Satisfying Your Palette with Olia Hercules by Anna Cox
Meet Olia, not only is she absolutely fantastic but she is also a fantastic and innovative chef for a sweet little start up called the Recipe Kit in her hometown of London. I am constantly amazed at the people I get to meet through mobile photography and Olia is no exception. From the first conversation there was an ease to our conversations. She even took the time to coach and encourage me through weaning my son. That right there is one gooooood lady. You all may or may not know that, one, I LOVE to eat and, two, I love a good still life. [Enter Olia’s IG feed stage left] I was blown away and hungry all at the same time. It is a feast for the eyes and palette with little snapshots of Olia’s sweet boy thrown in.
A: Tell me the basics about you, where you are from, what you do etc
O: I was born in the Soviet Union, in a tiny town in southern Ukraine. I was fortunate enough to have the hardest working parents, who made it possible for us to move to Cyprus during the dodgy 1990s. I then moved to the UK to do a BA and Masters degrees in languages, and lived in Italy for a year. I am now based in London, but still consider myself to be a complete cosmopolite. I live here with my husband Tom, who is also a chef and is originally half Thai half Laos, and our son Sasha who is turning 16 months next week.
My main hobby is taking photos with Hipstamatic. I do not use anything else, I tried but it did not feel right. I love black and white photography, but when I shoot food I often go for the somewhat lurid Watts-BigUp combo, it really makes the colours pop. Instagram kept me sane and gave me an outlet for my creativity, especially after giving birth and staying at home with my son. As amazing as it was, babies can’t talk, and often I felt lonely. Having an enormous amount of incredibly supportive Hipsta friends was incredible luck.
A: How did you end up with your current job with The Recipe Kit?
O: I worked as a film journalist for a couple of years, then the economic crisis hit the industry upside the head and so began the redundancies. I survived five rounds of redundancies when I had an inkling that I may be next. I then quit my job, retrained to be a chef, got a divorce from my rather oppressive first husband and went to work in the kitchens. I’ve always wanted to be a food writer, but being as obnoxious as I am, I decided I had to prove myself I could conquer the hardcore 18 hour-day, low pay, misogynist world of professional kitchens.
I ended up at Ottolenghi, a rather famous restaurant in London. It was hard, so hard I swear giving birth to my son seemed more bearable than it could have been had I not raised my stamina as a breakfast chef-de-partie, banging out 100 covers pretty much on my own on a busy day. I met Tom there, we fell in love and had our little boy very soon after we met.
I worked all throughout my pregnancy, pretty much up to my due date. Next time I’m pregnant – fudge that. I will be sitting on my behind eating custard tarts from day one, thank you.
I was a stay at home mum for a year (with a short stint in a wicked cookery show Red, Hot and Yummy for the Food Network) and then unexpectedly I was offered a full time job as a recipe writer and food stylist for a cool little start-up called The Recipe Kit.
It’s incredibly tough trying to juggle a full time job (my parents are in Ukraine), being a mum and having a life. But I keep saying – I can do it. Rosie the riveter-inspired head scarf helps to remain strong.
I love all food. I am crazy about underused, obscure cuisines. One of the dishes I made up at work was based on my research on the Mapuche people.
At home we eat a lot of Thai and Laos food, I cook Middle Eastern and Georgian dishes. We love Indian and Caribbean food, Greek and Italian.
My son never had purées. I gave him real food (sans salt) from 6 months. My dream is to raise awareness that children do not have to be fussy and be fed special kids meals. Sasha went from breast milk to chicken gizzards and grilled squid, and not once complained. But of course, maybe I am just lucky. I was a terribly fussy eater when I was a child.
A: What does a normal day look like for you?
O: My normal day starts at 5:30 am as this is when Sash is up and ready to pull my hair, pinch my nose and give me a couple of smacks across my face to wake me up. We listen to some Pixies or Jazz FM, I cook him breakfast (porridge or blueberry and banana pancakes are his favourite), then I cook lunch for him and his child minder. Then I’m off to work where I…cook again. I write recipes, then I test them, develop and edit them for our recipe cards. On Fridays we do a photo shoot which is the hardest but also my favourite part of my job. I come home, put Sasha to bed, and more often than not crawl into bed myself. Rock and Roll.
A lot of my recipes mean a lot to me personally. The Kao Soi (Chiang Mai noodles) styling was inspired by a dish we had when visiting Tom’s family in Thailand, Nahm Dtok is Tom’s favourite dish. A couple of recipes passed down to me by my mother have recently been published in The Guardian, one that was published is contained below. That brought a tear to my eye. Born in an obscure tiny Soviet town, now living my dream in London – sometimes I want to pinch myself, or maybe I’ll just let Sasha do it tomorrow morning.
Sasha tasting picture is a game we sometimes play – I lay different veggies and edible flowers on a tray and he helps himself.
If you are in the London area check out The Recipe Kit for Olia’s awesome creations to be delivered right to your door!
Crispy aubergine, mejadra with a peach, cucumber and celery salad
250ml sunflower oil
4 shallots, thinly sliced
150g green lentils
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick
150g basmati rice
50ml olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Slice aubergines into 2 cm rounds, brush generously with olive oil, sprinkle over the garam masala and season well. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes or until soft and slightly caramelised on top.
2. Meanwhile heat 5 tbsp of veg oil in a pan and shallow fry for 1 minute. Drain on some kitchen paper. Place the rice, lentils, spices, salt and pepper and add 300ml of water. Cook on a low heat for 15-20 minutes. Serve with crispy shallots as a garnish.
3. Mix the nectarines, cucumbers, mint and lime juice, season well with salt and pepper.