Alissa is the founder of KinoVino a cinema-supper club in London, which brings together some of the best chefs and films from around the world.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in Siberia, Russia. My mother’s side of the family is Jewish-Ukrainian while my dad’s is from the Far East of Russia. I’ve been living in the UK since 1999.
Having spent the past 12 years studying and researching film history (I wrote a PhD about Soviet film and the Holocaust), I always saw cooking and hosting dinner parties as the best antidote to the intensity of academic work. Jewish food was something that I learnt from my great grandmother. It has to be said’ that as a Soviet Jew she never practiced Judaism and her cooking was of course rooted in Ukrainian and Russian cuisines.
Having changed my career path recently and given in entirely to my passion for cooking and feeding, I now cook for a living but still manage to enjoy cooking at home, as a form of relaxation and almost meditation. I have a few go-to meals: I can’t live without a spicy shakshuka with lots of fresh coriander on weekend mornings, I also make my own variation on a Georgian dish, lobio, where I add feta cheese and red peppers to it. And of course, I can not live without a red borsch!
I am a sporadic reader so often have several books on the go, at the moment I have Bee Wilson’s First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, and 1984 is always not far away, as I love revisiting this seminal work. Can’t be more relevant in the current times.
How do you typically feel, emotionally, when you open your kitchen pantry?
Excited like a kid in a candy store. I am a bit of a collector (or hoarder if you like) so the variety of jars, bottles and boxes that I see makes me so happy and spurs my imaginations and creativity – what can I make with all these wonderful things today!?
What’s your process for organizing your food pantry?
I organise things in different boxes and trays – the spices and dry herbs I use most are in the front; things for special occasions are in a different box at the back of the cupboard, all oils and vinegars are together on a tray. I think I have a very good system, but apparently it does not make sense to anyone else but me.
What’s inside your pantry right now?
- Harissa and onion relish from Kosher Providence Deli
- Preserved lemons from Belazu
- Paprika from El Avion (it comes in the loveliest vintage looking tin)
- Rose water from Cortas
- Jam from Newton and Pott (I use for my signature blintzes dish at my recent Jewish food popup)
What’s the healthiest item that you keep in stock?
A really good quality virgin olive oil – It was bought directly from an organic olive grove in Montenegro, in a place called Klinci village.
What about your guilty pleasure that you always have on hand?
Cocoa powder (though the one I have is raw and organic Green and Blacks, so not too guilty of a pleasure).
Compared to your mother, how is your pantry the same or different than what you grew up with?
I definitely got my love of cooking from my mom. Growing up in the Soviet Union, we didn’t have access to any foreign herbs and spices, though we did have access to the wonderful condiments from Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus (the Georgian spice, adjika, is still by far my most favourite thing).
Yet there was still a longing for something more original. So once we could travel abroad and foreign products were imported, my mom would get all sorts of herbs and spices (from Italian to Indian and Chinese) and experiment with them.
Living in Israel was a real gastronomic revelation. I tried my first hummus and falafel there – what can be a better place to start? And had the best fish and chips of my life (I am still dreaming about that lunch in Eilat by the sea). I also fell in love with all the khazelim dips – the smoky creamy one and the fiery tomato one are really incredible. We have discovered various Middle Eastern spices, like raz el hanout and dukha, but also have enjoyed lots of flavours from Eastern Europe, which really testified to the diversity of food in Israel.
From my mother’s pantry habits, I have definitely inherited that love for collecting as wide a range as possible. So the only difference between our pantries is that I have a lot more stuff (living in London is such a privilege as I can get access to pretty much anything from South African curry spice mix to Iranian dry lime powder!).
If you could change anything about how your pantry is now, what would it be?
Space! I need a lot more space for my collection, currently it is contained in just one cupboard. My dream is a walk-in pantry (like it should be). Can’t stop obsessing about Nigella Lawson’s magic room of jars and bottles.
After reading this, I want to make a special trip to London to go to one of Alissa’s pop-up dinners and taste everything in her pantry!
Your turn: What item from Alissa’s pantry appeals to you the most?