For any aspiring chefs out there or just for those foodies interested in all things food-related, we sat down with the brilliant Olia Hercules to understand a bit more about her motivations and preferences when it comes to being a chef and food stylist. Be prepared to be inspired by Olia’s incredible love for what she does.
Who or what first inspired your passion for food?
My family and living in Italy. A very simple dish of spaghetti al ricci (sea urchin pasta with just three ingredients) made me realise I wanted to cook for a living.
How does your Ukrainian cultural heritage inspire the food you create?
In every way. It is so little known (even to us Eastern Europeans!). There is so much to explore, it is a constant flow of inspiration and adventure.
What exactly is food styling?
Making food look gorgeous for a photographer. Imagine your plate of beautiful (but naked) spaghetti is your model and you dress it up in a Issey Miyake gown (sea urchin).
Can you tell us a bit more about your food philosophy?
It’s all about seasonality, provenance, good flavour and preserving traditions through gentle modernisation.
How do you fit cooking around family life? What does your son think of your recipes?
He is a very voracious eater! One of his grandmothers is Ukrainian, the other is from Laos, so from the age of 6 months he’s been gnawing on lemongrass (for teething) and eating chicken gizzards. Family life is complicated as I am a single parent, but I manage. I have great support from friends and both sets of grandparents.
Do you have any advice for young and aspiring chefs?
Do what feels natural. This is devilishly hard work, so be prepared. But if you love something, even the more complicated aspects will seem like a breeze.
What is your favourite dish to cook and eat?
Poussin tabaka – from my cookbook Mamushka. Its is spatchcocked chicken cooked under press in butter and garlic and then served with chopped coriander, purple basil, dill and tarragon. The best bit is mopping juices up with a hunk of good sourdough bread.
Where do you find your inspiration to create and write original recipes?
People I meet, old cookbooks, nature, my head.
Do you have a favourite branch of food-related work: cheffing, food styling, running master classes, or writing and testing recipes?
I love service, I actually love working hard in a restaurant. I can’t do it now because I have a young son. But there is nothing like the thrill of service and feeding a lot of people.
You say that seasonality plays a huge role in your cooking. So, do you have a favourite season for ingredients?
I think my favourite is May (in Ukraine), the first fresh herbs, first cucumbers… everything is so alive again. It gives me a surge of energy.
What made you want to write your own cookery book?
The conflict in Ukraine made me scared that we may lose everything – our house, our heritage. I wanted to write things down for posterity. Also I was deeply depressed and unemployed, so it was like therapy. And then I got a book deal. If you work really hard, are genuine in what you do (whatever it is – food or fashion) and try to be kind, things will happen, trust me.
To see more from the wonderful Olia, check out her website and social media. And please do share with any fellow foodies!