Tessa Kiros Talks about International Cooking
Tessa Kiros' voyage into international cooking began at home, and it began at birth. Being born into a diverse cultural mix, Kiros could sit at the family table and watch cultures blend without losing their distinctiveness, see how cultures adapt and evolve when ingredients were scarce, even learn they might sometimes startle.
"My parents were interested in both cultures and in food. We always had gravadlax, Finnish mustard, dill, and cinnamon buns along with Greek lamb, stuffed vegetables, dolmades, and baklava.
My mother was probably cooking Scandinavian foods to bring her roots into our home and, when we moved, into African soil. She was probably cooking Greek food to learn, and absorb herself in a culture that she loved. And all this probably she was doing as we are - feeding a family and trying to make the best of it.
I don't think it was difficult to find ingredients in London, but my mother does have some wild stories about her mother-in-law turning up with a freshly killed rabbit from Cyprus for dinner. She remembers some distinct details about the rabbit!
In South Africa, Finnish cooking was more difficult to source. Greek cooking wasn't a problem as there was and is a very large Greek community and so it is easy to find things there."
Despite this background, I didn't start with the idea of becoming a food professional. Not really. I have always loved travel, people, and food. It is wonderful to be able to combine all of these in writing. When I was old enough to be on my own, I traveled to Australia, to Greece, to Mexico simply because these were all places I wanted to visit. There are so many more. It doesn't end.
Travel is still the thing that inspires me so much. I love what people do in their countries; love their stories that hold it all together. Going to a market in a foreign country is a chance to see culture in action, the life of the people. If you have even a smattering of the language, you can even get recipes from friendly people shopping for foodstuffs. If you are buying artichokes, for example, or whatever ingredient from someone who loves what they do, they will be only too happy to share with you the best way of cooking them/eating them. They are giving you their time and experience. These are the things that you can't know in an instant.
The credit beyond all goes to the country. It is with their geography and history that they have collected their ingredients and colored them through their language and stories onto their plates."
Today Kiros has made her home in Italy with a family of her own. She continues to learn.
"My Italian mother-in-law has been an incredible inspiration to me. I have learned a lot from her. Living in Tuscany - in the countryside has also taught me a lot. People here cook every day and most times twice a day. There are many things to learn from people who live so close to their earth. I don't remember being very aware of seasonal stuff when I was young. It made the most impact on me when I came to live in Tuscany. For the first time I noticed the very subtle changes in the hills and in what the earth gives us. Seasonal cooking now makes a world of sense to me.
I love tradition. It makes it all very interesting to me. In my books, I have just said mostly what is and where it comes from in the recipe. I think that these small details are nice to add. My daughters love to help in the way that probably most children love to help. They love baking, scraping, stirring, even patting together fishcakes, though I have witnessed less interest in dealing with raw fish and chicken from them! I love it when everyone is involved in getting a meal together. I test all recipes on my family and whoever else is around."
Cooking methods, though stable, change with the tools we use or an alteration of ingredients based on health awareness.
"Tuscany still serves lard on grilled bread. It looks like a slice of all fat from prosciutto say and is delicious. A little bit of something so rich can be good. But a classic recipe I feel can and should be adapted to suit climate, today's palate but also individual tastes. Everyone knows his or her own limit I believe.
Going beyond international cooking, I have experimented with fusion. I think everything can be nice as long as all the ingredients are wonderful. Fusion is a different avenue - there is no history - or mixed history lets say.
About Falling Cloudberries
In the opening pages of Falling Cloudberries, Kiros writes, "Finland still remains a dream; a faraway land where Father Christmas lives and glides here and there with his sleigh, ducking through falling cloudberries." With that one sentence we know we are in the hands of a cook who understands the poetry of food and family, of the relation of food to memories.
Of her choice for the title, Kiros tells us, "Cloudberries is such a rare fruit, sweet and tart, closest to cranberries or lingonberries. So beautiful and magical sounding. Many people have asked me if it really does exist or did I make it up?"
In the notes to many of her recipes Kiros often suggests that the reader vary the herbs or try another way of making the dish. The result for the reader/cook is a feeling of freedom and Kiros clearly states that her air is mainly to inspire people. "Ultimately it is the reader's home/life/family loves, personality and souls that they will lift out of their pans onto the table.'
We thank Tessa Kiros for her time. We hope her work finds its way onto every family table to create moments as cherished as the ones Ms. Kiros gives us.