everybody loves cupcakes, don’t they?

cucakes in Russia

“Everybody loves cupcakes, don’t they?”. This is the answer I usually give when asked why I was trying to make cupcakes in Russia, and this is what I was telling the group of reporters in front of me at that moment. After a few years cooking my way around the country, the question had become pretty regular.

“Let me get this straight”, one of them suggested, waving her (dessert) fork at me “you came ALL the way to Siberia just to make… cupcakes?”

(Despite the aggressive tone of her question, the look on her face was telling me “this banana cake salted caramel one IS pretty good, though”)

banana caramel cupcake

Well that wasn’t entirely true, of course, I was here to try and achieve much more than that, and cupcakes were just a part of my role as the travelling chef. At the same time, I was hoping to also tap into the cupcake craze that had been sweeping the world the past few years. It was even hitting places like Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, so why couldn’t it succeed in the largest country on the planet?

Like I said, everybody loves cupcakes. Think about it for a moment. It’s like you are able to take a whole cake, just for yourself, without the actual guilt of eating a whole cake by yourself. Some of those cupcakes can be so tiny that they you can even two or three and compare different flavours before you force yourself to stop! Continue Reading

lunchtime decisions


lunchtime decisions

Sometimes lunchtime decisions are made for you. The cartons of eggs were packed so closely together on the shelf that when I tried to pull out one carton, the one next to it fell to the floor.

Is that what they mean when they tell you that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs?

I looked around for an assistant, walked around the supermarket and when I finally found someone, explained what had happened. In my limited Russian. In Russia.

Unfortunately for me, I may as well have been a penguin asking her if she’d like to dance!

She looked at me in near horror, shook her head and shuffled away. I could see her peering out from behind the cereal boxes, checking if I was still there.

I went back to see if those eggs had been cleaned up, but no, they were still there. I decided to hang around a few minutes, just in case a manager came by or there was someone else I could explain the situation to.

Should I just stand there, or should I discreetly move away?
Looking at the bigger picture, I suppose this was not the biggest dilemma I was going to face that day (I mean, for example, apples: green or red?)

Like I said, sometimes lunchtime decisions are all but made for you:  I was going to have carrot soup instead, with a savoury muffin

lips as red as sun dried tomato pesto

sun dried tomato pesto

her lips were red.

I mean, full, dark red, just like that sun dried tomato pesto that we were eating. I wondered to myself if there actually WAS a lipstick colour called sun dried tomato pesto or something – that would be funny, you wouldn’t know whether to eat it or wear it!

there’s just a little bit of chilli in there, to give it a bit of heat – can you feel it – I asked her…

I like food that has flavour. This is great focaccia, by the way – soft and lots of taste

she told me. then she continued:

none of this bland stuff they keep feeding me, salads and oil, potatoes and butter, fish and cream. I mean, what is THAT all about?
I can tell you from just one taste what’s going on in this stuff you’ve made, which I’m quite happy to slather over my bread – is IS focaccia, isn’t it?
I can definitely taste pine nuts, toasted, right? There’s olive oil, lemon juice, black pepper, cheese – tastes like Pecorino, am I right? Then there’s the chilli you mentioned, definitely more than a little bit, but just the right amount. And you haven’t used completely dried tomatoes, have you, seems to me to be those soft, fluffy “sun-blushed’ ones

This girl was good. Oh yeah, she was very good! How could she have known all that? I mean, OK, it wasn’t an exclusive recipe, pretty straightforward in a way. I made it regularly enough – throw everything in one of those hand blender attachments, whizz it for a minute or two, season to taste and it’s done. But I’d been making it for a long while and almost felt like it was mine, the taste, the texture, the colour. I could make it with my eyes closed. So how had SHE known what I was doing? continue reading to find out how she knew the recipe

that thing you do: a quick breakfast at home

berry tartelette - how do you do that
How do you do that? she asked, that funny look on her face.

Do what?

“That! That thing. you’ve done it again. creating something from nothing, making stuff like this…”

What are you talking about?

“I’ve just been to that fridge, couldn’t have been more than ten minutes ago – it was almost empty”

Well, there were a couple of things in there, you know. I thought we’d grab a quick breakfast at home before heading out.

“I know, but I don’t remember seeing all THIS stuff!”

You’ve just got to look for it and see what you can create. You see, I know how to look for it and make something that should work well together.

(She seemed suitably impressed, or at least my explanation convinced her I didn’t have a secret second fridge hidden away in the back)

I continued, feeling invincible now, i mean – everyone’s got these almond tart shells around – they’ll keep for days – hmmm, they are so good. And I just covered them with a little

white chocolate, you know, that one you nibble all the time when you’re reading?
(Without sharing, I wanted to add). and this is what to do next

best chocolate in the world

distant love
You me and the universe…

…the eternal story.

there’s not always a happy ending, is there?

it doesn’t always happen that way. The way you dream it would

so, there’s no Prince or frog to kiss ,
there’s not going to be a princess in the tower calling your name
even a sleeping beauty with long flowing hair, waiting for you to wake her up

things don’t work that way, do they?
here they are fixed for all time:
he, on a frozen vanilla ice cream world, it slowly turns yet never melts
a perfectly formed icy orb spinning gracefully.

she, on the chocolate planet – this is the good stuff, the place where the best chocolate in the world comes from

watching each other from afar, knowing there’s no future together,
understanding that this is the way their lives will always be – spinning through the universe Continue Reading

Cutting cakes correctly

the elephant …and everything freezes, I can still hear the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, waiters rushing by with their trays, the chef shouting for the sauce, plates on the passe ready to be whisked away, something bubbling on the back burner, something else sizzling at the front, the oven alarm sounds, it’s the cue to bring everything together, a synchronised motion of the entire kitchen team to get the plates out into the dining room.

this time, things don’t go to plan. Slowly the crowd is forming around me. Continue Reading