Alissa Timoshkina is the founder of KinoVino, a cinema-supper club in East London that pairs world cinema with food. Alissa has a film history background and is an avid cook and KinoVino has been named one of Time Out’s best supper clubs and featured in Vogue. There have been evenings dedicated to films ranging from Fantastic Mr Fox (chicken, cider and doughnuts) to a Halloween showing of Don’t Look Now – all screened alongside menus worked out by Alissa and guest chefs such as Oliver Rowe.
Eli Goldstone: Hi Alissa! Could you describe a typical KinoVino evening?
Alissa Timoshkina: A typical KinoVino night lasts about 4 hours. The guests are welcomed to our space with some cocktails or wines and nibbles that are thematically connected to the film. Then I offer an introduction to the film (putting my PhD in film history hat on). While the film is on, the chefs are putting the final touches to the meal, so our viewers can enjoy some luscious scents of food emitting from behind the screen. After the film screening, hungry guests are invited into the dining room where a long candle-lit table awaits.
Eli: What is your cultural background? What sort of food did you grow up eating?
Alissa: I grew up in Soviet Russia, so we were not spoilt for choice but I don’t remember starving either. While the Soviet Union was shut off from the Western world, there was a lot of food ‘traffic’ within, from Caucasian and Central Asian cuisines. My mom was (and still is) a real party hostess and she always managed to create very elegant and trendy spreads with limited resources. She also used to run a cafe where her chicken tabaka (a traditional Georgian dish) was quite a hit (and my personal favourite too). I was also lucky to have been brought up by my Jewish-Ukrainian great grand-mother, who worked as a cook and a pastry chef, so I did enjoy quite a fair bit of stuffed blintzes, poppy seeds cakes (rughelahs Soviet style) and her legendary Napoleon cake (a Soviet equivalent of mille feuille).
Eli: Can you tell us about the upcoming Iranian themed KinoVino evening, The Saffron Tales of Women Without Men?
Alissa: I absolutely loved Georgian and Armenian food when living in Russia, so when I got to try Persian cuisine in the UK it was no surprise that I fell in love straight away. So an Iranian-themed night was at the top of my list ever since I started KinoVino. It is not a deliberate choice but naturally most of my editions celebrate female talent (both in the kitchen and on the screen), and KinoVino Iran is definitely one of the strongest examples of that. I saw Shirin Neshat’s captivating art house film, Women without Men, at the BFI London Film Festival in 2009. Neshat is a feminist video-artist and filmmaker; exiled from Iran she lives and works in the US. Her presence at the screening just like the film itself left such a strong impression on me. The film is an adaptation of Shahrnush Parsipur’s magical realist novel that tells a story of four women, from entirely different backgrounds, who come together to challenge and change their male-dominated politically turbulent world.
I am equally thrilled at the prospect of welcoming food writer and chef, Yasmin Khan, to create a traditional Persian feast that will follow the screening of the film. Yasmin grew up in Iran and her debut cook book Saffron Tales is filled with such beautiful and nostalgic recollection of her life and of the community in Iran. In many ways the tone of her book is similar to that of Neshat’s work. As always I will work with a team of set dressers and florists to create a truly magical setting in which the food and film will be presented to my guests.
Eli: What other plans do you have for KinoVino this year?
Alissa: The programme of events is quite exciting! I have one of my food heroes - Rachel Roddy cooking an Italian meal that will be presented together with a screening of I Am Love in May; in June I will host a night of Israeli food and film, to celebrate the launch of a debut cookbook by MasterChef’s Emma Spitzer; Emma will cook some of the delights from the book. I have a line-up of more stellar female chefs like Olia Hercules; with her we will journey through the Caucasus, screening Paradjanov’s classic Colour of the Pomegranates, and Rosie Birkett, exploring food and film from East London. I am also planning more supper clubs where I’d be cooking myself, on a much smaller scale than the KinoVino gatherings. Other plans are less definite but there is some plotting of a KinoVino ‘world tour’ and some very initial research into a KinoVino book project.
Eli: If you could recreate any meal from the silver screen, what would it be?
Alissa: Anyone who loves film and food is of course in awe of Babette’s Feast and I have been lucky to have hosted a Babette’s Feast themed KinoVino in the past, so that’s been a real dream come true moment. But another food scene that always moves me deeply is from a less high-brow food film - Ratatouille. I would love to recreate that title dish that moves the most fierce food critic to tears and transports him back to his childhood. To me that truly encapsulates the power of a simple, honest but outstandingly delicious meal.
Eli: How do you go about replicating the intimacy of a dinner party with a group of strangers?
Alissa: Just like with film - good lighting is everything for a good dinner party. The more candle light in the centre of the table the better, with a few fairy lights above. People feel more cosy and relaxed in dim light, I find, and so are more likely to feel comfortable to strike up new conversations and break bread. Of course, the other secret component is the vino. I think people who know what supper clubs are about, will come prepared to meet and share a meal with strangers. And anyway how can you call someone a stranger if they share your view of good film, food and wine?
Eli: Where’s the most romantic place in London to see a film?
Alissa: The film geek that I am, I’d say the BFI Southbank without a doubt. I have so many amazing memories connected to the venue. Best film programme in London, some really good wine and food and the most romantic views of the river!
Eli: Finally! Sweet or salty popcorn?
Alissa: Haha, that’s an excellent question. Definitely salty, but sometimes I’d go half-half.