september foodie profile: jennifer klinec
earlier this year my friend julia and i did a couple of cooking classes at eat drink talk – flavours of mexico and cuisine of bali and indonesia. we both had a great time as a result of the knowledge, skills and enthusiasm of jennifer klinec who runs eat drink talk.
as a result of these reviews and the series of interviews i’ve been featuring on the blog which explore the huge range of food-related careers that exist and how they affect the way that people cook and eat, i’ve had a few emails suggesting we put jennifer in the spotlight. so here she is…
1. what is your food job?
i run my own business, teaching cooking classes. most of my classes have ethnic themes like asian street food, moroccan or thai but i also have classes on specific things like how to cook fish or making homemade croissants – since 2006 i've had c2000 people come through my doors. i also write 2 food columns and a regular newsletter with free recipes each month.
2. what are the best and worst bits of it?
- best: i love every aspect of cooking from the shopping, the prep, and of course the actual cooking and eating, so being able to earn a living from it makes me feel incredibly fortunate. i also get really excited watching the people in my classes smelling, chopping and tasting things that are often new to them - seeing a group of total strangers become transfixed by the process of cooking can be positively magical. i also travel to study food cultures and develop new recipes - recently i've been to yemen, cambodia, vietnam and mexico. i am constantly learning and progressing my own knowledge.
- worst: challenges of running a food business include rising costs, finding reliable staff and tracking down the ingredients which change from one class to the next. you have to be incredibly organised. sometimes it can be hard to have to curb your own ideas and focus on what is financially viable. there are classes i would love to teach - like ethiopian food or making really complicated middle eastern pasty like brik, but then i ask myself: "will anyone really want to come to that?” its about finding a balance between what is interesting to teach and what will sell.
3. how would you sum up your approach to food?
i feel a lot of nostalgia and respect for tradition. i have a mixer for example but i never use it as i prefer to knead my dough by hand. i spend a fortune on ingredients and like to know as much as i can about how things are made and where they come from. i really believe that eating is about pleasure and that a bad meal is a wasted opportunity.
4. has your job affected how you cook and eat?
since i cook and eat what we make in my classes, it has a huge impact and i must have one of the most varied diets in london! i eat more meat than i used to, and more sugar as we always make a dessert.
5. what is your most useful kitchen utensil?
my cuisinart food processor. a food processor is a wonderful contraption and once you have one there is no going back. i've tried a few models and cuisinart are by far the best.
6. what’s your usual stand-by recipe?
i love making white pizza - pizza without tomato sauce. i go to the market and pick up some nice mozzarella or ricotta and add whatever vegetables are in season. last time i used radicchio, gorgonzola, pine nuts and a few shavings of pear.
7. which food says “home” to you?
whenever i’m home in canada, my mom and i make a dish from my childhood that i still adore. it is a very peasant east european dish of homemade egg noodles and mashed potatoes mixed together with a few onions that have been fried in butter. we have enormous vat-like bowls that we eat it out of.
8. do you have a guilty pleasure?
cooking for myself is a guilty pleasure. most of the time i am cooking as part of a class or recipe testing, so to just ask myself 'what do i feel like eating today?' has become a bit of a luxury.
9. do you use a list when you’re food shopping?
yes! i am buy such large quantities of food for my classes i have to make a list the night before or i'd be lost. otherwise, i go to the market with an idea of what i think i'd like to make and then see what looks good - it is nice to just be guided by your senses.
10. how tidy is your kitchen?
immaculate. because i teach classes out of my own kitchen, it gets scrubbed and bleached and mopped to within an inch of its life at least 4 times a week. i find it far more pleasant to work in a clean and well organised kitchen than one with clutter everywhere. and being in a kitchen where everything is covered in dried-on food splatters is downright unappetising!
11. what inspired your love of food?
i was a very unfussy child so that i ate and enjoyed everything probably played a large role. my parents, though they ate relatively simple food, believed in eating well and it gave me an early appreciation for the pleasures associated with food and eating.
12. what is the first thing you remember cooking?
macaroni and cheese. my sister and i used to make it when we came home from school. our philosophy was 'the more cheese the better' so we really went for it.
13. what is your top cooking tip?
if you are learning to cook, it is important to make food you want to eat, rather than things you feel you should cook. i think cooking becomes really enjoyable once you start producing food that you can say “wow - this really is delicious. and i made it myself!” it is also important to taste your food and season well. tasting, adjusting and balancing flavours are the hallmarks of a good cook and you can learn a lot just by the process of tasting and correcting.
14. what is your signature dish?
i don’t have a signature dish but i think i make really great dim sum!
15. what’s your worst cooking disaster?
i don't have many disasters although i'm always apprehensive doing a class or giving a demonstration in someone else's kitchen. i once did some cooking demos at the whitecross street market and 5 minutes before i went on the organizers were still trying to hook up a calor gas bottle to the stove and there was no running water. you learn to just wing it.
16. do you have any food heroes?
i think my suppliers are my day-to-day heroes and i feel a tremendous affection and respect for them. it is a real labour of love to be a fishmonger or a butcher in this country when there seem to be 10 new tesco metros opening up every day. i really admire the slow food movement and all the people involved in it. i have been to a few slow food conferences in italy and the commitment to safeguarding and promoting traditional foods and values is both heroic and heartwarming.
17. what annoys you about food culture in britain?
in britain, or certainly in london, people can be incredibly lazy about food. we have created a culture where it is perfectly acceptable to be incapable of preparing a meal for ourselves and i find this astonishing. in one generation something that was an essential life skill has become a niche hobby like knitting.
i also think that the approach to food and cooking has really polarised in the last 5 years. many established food writers are dumbing down their recipe styles into a “meals in minutes” and “sins with tins” approach which isn't terribly interesting. on the other hand we have created a cult of celebrity chef worship - whilst watching these programmes provides a fascinating insight into the restaurant world, it isn't really accessible to home cooks. the middle ground has become startingly barren and i find that rather sad.
18. do you prefer eating in or eating out?
i enjoy both! eating in gives you more control of your experience - you can control the music, the company, the food, and i think cooking for people is a wonderful way to show warmth and friendship. that said, i think eating out and tasting the cooking of others is essential and is another way of learning and evolving your palate. so i eat out too, but selectively.
19. what is the perfect foodie gift?
a voucher for a cooking class! it's the gift that keeps on giving!
20. what’s your unfulfilled foodie ambition?
there are so many! at the moment i am obsessed with the cuisine of russia and the former soviet republics so i really want to take an extended trip there. if there was some way to combine that kind of trip with getting it filmed for a food programme to help to fund it, well that would be pretty much perfect.