which she describes as a lot of fun and the complete opposite to the Companion. She has fond memories of working with Davidson in those early years while keeping tabs on Prospect Books and PPC (Petits Propos Culinaires) and Davidson’s ever-expanding piles of books, papers and files. She has gone on to publish The Road to Vindaloo: Curry Cooks & Curry Books with David Burnett, Cook’s Delight: An Anthology of Food, Fantasy and Indulgence with Madeline Swan, Tea: A Global History and Turmeric: Great Recipes Featuring the Wonder Spice that Fights Inflammation and Protects Again Disease. Helen also edited the proceedings of the 2010 Oxford Symposium Cured, Fermented and Smoked Foods.

She first attended the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in 1991 at Davidson’s urging that she present a paper on Afghanistan and public eating following the earlier publication of her book Noshe Djan: Afghan Food and Cookery. She remembers meeting people such as Sami Zubaida, Harlan Walker, and Catherine Brown, and describes the importance of the lasting friendships she has made at the Symposium as well as the fun of the pot luck meals when it was held in St Antony’s. Poignantly, she recalls organising the Afghan meal in 2001, the same year that 9/11 took place and how, with her Afghan husband, they arranged for a group of London-based Afghan chefs to travel to Oxford where they created and cooked the meal served. She hasn’t missed a Symposium in twenty-six years and describes the gathering as an annual class reunion with people who have become an important part of her life.

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culinary history, oral history, interviews, gastronomy



Interview with Helen Saberi