So first off the bat, tell us your name and how you spend your time:
Hey, I’m Alissa Timoshkina and I’m based in North London, but originally I’m from Russia. I spend most of my time doing something food-related – whether that’s cooking, meeting friends for dinners, exploring London’s food scene, or planning my supper clubs.
Tell us a bit about your background – how did you get into cooking in the first place and what did you get up to prior to KinoVino?
Before starting Kino Vino I worked in film – hence the ‘Kino’ part of my project [‘Kino’ is the Russian spelling for ‘cine’ as in cinema]. I got a PhD in film history, taught film studies at various universities around London, and also worked as a curator and co-ordinator of several film festivals around the UK. I’ve always loved cooking, but my real obsession took off while studying for my PhD. It was a bit of a tough time for me, so cooking was in some ways my antidote to the hardcore academic work. It was a brilliant outlet for the creative part of me, which wasn’t used all that much back then, and a wonderful reason to socialise with my friends. Without it, I’d go for days without speaking to another soul and just spending all my time reading and studying at the British Library! So while I sometimes regret not having taken my academic career further, I am so grateful that it helped me find my real passion.
With the culinary industry there exists a bit of a paradox – domestic food prep is most often associated with women, and yet looking at the TV and around professional kitchens, professional cooking seems more male-dominated. This is rightly changing now, though – why do you think this is? What factors are at play?
That’s a great question and one I feel very passionate about! There are SO many factors at play here, but for the sake of the interview I’ll limit myself to just two. First of all, women are gaining more presence and establishing their voices across all spheres of our society, not just in food. So it’s one of those much-needed shifts that has been occurring thanks to all the feminist activism over the past decades. We are now speaking out against the pay gap and sexual harassment, and all of us are now advocates for women’s rights – to both a career and to motherhood. Secondly, the other factor that is more specific and definitely super-helpful to me personally is the rise of social media. Historically, women have been defined by the domestic space and breaking out of that space was never going to be easy. So I see social media as precisely that bridge between the private and the public. We are opening up our houses for supper clubs, posting live videos of ourselves cooking at home, and in doing so we are creating a public profile. It’s quite astonishing to think that activities like cooking and rearing children are now both a lifestyle and a career thanks to platforms like Instagram. A woman can now make a living by being a mum and sharing her tips on a blog, or cooking meals at home and documenting them online.
So tell us a bit about KinoVino, and the concept behind it. How did this idea come about?
As I’ve mentioned I am a professional film geek, and food was always something that I felt deeply about and is something that gave me a much-needed creative and social outlet. Working at various film festivals (which also involved a lot of socialising, eating and drinking) I noticed that all the food served at these events was a bit generic and – quite frankly – often pretty boring. So that got me wondering if there might be a more fun way of marrying film and food. And then, one day, I was on a holiday in Cape Town doing A LOT of wine tasting, and I had a bit of a Eureka moment – what if we were to pair wine tasting with films?! What kind of wine can enhance your appreciation of, say, an Ingmar Bergman film? So the name KinoVino was born out of that. And the more thought I put into the idea, the more I felt like I should pair an entire meal, not just the wine, with a chosen film.
What effect do you think integrating a visual element like cinema has on the overall dining experience?
What I love most about film is its ability to transport us to an entirely different time and place; to lift us out of our seat and make us experience a whole new world. I often wonder what the food tastes like in such and such a scene, or what the scents are like. So I feel that by combining food and film, KinoVino gives its guests an opportunity to enhance their experience of both. It’s a real multi-sensory affair, but also such a fun social occasion – you watch a film, and then have the chance to chat about it over a delicious meal – the food gives you even more to talk about and experience together.
Tell us a little bit about your process. How do you select the films to pair with your food? Which comes first?
As soon as I came up with the concept of pairing meals and films, I had no problem jotting down at least 10 pairings. There was a whole list of films that I always admired for their ability to evoke scents and flavours, or films that featured truly memorable food scenes. So once I had that list down, I started thinking about chefs who would be best suited to create a meal in the style of that particular film. That was the beginning, but since then the creative process has been diverse – sometimes it’s a chef I admire and want to work with that inspires the idea for a gathering, sometimes chefs approach me with their own ideas for collaborations, or sometimes I simply think of the food culture that lends itself best to a beautiful family-style sharing feast and take it from there.
What challenges have you faced as an independent business owner? Especially in an industry as competitive as dining?
In a word: finance! Haha. Truth be told, KinoVino does not have much financial stability, so finding partners, sponsors, or other ways to generate permanent income is quite tough. But I’ve gathered that branding out into private catering and events planning would be a good way to keep the supper club afloat. It seems to be working so far! The other challenge is London’s busy food scene. It’s over-saturated with events and activations, so figuring out how to stay relevant and in-demand is a real challenge. Luckily KinoVino still seems to strike a chord, even though it’s been up and running for three and a half years now – and since then a few similar experiences have cropped up. Even Tom Kerridge did a film-dining experience last summer! I thought, well how on Earth can I compete with that? But I guess that’s the beauty of London – there are always enough people out there eager to experience new and interesting things!
Have there been any benefit to retaining this independent structure?
Despite the ongoing worry of whether the event will actually sell, I do enjoy having the creative freedom and the flexibility to plan and schedule the events myself.
Do you have any cool things in the pipeline? Any plans for further collaboration with TT Liquor?
Yes, I’m super excited to be collaborating with TT on this years Christmas special, which will be dedicated to Morocco and feature food from the brilliant chef Nargisse Benkabbou. There will also be a screening of the all-time Hollywood classic Casablanca. It takes place on 19th December, so save the date!