On Saturday the very first Cookbook Confidential festival took place at the South Bank in London. Organised by published Octopus it featured a line-up of chefs and food writers giving talks, answering questions and doing demos. One of the special guests was Chetna Makan, and you can watch our interview with her here.
Amanda and Natasha from WLTB went to see what was going on. Natasha chatted to food writer and social media star Eleonora Galasso and Amanda gives a taste of the Spirit Explorer event with drinks writers Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley.
The Spirits Explorers
Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley first got talking about their love of whiskey while working in the music business as scouts for rival record labels. After sneaking off for a wee dram, ignoring the band who would soon find fame as the Kaiser Chiefs, they were on their way to a career that would take them across the globe to experience all the spirits the world has to offer. Their book, Distilled, is the story of this journey and is full of the world’s finest spirits unearthed, explained and enjoyed.
The pair’s whiskey blog was heralded for turning the geek into normal and this is definitely how the book sets itself apart from the drinks guides that have preceded it. Along with a historical exploration all of the popular spirits and interviews with the mavericks that are innovating the old or creating the new, the book also lists other useful knowledge such as essential (non-booze) items for a cocktail cabinet and "21 Words Distillers Can’t Live Without".
WLTB caught up with Joel and Neil after their event to find out a little more about what they learned through compiling the book. Neil was most impressed by each nation’s pride in the drink they produced as well as the culture and conventions surrounding the enjoyment of it, appreciating each country’s collective passion and willingness for it to be shared. Joel mentioned meeting the bartenders and seeing the passion they put into their cocktails, recommending the King of Roses recipe from the book.
The conversation then led to the dream literary bar crawl with Neil wanting to give Charles Bukowski’s drinking a more connoisseurial edge and Joel likening the cocktail bars of North London to Pilgrim’s Progress. Though they both wish they could have drunk daiquiris with Ernest Hemingway in Cuba, their favourite authors to share a beverage with are each other, as the years of exploring the world one drink at a time together don’t seem to have quenched their thirst for knowledge.
Q&A with Eleonora Galasso
When did you start blogging?
I started blogging about three years ago but I changed my life completely four years ago when I decided to casually give cooking classes in Rome. Before that I was a journalist, but when I saw this exchange through food, I found it so interesting that I decided to devote myself totally to it. As the cooking classes were going extremely well I also decided to study for a master’s degree in gastronomic culture in the evenings.
I gave cooking classes to many people, including Hollywood actors like Ben Stiller. Everyone wanted to come and take my cooking classes which would take place in the least expected places; catacombs, very old Roman palazzos, and these are exactly the same scenarios where my book takes place, off the beaten track.
You describe yourself as a food interpreter, what does that mean?
Food is a language and just like any other language it needs to be translated in order to be given the right recognition. I thought with Italian food being so widely appreciated sometimes there are a few false things I feel should be declared as false. Italy has so many regions - it has 20 regions and 110 provinces - and they all have a different food culture. So that’s what I’m here for, I feel like a Roman food gladiator.
How do you choose your recipes?
My cookbook will contain more than 100 recipes that I tested in pop-ups and cooking classes. I chose dishes that worked well and also included Roman staples that I tried to rework. But some just stayed as they were, because you can’t change tradition so much! It’s like a movie script, there’s a lot of fun cultural references, cinematic references and I hope readers will feel like they are walking with me in Rome.
Instagram is a very visual medium, do you consider the aesthetics of the food you prepare? Do you think your style is developing with the community you interact with?
I’m quite an aesthetic person. I like beauty – we all do! To start with I had no knowledge of food photography but the community is such a great one - if I was in design or fashion it would be different but with food everyone is so supportive of each other and everyone gives tips and you get photographers and food stylists to talk to and you get brands to approach you, it’s absolutely fantastic. I think that my style is developing in a direction that I still don’t know. So let’s wait and see!
Do you think the interactive nature of Instagram and social media makes you feel more involved in a community? Does it inspire more creativity?
Instagram definitely inspires me but I also like the chronicling side of it - it’s like a personal diary. For years, people would have very enthusiastic reactions about the food that I made, the cinematic dimension of the meal, so I have been drawn to Instagram, because I felt that was where I belonged. I try to transmit this sense of belonging to people and give them #foodhappiness!
You’ve lived in Italy and Paris and travelled all over the world. How do these different cultures influence your cooking?
When I was doing my cooking classes, seeing the way Russians would use the carbonara cream or the way Japanese would only prepare very tiny portions, I absolutely loved how each different culture would expect the Italian food to be. I myself travel with the unique aim of discovering home restaurants and pop-ups and different cultures. So it is definitely very important to me. I’m food oriented all the way.