“Everyone is as uniquely qual­i­fied to cook and have an opinion about food as they are to eat it” by Alissa Ti­moshk­ina

The Guardian - Cook - - Comment - Alissa Ti­moshk­ina is the founder of Ki­noVino; ki­novino.org, @borch-andno-tears

For many of us, nur­ture is as­so­ci­ated with women. From moth­ers’ first milk to our grannies in­dulging us with week­end treats, our care­givers while we grow up are most likely to have been fe­male.

I was raised by three women in Soviet Rus­sia dur­ing the 1980s, when a small apart­ment of­ten housed sev­eral gen­er­a­tions. This made for a pow­er­ful con­nec­tion be­tween me, my par­ents, grand­par­ents and great grand­mother. I learned from them; some­times I felt that I too had lived through the Rus­sian rev­o­lu­tion, war and Stal­in­ist ter­ror, so vivid were their sto­ries.

My home ed­u­ca­tion also in­cluded rich culi­nary tra­di­tions en­com­pass­ing Rus­sian, Ukrainian and Jewish cuisines, and my ear­li­est and strong­est culi­nary in­flu­ence was my great grand­mother, Ros­alia. A Holo­caust sur­vivor, she fled Nazi-oc­cu­pied Ukraine in 1942 and set­tled in Siberia where she lived un­til her death in 2003. She’d wit­nessed grave atroc­i­ties and great de­pri­va­tion, but Ros­alia was one of the gen­tlest and most gen­er­ous peo­ple I’ve known. For most of her life, she worked as a cook in Soviet can­teens – so while I would hes­i­tate to call her a chef, she was def­i­nitely a feeder who con­tin­ued to cook un­til her very last days.

This love of shar­ing food was passed on to me. I hadn’t con­sid­ered a ca­reer in cook­ing un­til four years ago. At the time I was work­ing for Lon­don’s Rus­sian film fes­ti­val (I’d stud­ied film be­fore), but of­ten found my­self down the rab­bit hole of in­sta­gram look­ing at food. I saw peo­ple – in­clud­ing my Ukrainian friend Olia Her­cules – mak­ing waves with their cook­ing. Hav­ing no­ticed the trend to­wards less for­mal din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, I won­dered whether there might be a niche for a cin­ema-in­spired sup­per club.

We are all fa­mil­iar with the para­dox: acts of feed­ing are as­so­ci­ated with women, but re­main lim­ited to the do­mes­tic realm, while pro­fes­sional cook­ing is dom­i­nated by men. But that is chang­ing. The in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia have helped blur the bound­aries be­tween the pri­vate and pub­lic, and while the im­pli­ca­tions of this can be mixed, it’s def­i­nitely for the bet­ter when it comes to food – and to the vis­i­bil­ity of women cooks. Look no fur­ther than Mazi Mas in Hack­ney to see a venture that’s train­ing refugee women in Lon­don to put their home­cook­ing to work in or­der to find em­ploy­ment and make a liv­ing.

Mean­while, Bri­tain’s food scene now in­cludes sup­per clubs and street food, which of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties for homely meals and, of­ten, recre­ate the in­ti­macy of a fam­ily din­ner (and let’s not pre­tend th­ese aren’t usu­ally pre­pared by women around the globe). This is what I try to achieve with Ki­noVino, which usu­ally fea­tures women guest chefs. A very spe­cial en­ergy is cre­ated when women make a meal and lay the ta­ble to­gether. It al­lows us to es­tab­lish a sym­bolic link to those who fed us at the same time as mak­ing our mark pro­fes­sion­ally.

It was in this spirit that chef Romy Gill asked me to take part in her allfe­male char­ity din­ner The Sev­ern Sis­ters Feast in Bris­tol last year, in aid of Ac­tion Against Hunger. Rather than mak­ing a po­lit­i­cal state­ment, Romy wanted this din­ner to be both a cel­e­bra­tion of fe­male tal­ent and an op­por­tu­nity for women in the in­dus­try to cook to­gether. Each chef was in­vited to cre­ate a dish mean­ing­ful to her. The food that dec­o­rated the ta­bles re­flected the mixed back­grounds of the cooks: Ukrainian dumplings with Bri­tish spuds, Siberian pick­led mush­rooms be­side an In­dian curry. The feast will visit Lon­don’s Bor­ough Mar­ket on 4 Oc­to­ber, adding Ghana­ian and Greek cuisines to the reper­toire.

In­clu­sive, di­verse, non-hi­er­ar­chi­cal, and seam­lessly blur­ring the line be­tween pro­fes­sional and do­mes­tic cook­ing: th­ese are the hall­marks of women who work to­gether in kitchens. Everyone is as uniquely qual­i­fied to cook and have an opinion about food as they are to eat it. My great grand­mother would never have called her­self a chef, but I think that if she’d lived in the food cul­ture that I do now, here in Lon­don, she’d feel more proud of cook­ing to earn her keep than she did.

Some 50 years sep­a­rate Ros­alia and me as two women mak­ing a liv­ing as cooks. She never had the chance to eat at a restau­rant. So when I’m peel­ing onions with my kitchen com­rades in Bor­ough Mar­ket next week, she’ll be firmly in my con­scious­ness.

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