Anja Dunk by Jonathan Cherry

Anja Dunk – Foodie Profile (image above taken by Jonathan Cherry)

In this Foodie Profile we chat with cook, and cookbook author Anja Dunk on how Strudel, Noodles and Dumplings came about, her journey up until now, and she even shares a few recipes from the book with us.

Interview by Jennifer Curcio

 

Anja Dunk_ Strawberry and Cinnamon Soup websiteStrawberry and Cinnamon Soup from Anja’s cookbook – image taken by Anja

 

Anja, before we get talking about your incredible cookbook, could you tell us a little bit about your background, professional life and your journey up until now?

I was born in Wales to a Welsh father and a German mother. My mum is an inventive cook (by this I mean she can seemingly cook anything from nothing). Watching her cook at home over the first 18 years of my life has played a big part in the way I cook and write recipes now. She was never phased when cooking for the hoards of friends I brought back as a teenager without any prior notice,  and I think that’s partly why I love cooking for large events and crowds of people now.
When I’m not cooking for events I work from home writing & testing recipes, painting & drawing.

 

Anja Dunk All Rye Sourdough with Fennel website versionAnja’s all rye sourdough with fennel – image taken by Anja

 

Strudel, Noodles and Dumplings (fabulous name!) is your debut solo cookbook. I found it incredibly unique and wholesome. I have tried many of the recipes, and the photos (all taken by you) are naturally stunning. Could you tell us about how the cookbook came about, your objective, how long it took to put together and any advice you would have to someone wanting to create their own family cookbook?

The idea for the cookbook started out as family cooking, which naturally meant German cooking for me as this is the food I grew up with – which means the book evolved into being just as much about the German kitchen as it is about family food. I wanted to dispel the myth that German food is all about sausage – don’t get me wrong Germans love a Wurst, but there is so much more to our cuisine than Bratwurst & Frankfurters.

The book took about a year to put together. First I wrote the stories and then the long list of recipes fell into place. Testing recipes for a book is somewhat tedious but an absolute necessity if other people are to cook from them. It’s also a very good idea to get an outside recipe tester in to pick up on all the things you might take for granted.

The thought of writing this book was so daunting at first that I didn’t know where to begin, but one night a friend gave a sage bit of advice and that is to simply be yourself and just start writing, you’ve got to start somewhere. And the next day I did. I scribbled out sentence after sentence once written, re-wrote them, re-jigged them, re-read them, and slowly but surely the story began.

Anja Dunk Speedy Apple Cake website
The speedy apple cake from Anja’s book – it has become a fast favourite in our home

 

If you had to recommend a few must-try recipes from the book, which ones would they be and why?

The speedy apple cake has been the most cooked recipe out of the book and it’s one of our family classics. I love seeing other people’s take on it by swapping raisins for almonds or adding blackberries.

The semolina dumplings are fun to make with small children and are a crowd pleaser, waffles too. The dish that tastes of home the most for me though is potato soup – a simple country recipe which never fails to please.

 

Parsley Soup August 7 2019 website
Anja’s potato and parsley soup also features in regular rotation at our place

When it comes to German cooking, what do you think readers of your book would be most surprised to learn about the produce and ingredients used?

German cooking is very seasonal. I don’t know any country in the world that celebrates individual seasonal ingredients in the way the Germans do. There is a real sense of longing when an ingredient is absent for months on end and when it appears, let’s take white asparagus or strawberries as an example, the entire country goes mad for them.

 

In your cookbook, as well as your Instagram, you feature some very inspiring and heavily stocked pantry shelf shots. Could you tell us about what you stock in your pantry both seasonally, and at all times of the year?

My shelf contents are the nuts and bolts of the kitchen, they never really change and serve the purpose as a base to build recipes upon with fresh ingredients. I always have lentils, dried split peas and a variety of other dried beans, noodles (soup, wide & flat, thin & long), nuts, dried fruit, grains, rice, semolina, buckwheat, oats, flour (particularly large jar of rye), gherkins, kraut, bottled plums, jam…

Our fridge is never out of quark, milk, buttermilk & butter. I try to only use seasonal vegetables, which our meals are based around and built on.

 

 

Anja Dunk Knife Station website

 Anja’s cooking knife collection – image taken by Anja

 

Art plays an important part in your life alongside cooking. Could you tell us about the art that you create, and who or what inspires you both in art and cooking?

Drawing is what I do to relax. I also spend hours studying and looking at other artists’ work in the evening when the rest of the house is asleep. I love print making and have recently done a series of fruit lino cuts, which I sell through Honey & Co in London.

At the moment I’m really inspired by Zoe Barker’s pencil drawings and for the first time since being a little girl I’ve just bought a box of colouring pencils.

The one cook/food writer who inspires me time and time again is Diana Henry – I adore all her books, cover to cover, both for the writing and the recipes, also I love Laura Edwards’ photography.

You are also a Mother of three boys, and you and your family have lived quite a nomadic lifestyle, as did you growing up. Could you tell us a bit about your nomadic upbringing, where you and your own family have lived/travelled to, and what brought you to those places?

Yes, it’s almost a little like history repeating itself! My family moved around a lot due to my fathers job when I was little – first Cameroon, then Malaysia, then Indonesia, always coming back to Wales for some time in between. I’ve never actually lived in Germany but have spent many months there both travelling and at my grandparents for every school holiday. When I left home, probably due to my nomadic upbringing, I moved over to China (Beijing) to study and work. Since having children my husband and I have lived in three different countries but are currently living back in the UK.

 

In your cookbook you mention making sourdough starter overseas and I believe you brought this starter back to Wales with you. Do you have any tips for travelling with starter, and any stories getting it through customs?

When I travel with sourdough starter I tend to put it in a plastic bottle/tub, then double bag it before nestling it amongst a padding of clothes in a suitcase. Generally I find starters pretty hardy, they love to travel.

 

You often reference cooking and eating with your children. Do you have any tips for encouraging and enticing children to learn how to cook, as well as enjoy food?

I am often asked this question and quite honestly I think exposure is the best thing. The more involved children are in the cooking process, the more willing they are to try the food.

As a cook what really impresses you about a recipe or meal that’s been cooked for you – what are you looking for?

A meal that is cooked for me by friends is always a joy, no matter what it is.  I’m not fussy or expectant of a masterpiece – cheese on toast would make me happy.

Speaking of recipes, is there any chance you could share one or two recipes with our readers? 

YES. (Find the recipe for Anja’s potato and parsley soup with garlic butter croutons here, and the recipe for her speedy apple cake, here.)

 

For foodies visiting Germany or those interested in German cuisine, are there any specific foods you would urge them to seek out or try?


Federweisser is a lively young wine that is made and drunk just after harvest before it is fully fermented – it is only around for a short period of time and is very special. Typically eaten with onion cake or Flammkuchen (a sour cream thin based pizza with smoked ham and onions on top).What is on the horizon for you? 
My art work and preserves will be part of a show called ‘Y BWRDD’ (the table) at Oriel Myrddyn a gallery in Carmrthen, Wales this autumn. All the details here: https://orielmyrddingallery.co.uk/event/the-table/ .

Find Anja’s gorgeous Christmas wooden linocuts inspired by fruit, vegetables, nuts & spices used in winter cooking, made by Anja’s friend Jenny a.k.a Cut By Beam, at her laser cutting studio. https://woodenadventcalendar.co.uk/. You can find Anja’s cookbook: Strudel, Noodles and Dumplings, here. You can follow Anja on Instagram here.