It has been quite some time since the last ASH Blog post!
We are happy to share an overview from questions posed and conversation Winnie enjoyed earlier this week as ASH Culinaria count down the final days of Lockdown…
The Coronavirus Lockdown was very traumatic. As a nation we are still processing the enormity of the public health crisis.
In a few days the UK is set to return to normality and we can better evaluate the losses and change that have taken place.
HOW DID YOU COPE WITH LOCKDOWN, WHAT DID YOU LEARN & HOW HAS IT IMPACTED ON YOUR BUSINESS & FUTURE PLANS?
We are now relatively free and will soon be more so. What “normality” will be remains to be seen. It is still somewhat unbelievable to recall queuing for hours wearing a respirator mask and encountering bare shelves.
In the West, we are used to instant gratification of our consumer wants and needs and got to taste how many people in the world have lived throughout warfare in the 21st century: with scarcity and fearing death on a daily basis.
My colleague who is a food scientist always joked: “You don’t have a kitchen, you have a LAB”, I don’t have one type of salt or pepper, there are probably about ten of each. Don’t get me started on my kaleidoscope of rice: basmati, Thai red jasmine, black forbidden rice, short grain Egyptian… I became a go to when my closest friends ran out of essential items.
In our locale we developed a kind of barter economy and exchanged essential food items on our front walls.
Whenever I cooked with certain scarce items – pasta, passata, olive oil, I thought of the people suffering far worse in Italy in terms of public health and their economy.
As we prepare to return to trade almost a year after the second Lockdown, I have noticed that scarcity still remains in the market – where are the macadamia nuts?
I will have to recalibrate some of our recipe formulas as the orchid root that adds a special viscosity to some of our signature desserts and cocktails is no longer available.
Lockdown severely affected the growth of ASH Culinaria, but it also afforded extra time to refine what we are offering in terms of both cuisine and consultancy services.
We are looking forward to the future as people have postponed their weddings and will be very keen to celebrate life and grow their brands or international trade opportunities. Time will tell when we are truly free to resume a normal business, travel and social schedule. I am optimistic for the future and looking forward to executing the major celebrations our clients have had to postpone.
It is important to respect both Life and Death. For those of us that have come out of the pandemic alive and in good health, the crisis provided a chrysalis to take stock and expunge what no longer serves our highest good or adds value to our life. On the whole, many people will admit that the world required a re-set and they are now ready to re-emerge in finer form, with greater life purpose and recalibrated goals.
On a basic but fundamental level Londoners seem to have better hygiene habits. It is now clear that prior to the pandemic many did not adhere to basic social expectations such as regular hand-washing. Overall living and etiquette standards are improving as disinfecting public surfaces has increased and spitting on the street is not acceptable.
There is an improved interest in diet and nutrition now.
People recognise the need to boost their immune systems. Consumers will become more interested in less well known global cuisines as international travel becomes restricted. I think this will have a positive impact on society as well as my business in due course.
ASH Culinaria’s philosophy focuses on wellbeing, gastronomy and global foodways.
Our cuisine is unique, healthy and provides a great insight into wider cultures via delicious experiences and deeper understanding.
As a cook you work with expertise and innovation that is truly unique.
Amongst a discerning circle of London epicureans you have long been recognised and celebrated for your cooking and hospitality.
In your direction of ASH Culinaria you capitalize on the cultural elements and provenance of each ingredient and elevate food to an art form.
WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON THE CULINARY ARTIST PROFILE YOU ARE GAINING?
I have a natural alchemy and am now focused on expressing it as a culinary art.
Being used to creatively directing projects in other industries, I take that diligence and dedication into this new arena.
I am certainly artistic when identifying suitable ingredients and sourcing raw materials and creating recipes and dishes in my lab – which is technically what the kitchen is during this process – I am responsible for innovating and preparing dishes that Chef Anthony Cumberbatch will go on to execute to expert standard to be as optimally pleasing to the client’s eye as it is to the palate.
We produce Haute Cuisine: it is an artistic outlet but also requires a strong base in economics, you need to have a balance between creativity and commerce in what we do.
In terms of the profile I am gaining, I am a veteran self-taught cook with a broad global repertoire that exceeds the standard cuisines most chefs will have studied.
I am as au fait with obscure culinaria as the traditional European haute cuisine standards and techniques and look at Earth as a vast pantry.
I have mastered culinary materials from all terroirs and continue my research and study day to day – from the root starches of the Middle East, seeds from Australasia, ancient grains from Africa and wild fruits from the Baltic States.
I personally source each item and sometimes have to instruct on their usage. It is a great exchange in the kitchen when we work on a project.
I enjoy acting as sous-chef in the preparation kitchen on the day before an event. I direct ASH Culinaria creations, learn new skills and gain practical kitchen science experience.
Chef Anthony has trained me to use the mandolin and our Pastry Chef educates me on kitchen chemistry – using gel colourants over liquids and so on – Pâtisserie is a science, so I like working on that station and improving my technical knowledge as well as introducing materials they would not have encountered at culinary school.
I have been certified in Food Safety for almost 20 years from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and am currently studying Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science via Harvard University’s online platform.
My modus operandi in the ASH Lab is the same as what takes place in a large professional kitchen or Michelin-starred restaurant. I integrate all aspects from the beginning of the supply chain to the laying of the table. I enjoy sourcing the best produce be it wild salmon air-dried in Lithuania that we use for canapés as edible spoons and candlenuts from the Philippines with which I conceived a distinctive tropical pesto to securing exciting wines from unexpected terroir or exotic snake fruit to amplify Chef Anthony’s signature Chocolate Slab Dessert.
I can see the Culinary Art comparison when speaking to or looking at artists in different métiers.
A lot of my closest friends are artists, some quite famous, others very accomplished and respected across many mediums. If I were to describe myself as a Culinary Artist as others appraise, I would define myself as someone who uses nature, their own instinct and intuition to create something new and unique each time I undertake a commission.
It is a gift that I have honed since infancy, my earliest memories and experiments all involve food or fragrant things.
The mineral aspect which ASH Culinaria is notable for is rooted in my childhood too.
I often explore the mineral world and Lapidary art when creating children’s menus: jellies shaped like jewels with as much colour variation as the real thing – they incorporate an element of treasure which captivates, entertains and rewards them at the end of a three course meal.
The first ASH Culinaria x Chef Anthony Cumberbatch private dining experience was The Ruby Wedding Experience which celebrated the 40th Wedding Anniversary of a very inspirational couple.
The experience was the gift of the couple’s daughter who was mindful of the needs and attention-span of the youngest participants.
I conceived a unique children’s dessert The Ruby Cornucopia – a baked tuile wafer cone overflowing with juicy red fruit balls, jewel jellies and sweet red berries served alongside a popping candy quenelle and autumn fruit coulis.
On the morning of the experience, I hand-crafted three unique sodas to accompany each course of the children’s bespoke menu.
When the vintage champagne was popped at dessert, the children participated in the toast, enjoying the tinkle of the natural ruby beads which hung from their bottle of Pink Lady® Apple and Watermelon Sherbert.
WHICH ARTISTS INSPIRE YOUR CULINARY PRACTICE?
An artist I would align with in philosophy would be the jeweler Andrew Grima. He was very in tune with the natural world and inspired by all that was around him: his creations were off the cuff as well as very well researched and expertly engineered.
Grima‘s work was always innovative, unique and continues to transcend time.
It could not be replicated by rivals in his time or technically surpassed by those who admire him today.
I can relate to the Surrealists in their transcendence of time and space – the magic of taking diners back to a memorable moment, geographic place or historic era through food and beverages is a challenge I set myself and always achieve.
I appreciate the geometry of Cubism, but being an African woman with a deep knowledge of my culture, history and genealogy, I would not say artists from that school particularly inspire me.
The concepts were not unique or their original thoughts and are actually quite primitive compared to what inspired them. I see through the membrane and align more with the nucleus of Cubist works – to the Dogon metallurgy, their cosmological link to the DNA helix – the golden ratio in a metaphysical aspect which in Culinary Arts should create equilibrium of matter both visually and sensually.
I guess without realizing, what I am creating is the Yoruba concept of Itutu in edible form – everything is about the soul of the ingredients, balancing them all correctly within a unified composition and executing a final outcome that can fully express their beauty and character. I aim to establish a provenance that belongs to the dish itself or the genius loci of the brief: ASÉ-O!
I am inspired by fine art particularly that with food as a subject – the Mexican Casta paintings are a great foil as they categorise so many New World fruits. The works were conceived to stimulate wonderment back in Spain. They document natural bounty as well as dictate racial hierarchy.
Each menu I create from the initial Menu Selection to the Final Menu is covered by a painting, lithograph, still life or even a portrait and artfully punctuated throughout.
Designing and finishing the menus is as pleasurable as innovating the concept or recipes. Clients always cherish the memento.
I also innovate based on art, particularly in Mixology or the historic dishes. History inspires original and dynamic tastes as time never stands still – earlier this year, I created a cocktail based on Guaguin’s 1887 work “The Mango Trees”.
I really appreciate his Martinique body of work which not too many people are aware of. I was lucky enough to see some of the pictures during his 2017 exhibition in Paris.
I don’t find it unusual to be inspired by art in this way…
A jeweler or fashion designer might go to the National Portrait Gallery or the Prado and study the pieces a subject is wearing to inspire their next collection. As my output is different, I would connect more with the the essence of the work or the botanical or mineral elements of the picture. The pigment, texture or sheen of the paint might inspire me.
Culinary Art to me is about craftsmanship, how you draft as well as construct.
I like telling a story with food and appreciate writers who use food in really ground-breaking or evocative ways. I tend to feel it best with a lot of the Latin American writers who are artists using the medium of words such as Isabel Allende, Héctor Abad, Jorge Amado and Mario Vargas Llosa – I work with a literary narrative as much as an olfactory one, prose is as much a spark of inspiration as taste conjuring new ideas and igniting thoughts not fully formed into a concept.
The stanza of a poem is a confection in itself. Being from a writing background, I recognise the divinity and discipline in finding the correct words and structuring the appropriate tone depending on the message you wish to transmit and who will receive it. I feel this too when innovating desserts or enjoying the creations of certain chocolatiers – they are great artists.
La Praline in Caracas and the A XOCO collection by Anthon Berg are both notable. Their products are in line with the tropical and whimsical innovations I conceive and challenge our pastry chefs to execute to the finest level.
ASH Culinaria is now the primary focus of AFRICA: Seen & Heard‘s consultancy and is established on a great depth of universal insight and diverse experience.
Your knowledge base is respected as “encyclopaedic” and you put this down to a photographic memory, biblophilia and an addiction to broadsheets.
WHAT ARE YOU READING AT THE MOMENT?
The UK’s COVID-19 Lockdown will soon be fully lifted.
ASH Culinaria x Chef Anthony Cumberbatch are preparing to return to normalised hospitality trade, so I don’t have much leisurely reading time. I am partially cured of clipping copious articles!
At the weekend I take a few broadsheets to always be on top of current affairs, cultural activity and industrial developments.
Reading is amongst my greatest pleasures; a good book is always a better companion than a boring person.
Being open-minded and curious since childhood and then training as an Economist, I like to have access to information that is as “perfect” as possible.
This is very important as both an intuitive person and Innovation professional, I am easily stimulated to create new concepts, dishes and menus that are always both in tune with and ahead of their time.
My innovations are often sparked by editorial or literary works: a travel feature, book review, the colours in a fashion spread or subject of a lithograph. A poetry stanza, the advertisement of a fine spirit or the quote of an interviewee or dialogue of characters.
I have several leaning towers of literature, the ones in my research library are more like architectural pillars and used daily for work. The one for pleasure is teetering at the moment!
“The Physiology of Taste” by Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is close to the top of one pile. I flick through it at will, but really should start at the beginning and read it from cover to cover.
Although it was published in 1825, it is on the same page as my perspective on taste and gastronomy in 2021 – alchemical, emotional and devoted to sensual pleasure and cultural insight.
I make time for poetry as it is short, sweet and always stimulating or relaxing.
“My Darling from the Lions” by Rachel Long is a raw delight as good as any confection. I enjoy it in small pieces with a glass of wine or might binge on sonnets instead. I like Shakespeare or Pablo Neruda. Now the 2020s are beginning to roar, I enjoy the legends of the Harlem Renaissance with ASH Culinaria’s latest experimental martini.
I am passionate about books that are insightful, philosophical, or rooted in science that is expressed in an empirical, creative or esoteric way.
If it is historic, it must be well researched, evocatively written or very academic.
The provenance of what we put out is imperative, so reading theses and academic papers are as vital to my practice as books. I often recommend them to my Twitter (@AFRICASeenHeard) followers as a “THESIS FRIDAY” treat.
ASH has over 1800 loyalist followers who are deeply influenced by our tweets. Many are top academics, students, major curators and institutional directors. We relate as peers, so I like to share the obscure things I uncover.
The last thesis I read was “Emerald mining in Roman and Byzantine Egypt“ by Ian Shaw, Judith Bunbury and Robert Jameson. It was published in the Journal of Roman Archaeology in 1999 and inspired the conception of a verdant cocktail that will be chilled with gem-shaped ice created in signature emerald hues featuring albumen-based jardin inclusions. I am looking forward to showcasing a potent mix of culture, alchemy and Colombian aguardiente!
When considering higher education, my first choice profession was to be an Anthropologist. I did not take up the offer to study it with Law at the LSE, but in my own way I have been studying the subject since I was six years old. With ASH Culinaria, I have returned to my original professional pathway and am creating a vocation – my vast home library is a cornerstone of the practice and is added to on a regular basis.
I recently purchased a copy of “The Taste of Country Cooking” by Edna Lewis. It combines several of my favourite literary themes: history, culture and food. I’m not sure why I waited so long to buy it!
My family and close friends always joke I have 1001 ways to roast a duck; there is a recipe in there I will also try but will instinctively evolve it in my own way.
Through your work, about your person and within your conversation it is evident that one of the things you enjoy most is imparting a “richness” akin to perfume to the food you conceive, produce and present to the world.
It is clear that the olfactory system is a muse to your work as strongly as it plays an integral role in human daily life.
WHAT INFORMS YOUR APPROACH TO FLAVOUR & FRAGRANCE?
The olfactory system is perhaps my most precious sense and it plays a crucial role in the material I select to tell a story, innovate a concept and create a new dish or drink. It is a very under-researched sense despite it being our most ancient and mysterious. It holds great power over cognition, emotion and the other four senses.
I would say that aroma compounds are more muses than the olfactory system.
Our planet is home to a huge diversity of fragrances and flavours, they are all unique but I have always been able to identify compatibilities and discern differences depending on the species, where they were grown or how they are processed.
I really enjoy translating or aligning materials and influencing perceptions, emotions or behavior. Each combination and concentration will have a differing effect and potency – it is hard to explain it in practice as it is an innate thing I have never really had to ruminate on – it is natural like breathing or walking, although being naturally intuitive and sensual does play a part.
Cinnamon grown in Indonesia tastes very different than that grown in Grenada or Nigeria. The profile of the same Mint genus grown in the UK differs to that which is grown in India – I can really taste the differing terroir with that example, I’ve yet to visit India, but can discern it by taste – the sub-continental soil has a very distinctive profile that I recognise straight away. It might sound far-out, but I discuss this with peers some expertly trained, others with a similar perception and we all agree and can spot the variations at differing levels.
An easy test material anyone can use to appraise their discernment is Paprika or if you have a more advanced palette Pinot Noir wine – if you line up five samples from different countries and processes, many people will be able to discern the difference by smell and taste.
In the ASH Lab, the materials I use most are citrus leaves and peels as well as food grade essential oils, distillates – alcohol is used more like an essence, hydrosols like aldehydes – dried or fresh herbs and spices, flowers, fruit kernels and aromatic bitters and resins.
Depending on how they are deployed the materials will transmit cues to the olfactory system of the person eating or drinking our creations – recognition linked to memories, a country or culture or intrigue and awe that opens up new possibilities and directs behavioural outcomes – I build the brief for the dish or menu around the individual client and the agenda for their celebration or project – what are they celebrating, who with, how do they want their consumers to feel and react and so forth.
Essentially I compose or evoke olfactory sensations based on scent and taste.
I can convey an abstract concept, historic accord or cultural hallmark that informs mood, satisfies appetite and recaptures or creates food memories.
A meal begins before the aperitif is sipped or the food is served. With this in mind, I always infuse an aromatic accord into the heart of each ASH Culinaria x Chef Anthony Cumberbatch Experience.
Each menu conceived has a spirit and a unique olfactory impression much like a fingerprint.
I subtly set the correct tone within the dinner chamber or venue so that the brief can be fully executed, identified and enjoyed. This is a hallmark that sets us apart and is always remembered and praised.
Almost a decade ago I advised a client to evolve their fine fragrance into a spirit as the notes were some of the most delicious and seductive botanicals and would have made a transcendental gin.
They did not understand the concept, but the idea is now being hit upon by more visionary brands.
The innovative Seventy One gin was recently launched and has been crafted to a perfume brief using individually assembled botanical absolutes. The triple barrel-aged spirit features the creamy and vanillic Queen of the Night cactus orchid which is native to the Caribbean and South America and blooms only once each year.
I am looking forward to incorporating this impressive creation into some new cocktails as well as continuing to create synergies with other premium spirit marques.
The base of our hand-crafted Fizzy Bissy™ kola mixer which features in many client commissions is actually a consumable perfume.
ASH Culinaria has innovated many revolutionary culinary creations based on fragrant material, reminiscent of existing compositions or that evolve the traditional fragrance families.
Several will be showcased in forthcoming projects and would add exceptional cultural value to the marketing and hospitality of heritage or avante garde perfume houses.
In my culinary art which has a focus on the Atlantic World, – fusing indigenous American and Caribbean, European, African and Asian fragrance materials – Scent allows me to reflect the culture of a society or the history of a nation.
Based on the culinary material used, I inject machismo or femininity, salve a stigma, close a wound, celebrate heroes and industries or underscore the dynamic of economic power, human migration and social control in quite an evocative past-present-future continuum.
I greatly enjoyed deploying this skill in the New World innovations Chef Anthony Cumberbatch and I have been working on this past year.
Coming into the Food and Fragrance industries from a non-traditional career path gives me a unique perspective and holistic approach.
I bring a lot of Science, Artistry and Commerce but mainly my Self.
Having a very sophisticated olfactory sense and a deep grasp of world history and international trade, I have formed my own core philosophy.
There is great scope to integrate the work we do from soil to shelf – it extends beyond the dining table or perfumer’s organ.
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ASH CULINARIA: https://africaseenandheard.wixsite.com/website/ash-culinaria
CHEF ANTHONY CUMBERBATCH: https://www.instagram.com/anthonycumberbatchchef/?hl=en
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