A woman’s place is in the kitchen?

For many of us, nurture is associated with women. From mothers’ first milk to our grannies indulging us with weekend treats, our caregivers while we grow up are most likely to have been female.

I was raised by three women in Soviet Russia during the 1980s, when a small apartment often housed several generations. This made for a powerful connection between me, my parents, grandparents and great grandmother. I learned from them; sometimes I felt that I too had lived through the Russian revolution, war and Stalinist terror, so vivid were their stories.

My home education also included rich culinary traditions encompassing Russian, Ukrainian and Jewish cuisines, and my earliest and strongest culinary influence was my great grandmother, Rosalia. A Holocaust survivor, she fled Nazi-occupied Ukraine in 1942 and settled in Siberia where she lived until her death in 2003. She’d witnessed grave atrocities and great deprivation, but Rosalia was one of the gentlest and most generous people I’ve known. For most of her life, she worked as a cook in Soviet canteens – so while I would hesitate to call her a chef, she was definitely a feeder who continued to cook until her very last days.

This love of sharing food was passed on to me. I hadn’t considered a career in cooking until four years ago. At the time I was working for London’s Russian film festival (I’d studied film before), but often found myself down the rabbit hole of Instagram looking at food. I saw people – including my Ukrainian friend Olia Hercules – making waves with their cooking. Having noticed the trend towards less formal dining experiences, I wondered whether there might be a niche for a cinema-inspired supper club, and KinoVino was born.

We are all familiar with the paradox: acts of feeding are associated with women, but remain limited to the domestic realm, while professional cooking is dominated by men. But that is changing. The internet and social media have helped blur the boundaries between the private and public, and while the implications of this can be mixed, it’s definitely for the better when it comes to food – and to the visibility of women cooks. Look no further than Mazi Mas in Hackney to see a venture that’s training refugee women in London to put their home cooking to work in order to find employment and make a living.

Meanwhile, Britain’s food scene, once defined by high-end dining, now includes supper clubs and street food, which offer opportunities for homely meals and, often, recreate the intimacy of a family dinner (and let’s not pretend these aren’t usually prepared by women around the globe). This is certainly what I try to achieve with KinoVino, which usually features women guest chefs. A very special energy is created when women make a meal and lay the table together. It allows us to establish a symbolic link to those who fed us at the same time as making our mark professionally.

It was in this spirit that chef Romy Gill asked me to take part in her all-female charity dinner The Severn Sisters Feast in Bristol last year, in aid of Action Against Hunger. Rather than making a political statement, Romy wanted this dinner to be both a celebration of female talent and an opportunity for women in the industry to cook together. Each chef was invited to create a dish meaningful to her. The food that decorated the tables reflected the mixed backgrounds of the cooks in the kitchen: Ukrainian dumplings with British spuds, Siberian pickled mushrooms beside an Indian curry. The feast will visit London’s Borough Market on 4 October, adding Ghanaian and Greek cuisines to the repertoire.

Inclusive, diverse, non-hierarchical, and seamlessly blurring the line between professional and domestic cooking: these are the hallmarks of women who work together in kitchens. Everyone is as uniquely qualified to cook and have an opinion about food as they are to eat it. My great grandmother would never have called herself a chef, but I think that if she’d lived in the food culture that I do now, here in London, she’d feel more proud of cooking to earn her keep than she did.

Some 50 years separate Rosalia and me as two women making a living as cooks. She never had the chance to eat at a restaurant. So when I’m peeling onions with my kitchen comrades in Borough Market next week, she’ll be firmly in my consciousness.

Originally published in https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/sep/29/kinovino-supper-club-severn-sisters-feast-female-women-chefs-cooks-alissa-timoshkina

Cook Beautiful by Athena Calderone. A book review

In our Instagram-obsessed world where the importance of the look is paramount, it’s so refreshing and inspiring to come across someone like Athena Calderone of Eyeswoon. Yes, that woman looks stunning, she cooks stunning food and presents it in the most elegant manner; and yet there is a lot more behind the picture-perfect surface; there is a real warm energy about what she does and a profound understanding of food – its textures, flavour combinations as well as its role in brining people together. 

The first ever dish that I tried to recreate in my kitchen a while back, literally as soon as I’ve read the recipe, was this number (roasted cauliflower with a punchy parsley-capers-jalapeno dressing). SOLD IMMEDIATELY!  Since then this dish has become a staple in my home which I continue to adapt and alter from time to time, and which now feels like a good old classic of my own. Similar can be said about rosemary roasted grapes served atop of a crostini smothered in lemony ricotta. I could not believe my luck to have come across a treasure chest of unique recipes that is Eyeswoon! However, it is not only the elegance of the food and the adventurousness of her palette that drew me to this lady. I discovered her account at a time when I was feeling completely lost in my professional life, emotionally and intellectually depleted after finishing a PhD, creatively stifled after endless hours spend in the library and frankly panicked that I will never find a career that makes me truly happy. The way Athena spoke so honestly about her own creative trials and tribulations and the wisdom and warmth that oozed from the images and the text, made me feel … connected. It does sound insane and a tad scary (hello stalker) to say I felt connected to a person I’ve never met and only saw pictures of her food on Instagram. Yet that’s exactly how I felt and began to reconnect with myself, asking what does make me truly inspired and excited, and what do I feel happiest doing – cooking! That was the answer. 

Fast-forward three years, and here I am sitting on the floor of my living room, pouring over my very own brand new copy of Athena’s debut cookbook – COOK BEAUTIFUL. I have to confess that I’ve been religiously following all the behind-the-scenes moments of the book shoot on Instagram, so again, I have that odd feeling of reconnecting with an old friend while paging through my copy. Well, what can I say, in a nutshell – this book swoons the hell out of my eyes! From the food styling and photography, the the layout and the colour coordination of each chapter, this book is a pure aesthetic delight and I can only lament that this copy will get pretty disheveled as I will page through it time and time again. 

There is a beautiful simplicity to Athena’s style of food – it may be a recipe for roasted squash yet an addition of a crunchy topping or a zesty dressing elevates the dish immediately and makes your realise just how much flavour is packed into this elegantly simple plate. What I do love the most is Athena’s use of herbs – a lady who is not afraid of tarragon is the one after my own heart! As I turned each page I caught myself exclaiming some kind of a sign of pleasant surprise, fascination or curiosity – there is no single recipe in the book that is predictable, ‘trendy’ or similar to the one you’ve already read a few pages ago. However, they all feel like a part of one story for there is a coherence of style and theme running throughout. Seasonality guides the book’s form and content, but it’s also the charm of the author that makes you feel fully immersed in her beautiful universe. 

Each chapter is also complemented with tips on style and decoration of the dinner table. The decor obsessive in me is in heaven and just wants to dive into the page to sit at the exquisite table created by Athena. OK, let’s face it there is no way I will be able to afford to recreate these in exact detail ( I can only buy one set of cutlery from West Elm not six). But having said that, each chapter does strive to make these design ideas as accessible as possible, suggesting how to find a more affordable solution.

Those who know me, have experienced how I love to add a little touch of something extra to the meal when gathering friends at home (not to mention when organising a KinoVino event) or even when having a simple dinner on a Tuesday night with my man (he often begs ‘can we just have a normal meal without all the theatre’). So if you are anything like me, COOK BEAUTIFUL will take your breath away. There is a lot to be said about the pleasure of looking at something aesthetically pleasing – it makes you feel inspired, moved, allured and fascinated, but also gives a sense of comfort, groundedness and connection. This and a lot more is what I experience when I explore Athena’s world. 

All images from COOK BEAUTIFUL

Return of the Magnificent Severn

Supper club pioneer Alissa Timoshkina explains how a team of extraordinary female chefs came together for last year’s Severn Sisters Feast and why she’s so excited that the gang is getting back for a repeat at Borough Market.

On a chilly November night in 2016 a group of women with a huge passion for food gathered at Bristol’s Yurt Lush to put on a feast for 75 guests to raise money for the charity Action Against Hunger. So began the exciting journey of the venture that is the Severn Sisters Feast. The project was not conceived by chef Romy Gill with a specific gain in mind—nor was it envisaged from the start as an annual event. All Romy wanted to do was to raise awareness about the important work of Action Against Hunger and create an occasion for so many wonderful women working in food to meet and cook together.

As one of the least experienced chefs, still relatively new to the world of food, I was humbled, slightly terrified and extremely excited by Romy’s invitation to take part. And boy, am I glad I said yes to her offer. The Severn Sisters Feast in Bristol was one of the most special events of last year, not only for me but for so many of my fellow ‘sisters’.

Together with our guests we raised over £3,000 for the charity, and many wonderful new collaborations were inspired that night. Having received great coverage in the press, the evening was also the subject of Sheila Dillon’s BBC Radio 4 Food Programme, after which we all knew the Severn Sister Feast must happen again. And so it will, on 4th October 2017 in the beautiful setting of Borough Market’s Market Hall.

Original sisters and new faces
Headed once again by Romy, the line-up will include most of the original sisters, including Rosie Birkett, Elly Pear, Xanthe Clay and Olia Hercules, and we are thrilled to welcome some new faces, like Maria Elia, Paula McIntyre and Zoe Adjonyoh. Our behind the scenes team is equally brilliant and includes such talents as Joey O’Hare, Maxine Thompson and Henrietta Inman.

Bigger in scope and ambition, the feast this year will be hosted by Mina Holland (Guardian Cook) and Kate Hamilton (Suitcase Magazine) and is set to attract over 100 guests. What can I say, we do like a challenge! While the menu is still top secret, you can get a taster of things to come during a series of sessions in Borough’s demo kitchen from some of the chefs: Olia, Zoe, Xanthe and me. For her demo on 28th September, Xanthe will team up with a microbiologist to explore the fascinating phenomenon of fermentation, while on 14th September I will draw on my Jewish-Siberian heritage to present some of my favourite dishes and drinks, adapting them to the produce available at the Market.

The magic of the special energy that is created when people gather around a long dinner table adorned with candles and flowers is beyond words. So is that special buzz that oozes from a busy kitchen where talented women conjure up a feast. Do come along on 4th October for this one-off experience!

Book tickets for the Severn Sisters Feast

Originally published on Borough Market blog



KinoVino Kaukasis. Behind the Scenes

There are a few film directors who inspire me more than Sergei Paradjanov. The Soviet-Georgian-Armenian artist was a unique voice in the world of cinema who’s unparalleled exuberant style remains a huge influence long after his death. The explosive abundant visuals of his masterpiece ‘The Colour of Pomegranates’ have lured me ever since I saw the film for the first time some 10 years ago and, revisiting the film on regular basis ever since, I never fail to uncover something new. Having studied Paradjanov as a film student and co-organised the largest festival of his work in the UK back in 2009, I have explored (obsessively) every still from the film as well as each and every of his collages and photographs. His symbolic presence in my life has always spurred me on to be more creative with my own work yet I have never had the occasion to really put into practise all that I have absorbed over the years. That is until recently…

When one of your closest friends happens to write a stunning cookbook dedicated to Caucasus, you know now is the time for that crazy Paradjanov event you’ve always been dreaming of! And what can be better than the fact that your friend (I am sure you have guessed by now that I am taking about the beautiful Olia Hercules) happens to be a fellow Paradjanov aficionado and totally ‘digs’ what I want to say and achieve with the event. As soon as Olia sent me her notes after re-viewing the film through a KinoVino prism, I knew we are going to make something very special together (the fact that we have already produce two stunning KV gatherings over the last couple of years also helps, of course). 

We both knew that we wanted the food to be the artwork on the blanc canvas of the table. Olia’s menu echoed the imagery from the film and entered in dialogue with its themes and motifs. We left our menu deliberately obscure and poetic, so all our guests knew as they sat down to the table was the they were about to have: ‘Lavash. Earth. Salt’; ‘Creature of the Sea’; ‘A Beast with Pomegranates’ and ‘Celestial Peaches’. Perhaps this is a bit too wacky, but I am sure Paradjanov would have loved it this way. What the cryptic menu translated to was: ‘Caucasian bread with edible soil, tkemali beetroots and fermented baby aubergines’, ‘Pollack with walnut sauce, a spicy adjika relish, crispy shallots and micro herbs’, ‘Pulled lamb with herbs and pomegranates’ and ‘poached peaches, floating island, creme anglaise with a shard of apricot leather’. 

When you have a menu that is so unique and characterful, what do you do to set the right mood and how do you select the decor that does not overpower the food, nor overwhelms your guests. The easiest choice to make was the music – Georgian polyphonic singing is probably the most stunning human-made sonic creation that never fails to give me goosebumps. So that was the soundtrack of choice, played at a very gentle volume. For the lighting I decided to bypass the ever-present festoon lights instead dimming the light slightly with a few soft spotlights here and there. May be I am being a bit too poetic here, but the quality of the light in our space really reminded me of a warm sunset, which was exactly what we needed. Translating the magnificent world of Paradjanov is a challenge especially when you need to do it on a budget. So instead of going into a full on ‘recreation’ mode (which I think is a bit gimmicky and hence tacky), Olia and I chose several motifs from the film – feathers, apricots, clay vessels, flowers blooming from dry branches and well, of course, pomegranates. While I usually create two long tables with a uniform style running across them all, this time we had to set up 6 individual tables (namely as the event was oversold like crazy!) and I wanted to give each an original touch. So instead of creating one tablescape, why not create six!  There was a sense of homelike cosiness in those seemingly different tables each echoing a certain motif of the film – the stripy fabric, that was used as a table runner as well as drapes over the windows, was inspired by one of the most striking dresses worn by the main character, while the stunning floral installations by WORM LONDON different on each table created a link to various visual motifs. Adding a bit of wackiness to the tablescape and giving my guests something to connect over as soon as they sat down, I have tied all of the napkins together with a red thread – not only did it stand out from the white tablecloth running across the perimeter of the table, but it created a symbolic link between each diner, a sort of a blood vessel connecting us all. The neat white space of the Calvert gallery created the perfect canvas for us to paint on, so my favourite part was a wave of feathers that ran all across the main wall and over some columns, creating a dynamic strike across the space, akin to the flock of birds in the sky. 

I always wonder how much of these details guests actually pick up on. But perhaps it does not matter that much, as I genuinely believe that the creative energy that goes into setting up the space creates the perfect setting in which our diners have a relaxed, cosy and joyous time. And that’s what really matters to me the most. I have to say that all of Olia’s KinoVino gatherings never fail to create that magical festive energy, where people keep eating and drinking past the official end hour of the event. So in a very ‘Like water for chocolate’ manner I feel that it is Olia’s beautiful personalty and passion for food that are the secret ingredients to a successful dinner party. And if I manage to enhance this experience be creating the right setting – well, that’s my mission accomplished!


Pomegranate Martini

Pomegranate has to be my favourite fruit – its taste, its versatility, its looks and cultural significance; everything about pomegranate lures and delights me. Perhaps this has something to do with my mom craving pomegranate juice and drinking litres of it when she was in the last stages of her pregnancy, perhaps it’s connected to my love of Persian and Caucasian food, but give me anything containing pomegranates in any shape and form, and I will be ecstatic. This is why I instantly felt in love with the sound of Sumayya Usmani’s cocktail for our recent collaboration on a Pakistani edition of KinoVino – a pomegranate martini with Himalayan pink salt! Yes please! 

Makes one
(but obviously one is not enough so make sure to have at least 3)

50gr of vodka (we used Smirnoff) 
25gr of concentrated pomegranate cordial 
1 tbsp of pomegranate molasses 
2 tbsp of pomegranate seeds 
4 leaves of mint (plus 1 for decor)
a splash soda water
a twist of Himalayan pink salt 

In a cocktail glass mush together the pomegranate cordial with pomegranate molasses and seeds, as well as mint leaves. 
Top with vodka, add a splash of soda water, some ice cubes. Give it a good stir. 
Add a twist of the salt and decorate with a few pomegranate seeds and a leaf of mint before serving! 

Kaukasis by Olia Hercules. A book review

As soon as I opened Olia Hercules’ new book, Kaukasis, I was transported into a unique world of evocative memories, intoxicating flavours and insightful reflections. I almost hesitate calling Kaukasis a cookbook as it is so much more than that. It is a glimpse into a beautiful culture of the Caucasus, it is a travelogue documenting Olia’s personal journey and a portrait of so many wonderful people she encountered over the years of traversing Georgia and Azerbaijan. Yet above all it is a window into Olia’s own universe that encompasses her passion for food and wine, her love of people and her intelligent interweaving of personal stories and wider (political) histories. 

Her writing is thoughtful and elegant but also very quirky and humorous. Without knowing anything about the author, the reader can clearly sense an intelligent, warm and convivial person behind the text. Her stories to each recipe are little essays in their own right and I have enjoyed reading them as much as musing over the flavours and textures Olia so vividly describes. Coming to the end of the book with a feeling that I could go on reading more, I was delighted to find an additional section at the back featuring Olia’s essays about wine culture in Georgia, about her journey across the region as a child as well as the story behind the book’s title. This beautiful section, printed on black and white recycled paper, elevates the book even further from the ordinary recipe book, attesting to Olia’s special talent as a writer. 

Of course, Kaukasis would not have been the unique creature that it is, were Olia’s gift as a chef less impressive than that as a writer. She brilliantly summarises the essence of her approach to collecting and creating recipes in the introduction, drawing a poetic parallel to the stunning imagery on the cover of the book: it is a vibrant mosaic of seemingly random parts which come together to create distinct shapes and forms recognisable to all. And this is indeed true. Olia demonstrates profound knowledge of Caucasian food culture (a result of years of research and travels) and manages to inject her unique vision into classic recipes, creating perfectly balanced dishes that are at once contemporary and accessible, as well as unique and imbued with a sense of tradition. Olia guides her reader through various ingredients and explains how these could be replaced and adapted, which to me was a particularly attractive feature. It demonstrates Olia’s healthy approach to cooking – take your ingredients seriously but also give yourself creative license to experiment and explore. 

The range of recipes presented in Kaukasis makes this book ideal for home cooks and professionals alike. There is a great scope in terms of complexity and the skills level required to execute the dishes – from assembling a deliciously simple salad to delightfully time consuming and intricate dough work. But what’s most important to me, these recipes and Olia’s approach to food made me want to rush into my kitchen and start cooking. No matter what, no matter which ingredients, but just to cook so as to reproduce that intoxicating creative energy that Kaukasis so powerful emits. This is a beautiful feature that Olia carries over from her debut book, Mamushka, which inspired so many wonderful cooking and eating sessions in my kitchen. 

As well as epistolary and culinary creation, Kaukasis is also an aesthetic experience. A whole new review can be written just on the photography by Elena Heatherwick, while the lay out and the font exist in perfect harmony and complement the stunning imagery. In this day and age of very specific trends in food styling and photography, Olia’s and Elena’s work pleasantly surprises with its refreshing and original feel. The fact that all photographs were shot on film adds that beautiful nostalgic quality which in turn echoes Olia’s writing and enhances the overall slightly elegiac energy of the book. Authentic simple objects and settings add an important documentary feature while Olia’s elegant food styling and Elena’s unique colour scheme and lighting leave no doubt that these photographs are a work of art. I love the fact that many images in the book are not of the food and so paint a complete portrait of Olia’s world and vision of the Caucasus, and this is exactly what this book is about. Stunning portraits of the author, breathtaking landscapes and quirky fly on the wall observations of the daily rituals of the local folk – I know I will flip through this book time and time again to admire these alone. 

Coming back to Olia’s insightful remark about the cover of the book, I feel that it’s not only her approach to cooking but the entire essence of the book that can be compared to the intricate mosaic: so many elements come into play, they are unique creations in their own right that can be admired and analysed separately, but then they come together to form a stunning portrait, a larger picture of a beautiful world. And just like the mosaic itself the longer you look at it the more of the new elements come to the fore, surprising you and promising an endless journey of discovery.




Soviet Korean pickles. A recipe

I love pickles and ferments and so I always rejoice at how varied the range of them was at Russian food markets: traditional Siberian pickling techniques go hand in hand with (adapted) Korean as well as the Caucasian ones. When I was a kid it was impossible to tear me away from the market stall with Korean pickles, I marvelled at the variety of options, all different in colour and texture. Here the term Korean is used in a Russified or Soviet fashion. A large wave of immigration from Korea during the late-19th and early-20th century, passed through and settled in Siberia, leaving a strong culinary imprint which was of course adapted and modified over the years. So these dishes are a faint nod to kimchi rather than their direct off-springs. So here I am  indulging my childhood obsession with Korean pickles and I hope you will join me! 


Korean pickled carrots and cucumbers

400 gr carrots, peeled and julienned, grated or ribboned
200 gr cucumbers, sliced on a mandolin
1 onion
4 cloves of garlic, minced
100 gr red wine or sherry vinegar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp of Korean spice mix *recipe below
1/2 tsp of chilli pepper or 1/4 of cayenne pepper
2 tsp of sunflower oil
1 tsp of white sesame seeds 

Massage carrots and cucumbers with salt in a ceramic or glass bowl. Set aside.

Thinly slice the onion and fry in sunflower oil with chilli and Korean spice mix until softened (5 mins). Set aside to cool.

In the meantime, mix minced garlic, sugar and vinegar and pour over the carrots and cucumbers. 

Mix in the fried onion. 

Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for 2 hours. 

Sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving. 


Korean spice mix

1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
2 tbsp ground coriander (I’d strongly recommend making your own by toasting and grinding fresh coriander seeds)
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp dry garlic powder
1/2 tsp dry basil
1/2 tsp dry dill
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground mustard seeds

*This method works equally well for cabbage, cucumbers and beets. Feel free to experiment with dishes that can be complemented by this pickle. I have discovered that an Indian daal is a really good partner as well as a more traditional Russian aubergine dip (both pictured above) 

Food cultured: an interview with Joey O’Hare

I just love checking in with myself, looking back a few years and thinking where I am at now. The reason why I love doing it is that it always brings as sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, of knowing that you have made progress and also gives you a chance to marvel at how coincidences can take you where you always wanted to be. These accomplishments can be small or major, but always meaningful to you. Try it, it’s quite eye-opening. The reason I am saying this here is that one of such marvellous moments is happening right now. 

Those who know me are aware of my MasterChef addiction. Watching all of the editions religiously for the past 7 or 8 years, I have seen so many incredible chefs and cooks, got inspired to experiment in my own kitchen, honing my knife and presentation skills, but all that time I have never dared to think that one day I might actually get to cook with one of these amazing talents. 

Some contestants inspire you and then fade while others really leave a long-lasting impression. The 2015 series of Professional Masterchef featured a contestant – Josephine O’Hare – who immediately evoked my admiration not only because she was the only woman to reach the semi-finals and an absolutely outstanding chef (as confirmed by the culinary giants on the show), but also the way she spoke about food and her love of cooking and feeding inspired a sense of keenness in me. Were it not for KinoVino, I probably would not have had any legitimate reason to get in touch with her (and would likely have sounded like a weird fan and Instagram stalker). So there we were having an incredible dinner (Gill Mellor’s residency at Salon Brixton) and chatting about film, food, cooking and feeding. Back then I was still shying away from the idea of cooking myself for they paying public and felt more comfortable filling the shoes of a curator and supper club host. For one reason or the other, our KinoVino plan has not materialised, while Joey and I continued to keep in touch. And finally, things have fallen into the right places. Joey and I will work together in the kitchen! As challenging as this seems to me, it is a real dream come true (or even ‘I could not even have dreamt about’) moment. Looking back at myself 2 years ago, I definitely marvel at where this new route has taken me and feel a great sense of accomplishment that I am where I should be. 

Joey and I share a passion for vegetarian cooking as well as for cultured foods (to me this way of eating is quite natural, having grown up in Soviet and then post-Soviet Russia on a diet of kefir, kvass and fermented vegetables). So when we got together to plan the menu for our upcoming supper club in partnership with Our/London Vodka, the dishes came together so naturally and harmoniously. I really can’t wait to cook with this inspiring woman and learn as much as I can from her. But before we get busy in the kitchen, I wanted to ask Joey a few questions about her approach to food and her journey as a chef.

What inspired you to start cooking? 

I’ve always loved food, and particularly big and bold flavours, and my mother was a wonderful cook for us as children growing up. I had a more complicated relationship with food in my late teens and become quite controlling, preferring to cook things myself. Luckily this interest in cooking transformed into something hugely positive, ultimately a career which I absolutely adore.

What was the push to get a professional qualification as a chef?

My first head chef at Rousillion inspired me to further my culinary qualifications with a degree from Westminster Kingsway – I had already been to Ballymaloe at this point, but it was great advice.

Has your cooking style changed and how since you were on MasterChef?

Yes – SO much! My god it would be brilliant to be able to do it again with what I know now. I’ve moved away from ‘cheffier’ food, in favour of lighter, vegcentric cooking. I’ve also discovered the beauty of working with fermented foods in the last two years and these play a role in my dishes.

What attracts you to concept of fermentation and cultured food?

For me fermentation is all about flavour. Yes there are numerous health benefits, and yes it’s a thrifty way to preserve a glut of something, but the complexity of flavour you get from the fermentation process is fantastic. I would go so far as to say that interesting vegetarian cooking, and vegan cooking in particular, relies on fermented foods, as these lend a complex flavour profile which can at times be missed.

What are the key ingredients that you cook with?

Seasonal vegetables are my go-to all the time! Their flavour is superior to anything out of season and it’s a better choice environmentally speaking. While I keep my veggies British and seasonal, flavour influences hail from all over. At the moment I am working with rhubarb almost non-stop, in both sweet and savoury dishes.

What do you cook when you feel lazy?

I love a good ‘fridge-forage salad’ and this is a breeze with jars of fermented vegetables to hand (another reason why I love fermentation!). I’ll use any odds and ends of veggies, throw in some leaves and some ‘smart carbs’ (I tend to have a little cooked spelt/quinoa etc left-over in a Tupperware), a good few handfuls of sauerkraut say, or spicy fermented cauliflower, and dress liberally with olive oil and live cider vinegar. It takes seconds and yet is something far more interesting than a simple raw salad.

As a female chef, do you feel the industry has changed in terms of gender since you started? 

Yes, I think so. I think it’s better for us all, not just for women. But as a female cook one of the best changes has been the invention of Polka Pants! Chefs trousers for women which are comfy, functional and flattering!

Why do you prefer working as a freelance chef rather than working in a restaurant?

I like the flexibility of freelance work. At times I miss working with a team but I’m lucky enough to have planned lots of exciting collaborations this summer, and I find this a wonderful way to meet, share, and grow ideas, and to connect with other chefs.

Do you think fermentation is a new trend that will pass or is likely to become a staple in our diet?

Ooh – interesting question. I think the hype might dim slightly but ultimately it’s here to stay. It goes hand in hand with another current food ‘trend’ – a much closer consideration of food-waste – and both have staying power. We’re also only starting to fully understand the extraordinary role that the gut and biome play in our health, and fermented foods with their richness in probiotic goodness tap into this too.

What is the best meal you’ve ever had?

Hands down a recent dinner at L’Enclume with Felicity Spector. It was absolutely mesmerising. Every mouthful was sublime, and the dishes were delicate and beautiful. The connection to nature – and to Simon Rogan‘s farm not a mile away – was celebrated throughout the whole menu. It was head and shoulders above anything else.

Joey and I will cook together at Our/London Vodka distillery on 6&7 July. Click here for more details 


My re-constructed borsch

Borsch to Eastern Europe and Russia is like hummus to the Middle East. We all eat it, we all love it yet we simply can’t imagine that the other country does it better or is the ‘mother of borsch”. Some say it was invented by Russian Cossacks, other, more trustworthy sources, like Pokhlebkin, have confirmed that it is of a Ukrainian origin. I would say, let’s embrace all of these stories and celebrate our shared love of this simple beetroot soup. Here I am taking a bit of a creative license offering my own take on this iconic dish, which in fact, does embrace a few different cooking traditions, like the Ashkenazi and the Ukrainian ones, and offers a few alterations. Lovers of traditional borsch recipes, look away, this one is pretty iconoclastic!



Makes 4

1 large yellow onion

1 medium red onion

1 carrot

6 small-medium beetroots (raw)

2 red bell pepper

1 tbsp of tomato paste

1 medium red cabbage (fermented)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tin of red kidney beans

a bunch of dill

a bunch of parsley

salt and pepper to taste

black pepper corns

coriander seeds

bay leaf

unrefined sunflower oil

sour cream


Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a medium pot. Finely dice the yellow onion and grate the carrot. Fry in oil until slightly golden (5 minutes). Meanwhile, grate 4 beetroots and thinly slice 1 red pepper (removing the seeds). Add the beetroot and pepper to the pot together with the tomato paste. Season with salt to taste. Fry for another 5 minutes.

Top with 1 litre of water and add a bayleaf as well as some black pepper corns and some coriander seeds. Bring to boil.

Lower the heat and add 1/2 of the fermented red cabbage with the brine. Bring to boil again.

Chop the herbs and grate the garlic. Stir through the soup and leave to simmer for another 5 minutes.

Take off the heat and let it sit for 30 minutes to let the flavours develop more (this soup, like any other Eastern European classics involving fermented vegetables taste even better the next day).

While the soup is resting prepare the vegetables that will go into the final version of the dish.


Peel and chop in wedges. Dress with oil, salt and a dash of pomegranate molasses.

Kidney beans: if using tinned, drain and rinse. Dress with oil, salt, pepper and smoked paprika.

Red onions: peel and chop in wedges. Dress with oil, salt and a dash of brown sugar.

Red pepper: deseed and chop in thin strips. Dress with oil and salt.

Arrange in small baking trays or oven friendly dishes and roast until cooked and crisp.

To serve:

Drain the borsch, you will be only using the rich and tangy broth, while the vegetables can be discarded, as they have lost their crunch and given all the flavour to the broth.

In soup bowls add a handful of red cabbage kraut and divide equally all the roasted vegetables and beans, top with the hot broth and add a dollop of sour cream and a generous sprinkle of fresh dill. The intensity of the flavours and textures of this dish is beyond words!

An Irishman walks into a bar …

An Irishman reviving authentic Russian vodka-making techniques combined with elegant branding and an eco-concious mission – what’s there not to like? So when Patrick Ryan got in touch with me to chat about his new product –  Ishka – and to see how we can collaborate, I jumped on the opportunity straight away. Sadly cultural stereotypes are hard to shake off and the vodka-drinking culture is laced with so many cliches, propagated both in and outside Russia, that this business definitely needs a fresh, new, dynamic voice, which Mr Ryan undoubtedly has. Intrigued as to why an Irish man (who speaks perfect Russian, by the way), would like to take on a mission of making vodka relevant, elegant and eco-friendly, I couldn’t resist asking Patrick to do a little interview for KinoVino blog. 


Why vodka?
I spent several years working in the Irish whiskey business, where I developed an understanding of how spirits are made and marketed. I then moved to Moscow and worked in the Irish Embassy (trade department). I spent a lot of time sampling with the locals! On top of that, Russians kept coming to me trying to sell good quality vodka that was really badly branded. They have this amazing heritage, but they don’t always market it that well. It was all bears, AK47’s and ‘ultra premium’ written all over the packaging. I understood why there were so few popular Russian vodka brands – it’s basically an image problem. The market is controlled by American, Swedish and French brands. It’s pretty strange given the drink’s Russian roots. I’m really passionate about Russian culture – there is so much there that people don’t know about, in terms of food, art, literature  and history. I spent a lot of time showing friends and family how to drink vodka the Russian way, and they all loved it. I decided I could do a better job marketing it than a lot of the existing brands, so I set about making one. 

What’s the origin of the name?
The name is a nod to the deeply shared origins of distillation in Europe. In Irish Gaelic, uisce (pronounced ishka) means water. Uisce beatha, water of life, is the old Irish word for whiskey. The word vodka also comes from the Slavic root for water. They used to call vodka zhiznennaya voda – water of life. It felt like a great name for Russian vodka made by an Irishman. I’m a bit of a language nerd, in case you didn’t guess. 
What makes Ishka different?
Water is at the core of everything we do. We use 100% pure H2O and bottle at 43% ABV. This really allows the quality and flavour of our spirit to shine through. The spirit is made from Russian winter wheat. This is a bit pricier than things like rye or potato, but you get a much lighter finish and a better mouth-feel. The Russian government grades all spirits produced in the country by purity, and ours is Alpha – the top rank. We are also lucky to work with a partner that has over 100 years of experience making vodka – these guys really know what they are doing. Aside that, we reinvest 10% of our profits in innovative projects that help to protect and repair our oceans. My main focuses at the moment are plastic collection and aquaculture, particularly seaweed farming.
How did you come up with the idea?
I spent about a year researching and contacting distillers. I found a producer I was happy with and worked with them to perfect a recipe based on feedback from focus groups. I wanted something, clean, smooth and classically Russian, with the very best quality ingredients available. I knew what made a good base spirit from my whiskey days, so I had that as a starting point. Our partner’s head engineers are great, they really know their stuff and helped us create an absolutely mind-blowing vodka at a really honest price. In terms of the packaging, I just played around on Photoshop until I had something I was happy with. The artwork is by an Australian artist – he’s brilliant!
What are the Russians saying about an Irish man producing vodka?
To be honest, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Russians are very proud of their culture, and rightly so. Most of them like to see a ‘Westerner’ casting it in a positive light. I have a few friends in the Russian economic ministry from my days at the Irish embassy, and they’ve been really helpful. 
Russia needs to diversify its exports at the moment and reduce reliance on oil and gas. Vodka is something they do well, and having an Irishman selling it arguably makes the job easier – we’re pretty likable folks!

Do you drink vodka much?
I love vodka, but not exclusively – I also like beer, whiskey and gin. Anything well made. I go for quality over quantity – I think that’s a trend in alcohol generally at the moment, and it’s great. I would rather people buy a bottle of Ishka once every couple of months than five bottles of Smirnoff!

What’s your favourite way to drink vodka?
In Russia, you drink quality vodka ice-cold and straight, with some specific snacks on the side. It’s a really fun and sociable way to enjoy your vodka.
I like Borodinsky rye toast with salo (bacon fat) and mustard, or pickled mushrooms and gherkins.
Obviously in Europe, we have much more of a cocktail culture – I really like this sour twist with two very Russian ingredient (raspberries and cranberry juice).
I call it the Malina:
  • 50 ml of Ishka
  • 8 Raspberries, muddled
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Dash of cranberry juice and simple syrup
  • Egg white 
  • Shake, strain and serve with a dash of bitters.

What’s your favourite thing to toast to? Do you toast?
Of course! You don’t spend two years living in Russia without toasting! It’s something we have in British and Irish culture too, but it’s not so common. It depends on the occasion. Generally, I toast to friendship. Russians are deeply loyal people, and take their friendships very seriously. I respect that.

Who is this drink for?
Ishka is an authentic Russian vodka for people who don’t drink rubbish. It’s for people who want the highest-quality vodka available, but don’t buy into the marketing nonsense involved in charging £35 – £100 or more for a bottle. 

Is vodka essentially a Russian drink?
 Ah – that old debate! If we look at etymology, we can establish pretty clearly that it’s a Slavic drink. There are a lot of Slavic countries that make great vodka. Even so, it was actually Italians that first brought distilling apparatuses to the areas that correspond to modern-day Russia and Poland. Of course, anybody can make vodka, but the Russians have been perfecting it for a long time. They know what they’re doing. I’m open to trying drinks from anywhere, but generally I drink my whiskey Irish, my gin English and my vodka Russian.
If you like Patrick’s philosophy and ethos behind Ishka, why not get involved to support his campaign and treat yourself to this pure water of life. Click here to find out more.