I was born in Soviet Ukraine, spent my formative years in Cyprus, studied in Italy and have for the past twelve years been calling Britain my home. My family history covers half a Eurasian continent from Siberia to Azerbaijan.
My culinary repertoir is vast and keeps expanding – as the more you dig, the stronger one’s gastronomic wanderlust becomes. I cherish the Uzbeki, Moldovan and Russian recipes I inherited from my grandmothers, Armenian dishes I borrowed from my aunt Nina and the vast pool of Thai and Laos food we regularly eat at home.
My own foray into research resulted in such dishes as the Mapuche-inspired sweet potato and quinoa croquettes and my Caribbean-inspired tamarind, jalapeño and black treacle dip.
Even though ingredients such as lemongrass and lime leaves are almost never absent from my fridge, seasonality plays a great role in my cooking, especially when it comes to designing catering and pop up menus. Ingredients are at their best when they are in season and when they are local. But exoticism marries so well with seasonal British produce – salsify coated in a spicy yoghurty tandoori marinade – grilled briefly and then roasted is – heaven.
I am not. But I cannot live without vegetables. I get truly excited writing and cooking vegetarian food. I caught the bug working at Ottolenghi’s Islington restaurant. Vegetarian dishes do not have to be boring. In fact creating exciting vegetarian dishes is a challenge I will never ever shun. Which takes me to…
People are too scared of being adventurous. I often get asked by friends (who are brilliant cooks) – ‘would this herb go in this dish…?’. Yes. Yes it will, unless it is a huge bunch of tarragon, which can be a little strong, all herbs go. Obviously coriander is out of place in Italian cuisine, but otherwise I am a great believer in fusion. Ottolenghi, Peter Gordon and my partner Tom Catley, are some of the best chefs that I know, and they are experts at combining unexpected ingredients together. Whatever the ingredient, always remember salty and sweet is great, sweet and sour – even better, throw in a tiny bit of spice into the mix – and your taste buds explode.
And please do not stop being creative or at least adventurous when cooking for your children. I have never fed Sasha one purée. From six months he has just been eating the same food that we have been eating (just with less salt and spiciness). I may just be lucky, but he is almost two and he eats chicken gizzards, barbecued squid tentacles and raw spring onions. Do not make a big deal out of making your children separate meals – they don’t in France or Thailand – why should we in Britain? I will propagate baby-led weaning until I die. Let them explore texture and different flavours. Itchy gums? Give them a lemongrass stalk to gnaw on. It’s a winner.