Meet Farang's Sebby: food writer, accidental chef, and rising TV star
At the tender age of 27 Sebby Holmes is already a published author and restaurateur with a promising career as a TV chef ahead of him.
The down-to-earth chef, who shares an agent with Jamie Oliver, launched Farang Thai restaurant in Highbury recently with help from a £4,000 loan from his granddad and he hasn’t looked back.
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Sebby’s food career began at the age of 13 when he worked in various hotel and restaurant kitchens near his Oxfordshire home. He went on to study journalism at university before heading off on a world-trip to Thailand, Australia and New Zealand.
He said: “I’ve always liked writing and cooking, my main plan was to be a food writer – I’m an accidental chef!
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“When I came back from travelling I moved to London and, looking for a job, I stumbled into the Begging Bowl which was exploring a new age of Thai food. I didn’t know what I had walked into, but I loved it - I fell in love with Asian food.”
Sebby went on to become Head Chef of the Smoking Goat in Soho. Then in 2016 he teamed up with Dan Turner to launch ‘Farang’ - together they hosted a series of pop-ups, supper clubs and private catering events then took a permanent pitch at Street Feast. When his step-father decided to give up the lease of his Italian restaurant San Danile in Highbury, Sebby leapt at the chance to open his own restaurant there.
He added: “My stepdad Marco ran San Daniele here for 21 years and many of their customers now come to Farang – initially it was just a six-month lease so we described the business as a pop-up. It’s an old building and needs a lot of fixing (we’re currently cooking in an old pizza oven). My mum helps out a lot in Farang."
The business has just signed a 10-year lease on the building and is installing new woks and a cocktail bar and preparing to open an outdoor terrace in the summer.
“’Farang’ means ‘white foreigner’ – we don’t hold any loyalty to authentic Thai – more to flavour. We use a lot of seasonal meats, fresh veg and fruits, what’s in season and what we can get. We fly ingredients in from Thailand three times a week to make sure it’s super fresh.
“It has been hard - we were in the sh*t at the start but I didn’t tell anyone; I begged and borrowed and kept cooking. After a lot of luck and hard work we’ve been blessed with great reviews from Giles Coren at the Times, Grace Dent of the Evening Standard and Time Out.
“Having a lot of brilliant mates to help out at the start made a big difference and many of them still cook with me now.”
Describing his book ‘Cook Thai’, an Amazon bestseller, he said: “I wanted to write a book about how to cook Thai Food when in England – not how to make it really complicated. The point of the book is that people can cook Thai once or twice a week rather than just special occasions.” His next book Thai Barbecue will be published in the summer and he still writes his popular food blog Articuleat.