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!

 

A Green month of January

As well as being a wonderful year for KinoVino, 2016 saw the beginning of a very fruitful collaboration with AirBnB, which allowed me to really indulge myself creatively. This is exactly what I have been conjuring up in my mind, 2 years ago, stuck in an uninspiring office job, marvelling over photos of beautiful dinner parties on Instagram, and wishing that one day I’d be the one posting such photos. Et voila! Two years later, I am getting very close to realising my dream (I’d say I am living the dream, but for some reason this sounds a bit too happy-clappy, so I will refrain from giant statements like this). I have been really lucky to be one of the first people to take part in then-pilot programme of City Hosts and Experiences that AirBnB was launching. My proposed experience was of course all about dinner parties: cooking, hosting and decorating. A sort of a behind the scenes of KinoVino, where we’d discuss and lean how to create the most special and memorable dinning experience for your guests. Hosting these experiences is a great joy and what’s more, being part of the AirBnB community, I get invited to host and contribute to some of their special events and private gatherings. So when AirBnB asked me whether I’d like to host a lunch at signature Pantone house to celebrate AirBnB’s collaboration with this iconic brand, I could not believe my luck. Designing a menu and creating a tablescape inspired by Pantone’s new colour of the year? Yes, please! Luckily this year’s colour is very food friendly – it’s green! So my lunch menu came together pretty naturally:

A pea and avocado puree with watercress, cucumber ribbons and a basil oil dressing

A broccoli soup with miso roasted pumpkin seeds

Pan fried cauliflower with pistachio&feta dip and dill oil

A pickled plum crumble with tarragon and yoghurt

When it came to dressing the table, we were really spoilt for choice. It is not an exaggeration to say that Pantone&AirBnB signature house was one of the best locations I have ever been to, let alone where I have hosted a lunch. Decorated by a team of crazy talented set dressers, the space was full of greenery, antique props and incredibly bizarre objects in little jars. It was so much fun taking inspiration from the setting and improvise. The end result was breath-taking (if I may say so myself). So there we were enjoying a complete harmony of flavours, textures and colours in this gorgeous East London location. I hope to live a long and happy life, but if I were to choose a setting for my last meal, that would be it!

 

Good-bye, 2016!

2016 has proven to be a very complex year; we lost some of the greatest cultural figures and witnessed the unpredictability of international politics. Yet at the same time it has been an extremely fruitful and productive year for KinoVino. So many people say they can’t wait to see this year out, but I am extremely grateful to 2016 for all the wonders it has brought. This year KinoVino saw some of the most memorable gatherings; it was featured in British Vogue, became part of AirBnB’s new project – City Host – and has served as an incredible platform for my creative and professional growth. It has also laid a foundation for some formidable projects that will take place in 2017 and I can’t wait to share those experiences with you all. The line up for KinoVino supper club is nothing short of spectacular – we start the new calendar with a Beirut-themed night featuring chef Bethany Kehdy, make sure not to miss a Valentine’s date with chef Romy Gill, MBE, and enjoy the night of Bollywood romance and outstanding Indian food, you can also look forward to exploring East London on a plate as I team up with Rosie Birkett for an East End-themed KinoVino in March, and we will travel the spice route to Iran with Yasmin Khan in April. There are plenty more collaborations and exciting projects, including a special KinoVino-Konstam popup with chef Oliver Rowe and a partnership with Kinoteka Polish Film Festival.

It has been a true privilege to work with so many talented chefs and to have the support of our guests, for which I am truly grateful. I wish you all a very happy Christmas and all the best for 2017!

Best of 2016!

KinoVino Christmas: Babette’s Feast with Oliver Rowe
A fairytale KinoVino that captured the spirit of Babette’s Feast! We shared a truly wonderful night filled with some very special energy. It was really lovely meeting so many people passionate about film and food, and to see them have so much fun. The food was outstanding as always thanks to chef Oliver Rowe. This event marked a year of our KinoVino partnership, and what a fruitful collaboration it continues to be! The night was captured beautifully by Rosalind West.
screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-15-00-09
Seven Sisters Feast at Yurt Lush Bristol
14955940_10153962886725965_2777771813397519072_n
This event is a strong contender for my personal number 1 of 2016! It was a real honour to take part in a charity dinner to support Action Against Hunger and help raise money for the important work that they do. The event was organised by the formidable Romy Gill and I can’t thank her enough for making me part of it. It has been my greatest challenge as a cook and also the one that brought a great sense of accomplishment. I was thrilled to cook together with such talented women, like Romy, Olia Hercules, Rosie Birckett, Elly Curshen, Chetna Macan to name a few. And if this is not enough to make my head spin, the event was recorded for BBC Radio 4 Food programme and we got to talk to Sheila Dillon. Listen to the story here
screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-15-00-09

KinoVino Mirror with Olia Hercules
It would not be an exaggeration to say that a screening of Tarkovsky’s Mirror followed by Olia Hercules’ feast was one of the most magical experiences of my life! Mirror is a film that has so many meanings to me. It was the subject of my MA thesis and the one that inspired by PhD research. It’s significance and meaning continues to evolve with me and it was truly special to screen this film as part of the KinoVino supper club. Not to mention that the event was featured as part of Curzon’s Tarkovsky retrospective and we had the privilege of screening a new remastered copy. Olia Hercules is a dear friend, who is a source of inspiration to me. Her support of KinoVino is invaluable and her talent as a chef turned our meal into a poetic experience. Who else could match the unique cinematic vision of Tarkovsky!
screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-15-00-09

KinoVino Pickles
A cine-culinary trip to New York via the pickle shop! I love revisiting old movie classics – they really are the biggest treasure and have that unique power to transport you into an era that is long gone. Crossing Delancey is definitely one of such films! Not only does it capture New York of 1980s but also has some of the most wonderful references to the Ashkenazi Jewish food culture. A film whose protagonist falls in love with a pickle man from Delancy street? Well, that’s a perfect KinoVino movie right there. And who could take on the challenge of creating a meal inspired by pickles if not the one and only Kylee Newton, owner of Newton and Pott and author of The Modern Preserver. With the help of Oliver Rowe, she created the most imaginative and delicious feast featuring pickled produce.

 

KinoVino and AirBnB
I have been dreaming of launching a series of KinoVino-themed masterclasses and workshops which would allow our guests to go behind the scenes to enjoy a private cooking class with one of the guest chefs and learn how to curate and style a perfect dinner party. Et voila, AirBnB launches its new exciting project – City Host – and invites me to be part of it! Each month an intimate group of 6 guests gets the chance to attend a KinoVino gathering and indulge in the unique experience of going behind the scenes. A dream come true! It’s been a real joy to see strangers coming together and bonding over their love of and interest in food and film. Cooking and eating together is the best way of getting to know someone and I’ve been so lucky to meet so many wonderful people. The vino element of the experience of course helps to make these occasions all the more inspiring and fun! Learn more and book your own experience here
screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-15-00-09
KinoVino and Lonely Planet
It’s been a really incredible experience to launch a new cookbook ‘From Source Spain’ by Lonely Planet. Instead of hosting a generic launch, we turned it into a Spanish-themed KinoVino and gave our guests a chance to take a cine-culinary journey across Spain. Transforming Calvert 22 gallery into a Spanish courtyard we hosted two magical nights of Spanish cinema, food and wine. The screening of Almodovar’s classic ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ was followed by a feast of Spanish classics from the book, executed to perfection by Tom Hunt and Oliver Rowe. We heard stories from the book’s author Sally Davies of her culinary adventures in Spain and enjoyed some of the most incredible octopus dish that ever graced the plates at KinoVino, as well as some fantastic Riojas and of course the iconic gazpacho! Guests we treated to some gifts and hammers from Lonely Planet as well as live Spanish guitar performance.

KinoVino Georgia with Russian Revels

I have never been to Georgia but having grown up on the Soviet Union I was lucky enough to be exposed to the unique vibrant cuisine of that country. The sights and scents of the Georgian stalls at my hometown’s markets are still very prominent in my mind and I love conjuring them up when cooking a Georgian meal. By obsession with this country might explain why I keep coming back to it as a theme for KinoVino. Having had the most wonderful gathering dedicated to Sergei Paradjanov with Georgian and Armenian cuisine, I decided to focus solely on Georgia for the April edition of KinoVino that took place at the beautiful (and may I add – very trendy) gallery, Calvert 22. My partners in crime this time were a fabulous culinary duet, Karine Baldry and Katrina Kollegaeva, a.k.a Russian Revels. Having been to their themed dining nights, I knew those were my kindred spirits. My KinoVino instincts did not let me down, Russian Revels were a joy to work with: super well-organised, full of great food ideas and above all Fun! Having worked with them, made me all the more fascinated by the influences of our shared Soviet past on our culinary identity. So I decided to pose some profound foodie questions and here’s what Karina responded.

How much does your cultural heritage influence your cooking style?

KB: Georgian or rather Caucasian influences are always on the back of my mind when I cook. If you want me to pick one prominent influence is herbs. When I first moved to the UK one of the most difficult things for me to adjust to was lack of herbs in abundance. A few sprigs in supermarkets were not enough to satisfy my craving.
Do you associate your cooking with the idea of Soviet cuisine?

KB: Of course, can’t cross it out… We all have our memories living and cooking in the Soviet times! Some of the dishes were heavily influenced by that time and the availability of the food ingredients.

Where does your love of food and cooking originate from?

KB: It originated during my glorious summers in the Northern Caucasus – being more specific a small Spa town called Pyatogorsk. I watched my Grandma cooking and was learning through eating her culinary delights.
What do you cook when you long for an authentic homely meal?

KB: Although I love my Caucasian food very much when I want a nostalgic moment I chop up my Olivier salad!

How would you describe your cooking style?

KB: Inspirational, improvisation based on all my culinary experiences!

What are your top 3 ingredients?

KB: Tomatoes, beetroot, herbs

What’s your ideal dinner party menu?

KB: Tapas style +sharing platters+ casual+ slow eating + good banter!