Meet Philip Juma: the London chef putting Iraqi food in the spotlight

Philip Juma is a chef on a mission: to educate London about Iraqi food, and to show Iraq is about more than just war. Half-British, half-Iraqi, Juma grew up eating the food of his father's homeland, remembering hours spent in the kitchen watching his aunties preparing a myriad of dishes. 

Despite a food-obsessed childhood, it wasn't a straight path into the industry for Juma. After an Economics for Business degree at university, he went into the CIty. But during his six years in the Square Mile, he spent his free time cooking at weekends, volunteering in restaurants and helping out friends on street food stalls. 

It was only in 2012 that he had the confidence to make the jump and JUMA Kitchen was born. Here, he tells us about his company and what he wants to achieve. 

What is Juma Kitchen all about? 

Pop-ups were the first vehicle I used to introduce Londoners to the cuisine back in 2012. It used to be all friends and family, but now I hardly know any of the guests which is great. 

But JUMA offers so much more now in the hope of getting Iraqi cuisine in front of the whole of London whether it be from hiring me as a private chef in your home, catering for a special occasion or being part of the street food movement. I want to show people that Iraq is a country rich in heritage, culture and amazing food. 

What exactly is Iraqi food? 

It's very unique. Back in the Mesopotamian era, Iraq was seen as the cradle of civilisation, so you're eating something steeped in history. It really packs a punch with flavour - India had a hig influence on our cuisine, so many of our dishes are rich in coriander, cardamom, saffron and cumin. 

Our signature dishes are: Masgouf, which is seasoned, grilled carp; Kubba, minced rice and meat patties; and Dolma, stuffed vegetables including onion skins and wine leaves. 

Is it similar to any other cuisines? 

I think there are cross overs with many Middle East countries including Lebanon, Turkey and Iran. All of which, including Iraq, create their own version of humous, amazing bread, main courses centred around rice, and flavoursome lamb dishes. 

Lebanese cuisine has undoubtedly become the most popular Middle Eastern cuisine in London (if not the world!) but there are plenty of similarities with Iraqi cuisine. 

How would you describe your style of cooking? 

Contemporary Iraqi. I like to take our classic dishes and inject some modern finesse and sophistication where necessary. But within reason, there is nothing worse than taking a dish too far and ruining it. 

Do you have a signature dish? 

Without question, it is Dolma. Picture this; tender lamb mince and rice marinated in tamarind, garlic, pomegranate and aromatic spices. This is all then stuffed inside onion shells, peppers, courgettes, baby aubergines and vine leaves, and then slow cooked in lemon juice, stock, pomegranate molasses and a little bit of sunflower oil. 

It is a dish that is really close to my heart. My family has its own unique baharat (spice blend) that we use in the dish too, which makes it even more special to me. I never get bored of serving it. I have such a vivid memory of my dad bringing out a huge tray of dolma for special, family occasions. The smells, steam and look of the dish is so grand. 

Philip Juma will be sharing traditional Iraqi recipes in his new column for the London Evening Standard.

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