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Foodie Profile – Alissa Timoshkina

Interview by Jennifer Curcio

In this Foodie Profile we chat with London based cook, food writer, cookbook author and founder of the Kino Vino supper club, Alissa Timoshkina. She shares with us snapshots from her childhood, the inspiration behind her love of food, recipes from her esteemed cookbook Salt & Time, and so much more.


Alissa, you were born in Siberia and moved to the UK as a teenager to study. Could you tell us a bit about what growing up in Siberia was like?
I appreciate that Siberia for a non-native is laced with mystery and might even seem exotic. Of course, I had no idea of that, when I lived there. To me it was the norm. Perhaps, the one thing that everyone rightly associates with the region inside and outside the country is the cold. And I have the most crazy memories of walking through the snow filled parks and streets on my way to school at 8am with the temperatures as low as minus 30. I think the cut off point was minus 40, so if the temperatures plunged below that, which they did sometimes, school was cancelled and what a joy that was!


When did your interest in film and food start, and who or what have influenced you the most in both areas?
Food has always been there since day one. I was lucky to have been brought up and fed by 3 generations of women in my family, but I never really thought of a career in food. I guess the career and the lifestyle that I have now working in food didn’t even exist back then, so I would not have even dreamt of it. Film was also a big part of growing up, my family was always glued to the TV (not the best trait, I admit). But we always watched lots of films on the weekend. However it was not until I came to the UK to study that I really started discovering and experimenting with my creativity, doing arts, design, theatres studies and photography. All those skills in one way or another did come in handy working in food too.


In your career you’ve managed to combine all of your loves. Could you tell us about what you studied, and your work journey up until now?
After delving into the arts in school, I was so keen to go to an arts college to study for set design for film and theatre, however, for various reasons I ended up doing a humanities degree in film studies. My love and understanding of cinema was taken on a whole new level and I really got into the academic world, following up my BA with an MA and then a PhD in film history. I also worked as a curator, project manager and events coordinator for various film festivals and cultural foundations in London, and at one point even co-founded a multi-disciplinary arts events company called GLAZ.


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 Alissa Timoshkina – image credit Lizzie Mayson


KinoVino – your highly regarded film and food supper club in London was one of your first creative projects, and it turned out to be so much more. How did it come about and what is your process for choosing a new theme for each event?
So as you will see from the previous answer, my work in the cultural sector prepared me well for producing a cinema viewing experience while the food aspect was entirely new, and was really a big leap of faith (and slight madness). I always loved cooking and hosting dinners for friends but at one point when the supper club scene was starting to take shape and I was deeply obsessed with all the cooking shows BBC had to offer, I decided that perhaps I could carve out a little niche for myself. And one Xmas holiday when I visited Cape Town and all its wondrous vineyards, an idea came to my mind (after a few glasses of wine, naturally) to create gatherings that would pair wine and cinema. The more I thought about it the more elements came together turning into a full blown banquet!


Alissa Timoshkina Salt & Time cookbook cover


During your work with KinoVino you had the idea to create a cookbook (Salt & Time) which you realised not long after. Could you explain the breadth of Soviet cooking, and what in your opinion are the common misconceptions or most overlooked aspects or flavours/ingredients?
Oh, that’s a brilliant question and probably something that needs a whole book to be answered! Soviet cuisine really fascinates me as it’s such a peculiar and unique product of its time, place and ideology. I guess food is political in any time and any country, but the Soviets really used food to put forward a political agenda and use it as a tool to cultivate a new sense of national identity. It sounds utterly crazy that a whole department of food was formed to develop and implement menus! But the most interesting part of that cuisine is its contradictions and even absurdities – while the Soviets did invent a lot of dishes, their culinary ambitions coincided well with the industrial development of the country (and the rest of the Western world). But so many of those were borrowed form elsewhere and remodelled a little so the notorious bourgeois cuisine of the Tsarist Russia is pretty much everywhere and the heavily industrialised food of the ‘ideological enemy’  – the USA, had a huge impact on how the Stalinist government designed their own food industry. Plus there are all the amazing food influences from the former Soviet Republics stretching as wide as the Caucasus and Uzbekistan. I guess the regional (if you count the whole of the former USSR) and the seasonal diversity is something that is generally overlooked. And Russian and Soviet food has a mayonaise-laden stigma attached to it. Partly for all the right reasons, but there is a lot more!


In Siberia, what are your memories of the kitchen, the cooks in your home and the dishes prepared for you?
It is definitely the image of my great grandmother who encapsulates all the childhood food memories for me. I particularly remember her baking a lot – she’d always make poppy seed rolls (rughelas and babkas) and my grandma would make the most amazing pancakes – thin and lacey. As a picky eater I would prefer them pale and dry (not a drop of butter), how silly was I!? My mom, always refrained from sweet stuff as far as I can remember, but she more than made up for it with all the other dishes. Her soups in particular are just the best! More like stews, really, they’d be full of root vegetables, briny ferments, grains and seasoned with plenty of spices and salt!


When researching the book were the women in your family involved and if so, what was the process of cooking with them and collecting recipes like?
Yes, my mom and I had a dedicated chat group on WhatsApp where I’d ask her various things. The best part of my research was looking through my great grandma’s recipe notebook that’s been around in our family since the1960s, if not sooner. I also asked my gran for some recipes. As any food writer collecting recipes from their family members or any other home cooks would tell you, it’s a nightmare! Apart from my great grandma’s recipe notebook, which had all the precise measurements (she worked as a cook for most of her life) all other recipes were given to me with ‘by eye’ quantities. So there was a bit of back and forth and a lot of tweaking. A lot of recipes I have invented myself as it were, so the book does contain only a few ‘authentic’ recipes that I’ve included unedited.


With a PhD in film history do you have some film recommendations (particularly where food is involved) that our readers should add to their list?
Oh so many! My favourite film, that has really had the most profound effect on me, is Mirror by Andrei Tarkovsky. Not a food film by any measure, but an absolute work of art, which anyone with an interest in film should see.
As for the foodie films, Babette’s Feast is at the top of my list! I also love an indie documentary film called Oma and Bella, as it reminds me a lot of my own Jewish great grandma. There’s also I am Love, Lunch Box, Mid August Lunch, Crossing Delancey, Fried Green Tomatoes, Tampopo and so many more!


Russian Dukkah by Alissa Timoshkina Foodie Profile Image Lizzie Mayson


If you could choose two recipes from your cookbook Salt and Time that we must try, what would they be, and why? Would you be able to share them with our readers?
I love my own experiment that turned into a super simple recipe for what I call a Russian dukkah. It’s a mix of seeds and spices traditional in Eastern European cuisine (using the analogy of the Egyptian spice mix), and it works so well on so many dishes! I eat it with pretty much everything and anything. And another one would be my beetroot patties (or bite size falafel type fritters), that have their roots in a very basic Soviet-era canteen dish which I have jazzed up a little with walnuts, garlic and dill. It does work very well with the dukkah too!


Beetroot patties with horseradish cream recipe by Alissa Timoshkina Foodie Profile Image Lizzie Mayson
You became a mother at the end of 2018, and this experience has greatly influenced your newly launched project, the MotherFood Podcast. Could you tell us about the Podcast, topics and guests?
Yes, this is a very new venture, which I launched in April. Motherhood has really been the most mind-blowing experience which I am trying to make sense of using means that are most familiar to me – food and community of women that I cherish in my life. So the premise is quite simple: food is life (a bit cheesy perhaps, I know) but it is during motherhood that this idea became most poignant to me. When I was pregnant I was marvelling at how my body is growing a life and I took so much joy, interest and care in feeding myself well during that time. And I just couldn’t wait to feed myself and my baby when she’d be born. But when that happened I found myself so shellshocked and disconnected from food and cooking, that I wish I had some guidance, reassurance and help in the kitchen. So this podcast was created with that memory in mind – I wanted to learn how other women, for whom food is a  profession, amongst all other things, have navigated their way through motherhood and continue to do so. It is still early days but the feedback was so encouraging and really melted my heart (and moved me to tears on a few occasions). I really can’t wait to continue learning from these amazing yet very down-to-earth women and building our community.


 Alissa Timoshkina Motherfood Podcast


What is next for you? Do you have any projects or events that you would like to share with our readers? 
For now, MotherFood is the newest project for me, which is still partly in the ‘what’s next’ category. But I am also developing an idea of online cooking classes and working on the editions of the #KinoVinoHome project.