A chef ’s kitchen built from Spit­fires

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

The chef and food writer Olia Her­cules is gaz­ing out of her kitchen win­dow in London’s East End. “Com­fort knick­ers, two for £5, and some kind of ‘ sox’ – spelt with an x,” she re­ports, as she reads the signs on the stalls in Ro­man Road mar­ket. It is London’s old­est trad­ing route and sits di­rectly out­side her front door. “The mar­ket is on three days a week, so there is al­ways a great buzz,” she says. “East London is chang­ing fast, but this street is still how it used to be.”

Aptly enough, the four-bed­room Vic­to­rian house that Her­cules shares with her hus­band Joe Wood­house, a food pho­tog­ra­pher and trained chef, and her six-year-old son Sasha, is a for­mer sausage fac­tory. Con­verted by the pre­vi­ous own­ers into a large two­s­torey maisonette, it has a huge roof ter­race where the cou­ple en­ter­tain around their firepit and drum bar­be­cue al­most every other night.

But it’s in the kitchen, nat­u­rally, where the 34-yearold spends much of her time, when she isn’t trav­el­ling around her na­tive Ukraine find­ing in­spi­ra­tion for her cook­books.

Hav­ing moved to London as a univer­sity stu­dent, Her­cules first opened Bri­tish eyes to Ukrainian cook­ing with her de­but cook­book Ma­mushka in 2015, be­fore ex­plor­ing the culi­nary tra­di­tions of Ge­or­gia, Azer­bai­jan and be­yond in Kauka­sis. Now she is work­ing on Sum­mer Kitchen – a cel­e­bra­tion of a Ukrainian tra­di­tion in which young newly-weds buy a plot of land and build a sim­ple one-room house, with a wood-fired oven and a stack of hay to sleep on dur­ing the hot months. “They would usu­ally plant an al­lot­ment close to the sum­mer kitchen to make it eas­ier to pre­serve and fer­ment its glut come Septem­ber,” she ex­plains.

Her ex­ploratory trips take in thou­sands of miles, “then I re­turn to this kitchen to test out my recipes, recreat- ing the dishes us­ing pro­duce from lo­cal mar­kets here. I write here too, some­times,” she says, stand­ing in her Fifties English Rose kitchen, made by the com­pany that man­u­fac­tured Spit­fires and Lan­caster Bombers dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

When the war ended and it was left with a sur­plus of air­craft-grade alu­minium, plus a re­dun­dant fac­tory and work­force, they be­gan mak­ing the first mod­u­lar “fit­ted” kitchens in­stead.

Th­ese vin­tage kitchens – which can be bought from Bris­tol-based Source of Bath (source-an­tiques.co.uk) – come in a va­ri­ety of colours, from pastels to vivid pur­ple. The one that adorns this home has ex­posed metal units that bolt to­gether, and bright red formica work­tops. It features the sig­na­ture plane door-like han­dles and the curved front drawer pan­els, de­signed to max­imise workspace with­out eat­ing up floor space.

“Our English Rose kitchen is just so in tune with me,” says Her­cules. The dishes she most as­so­ciates with cre­at­ing in her kitchen are cur­ries – “Gu­jarati, Malaysian, north­ern Thai, and my son’s school friend re­cently men­tioned all the amaz­ing Bangladeshi cur­ries they make at home, so I’m go­ing to try that next,” she says. “It’s a great kitchen for cook­ing and en­ter­tain­ing, but it’s also per­fect for com­mer­cial jobs and styling. It’s a real rar­ity and it fits the house per­fectly.”

She is in a par­tic­u­larly re­flec­tive mood about her house as, with an ex­pand­ing fam­ily in mind, she and 32-year-old Wood­house are buy­ing a big­ger house in nearby For­est Gate and have put their Ro­man Road home on the mar­ket for of­fers in ex­cess of £700,000 through EweMove.

Lo­cal gen­tri­fi­ca­tion has seen the likes of nearby Lau­ris­ton Vil­lage – with its Ginger Pig butcher, trendy wine mer­chant Bot­tle Apos­tle and Gail’s Bak­ery – be­come a cool yummy mummy en­clave. But Ro­man Road, she says, still has its “East End magic”.

The café op­po­site col­lects her mail if she’s away, the cor­ner shop sup­plies her with every­thing from or­ganic eggs to spelt flour, and the post of­fice is five doors down. Her Vic­to­rian build­ing, too, is an im­por­tant part of the lo­cal land­scape. It was turned into a fac­tory in 1851 as part of a push to clear the slums and cre­ate more workspaces; the words “The Saveloy Fac­tory” are etched into the ce­ment out­side. Her­cules has an orig­i­nal sign on her bed­room wall, a rem­nant from the build­ing’s later in­car­na­tion as a clothes fac­tory, which is ad­ver­tis­ing va­can­cies for dress­mak­ers.

“Ob­jects such as this sign feel al­most or­gan­i­cally part of the house,” she says. “It’s the same with the yel­low formica ta­ble and chairs that are in the kitchen, which we in­her­ited from the pre­vi­ous own­ers. We will def­i­nitely leave them for the new buy­ers.”

The cou­ple have made var­i­ous im­prove­ments to the prop­erty in their time there – Wood­house lived there be­fore he met Her­cules and fo­cused on turn­ing its four ter­races and two cel­lars into var­i­ous forms of tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled spa­ces to work out in (there’s a rooftop gym), and store his prized col­lec­tions of whisky, home-made sloe gin and pho­to­graphic film. He also di­vided a huge open-plan space into bedrooms and a li­brary with a wall pa­pered in palms from hip in­te­ri­ors brand House of Hack­ney.

Her­cules’s con­tri­bu­tion to the house, when she moved in two years ago, was to “get rid of all the man clut­ter,” she says. “I stripped it all down, as Joe has so many props for his pho­tog­ra­phy.” She also in­stalled some cher­ished kitchen items from Ukraine, in­clud­ing an early 20th-cen­tury pes­tle and mor­tar, her grand­fa­ther’s ash­tray in the shape of a lily, and some colour­ful hand-painted chop­ping boards.

Since then, they have en­joyed many mem­o­rable mo­ments in the house. “Dawn and sun­set on the roof ter­race, with views to the Gherkin and Cheeseg­rater in the City, are un­for­get­table,” she says. So, too, are nights spent up there danc­ing with friends, watch­ing fire­works and, of course, eat­ing fab­u­lous food pre­pared on the body­work of old fighter planes. This is a house that will al­ways have sto­ries to tell.

Olia Her­cules in her East London kitchen that was made us­ing sur­plus parts from Spit­fires

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