We must admit: our ever growing interest in food as a cultural phenomenon is seriously affecting our lifestyle. All of a sudden, an “all purpose” Sunday newspaper is replaced with a new issue of EssPress Berlin, Game of Thrones loses to The Mind of a Chef and the book wish list has cook books on top. Oh boy, did you notice? – chefs are the new rockstars these days.
One of the rising stars we gladly observe is Olia Hercules. Born in Ukraine in 1984, Olia grew up surrounded by all kinds of cooking traditions: south Ukrainian, Siberian, Armenian, Georgian, Azerbaijani – all rather distinct and diverse. Now living in London, Olia contributes to The Guardian’s cook section, hosts pop up dinners, raises her little son, and this summer she debuted with Mamushka – a cookbook which will make you rethink Ukrainian food, as well eastern European food in general, once and for all.
We asked Olia a few questions about cooking, food styling and of course Mamushka:
W8H: Could you tell us a few words about being a chef? What should a person dreaming of a chef career keep in mind? What are the most needed characteristics? Things to watch out?
Like with anything, in order to succeed you must really love what you do. This especially applies to becoming a chef, as the work is so physically and mentally hard, your passion at times will be the only thing that will keep you going. You have to learn how to be organized, tidy, and unfortunately sometimes – you have to learn how to be subordinate. In most kitchens it takes time and patience to earn the respect of your superiors and colleagues. It is still very much a hierarchical environment. If you are fiery and righteous (like me), you may need to learn how to tame those character traits if you want to keep cooking in restaurants.
W8H: Some food styling images presented on your site look quite dark and decadent – a very interesting contrast to images in Mamushka, or the general cheerful impression your interviews convey. What serves as inspiration for your food styling work?
I do love chiaroscuro paintings. Even though I am extremely sociable and a rather happy person, I do have a darker side that appreciates a bit of macabre and ‘goth’.
W8H: If you were to pick a recipe from Mamushka to describe yourself – which one would it be?
I am a green borsch. Sweet, meaty broth and sour sorrel.
W8H: What was the trickiest recipe for you to master so far and why?
I am not a very keen baker. I love puddings but I enjoy cooking savoury more than desserts. So even though I don’t find making cakes particularly hard, I enjoy making them less.
W8H: If you were to go to space, which 5 foods (meals or ingredients) would you take with you?
I would take a load of frozen salty curd varenyky, loads of butter and smetana. Also Ukrainian tomatoes and Maldon salt. I’d be alright for eternity with those things.
W8H: Does your little son help you with cooking? If so, which easy-to-cook-with-children recipes would you recommend to our readers?
My three year old son is a really keen cook. He always helps me peel stuff and make pancakes. My curd cheese cake is extremely easy, though try making that with your kids.
Did we get you curious? Check out the recipes of borsch, varenyky and many more in Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & beyond.
Photorgaphy by Olia Hercules from oliahercules.com