Maria Kuehn writes about food in her own blog. We have published many of her reviews of food she tasted in local restaurants. It was about time we found out more about her. It turns out she has a Sunday Observer food award… and she co-runs a café too.
Source - Have you always been a foodie? Is it something we’re born with or something we develop and improve?
Maria Kuehn - Being born to Polish parents is practically a guarantee that food will always be a part of your life. I am compelled to feed people – whether they’re hungry or not. I expect its’ the unidentified Polish feeding gene.
I believe everyone can cook as I also teach people to feed themselves on a budget but being a really competent cook is a combination of extremely hard work, minute attention to detail and a gift that you’re born with.
Source - You organized pop dinners at your place. It sounds like fun and a very sociable and courageous thing to do. Tells us about it.
Maria Kuehn - Pop ups at both home and in The Lounge Café in Kilburn that is co-run with my business partner Zina Manda. It’s great fun and generally filled with people who are a real pleasure to feed. We’ve had terrific feedback and are hoping to do some pop ups at a much bigger café in Harlesden.
Source - I tend to think that if someone appreciates good wine, then they must be interesting as if by default they have a soul (potentially a good one too) … does that happen with food? When you meet someone, are you keen to find out if they are into good food? What does that tell you about them?
Maria Kuehn - Like anything in life, you can be exposed to fine food and wine because your family are steeped in it and culturally you grow up with an interest and a love of both. However, there is nothing more exciting than introducing people to such pleasures. Being open to new things in life – that’s what it’s all about. Frankly it’s about the company at the end of the day. I would rather be in a greasy spoon café with friends rather than The Fat Duck with blithering idiots.
Source - More specifically though… even if they’re equally into food, do you draw any conclusions as to what type of character one maybe by what they most commonly eat?
Maria Kuehn - No I think that’s a dangerous thing to do. You judge people by their actions, not on what they eat.
Source - You lived in France and your biggest influences are French and Italian. What moves your taste buds in that cuisine? Is there more of an emotional relationship with food there then here (Here being more pragmatic/ functional while there is more invested with bringing people together and with life)? Is the dinner table there equivalent to the pub here?
Maria Kuehn - The French and Italians place a great deal of importance on eating together. Despite the high levels of saturated fat in many of their foods, which is so dangerous for our health. I detract - both cuisines suit my psyche as much as my appetite for it. They eat leisurely, their local wines are terrific, their produce is fresh and incredibly inviting.
Source - One of your favourite dishes is oysters and Sancerre. Ernest Hemingway, in A Moveable Feast wrote:
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
Do you feel that way? (Other then obesity and anorexia), is what we eat, cook and how we experience food, invested with emotion in more obvious ways then what we tend to admit or realise?
Maria Kuehn - Well, for me I could eat oysters every day and never, ever tire of them. I would happily sip Greco di Tufo with them as well as Sancerre.
There are two sides to your question. The emotions produced by sharing food and feeding people are powerful and positive. People use food to comfort themselves, however, and trying to break that habit has to be the hardest thing to achieve.
Source - I fancy myself as a bit of a chef. What would you suggest if I decide to open a café or restaurant?
Maria Kuehn - Running a food business is not for the faint hearted. It’s bloody hard work and you need to be totally committed. You can’t afford to make errors in the kitchen. Five seconds can ruin a dish. You need process, flair and a very good idea of who you want to feed. Knowing and growing your audience are key – it’s not good enough to be a good cook. Your food has to be memorable. Dishes evolve – an example of this is our ‘indulgent Lounge breakfast’ – it started with Asian potato cakes as a main for our veggie customers and now people come in for brunch to enjoy the cakes topped with bacon and poached eggs with a spicy tomato salsa sprinkled over the dish. It’s about thought and continually evolving.
Source - Has the English palate changed over the last years?
Maria Kuehn - Yes it has and we are happily exposed to many cultures. Our diet, however, is still terribly poor in areas where poverty and deprivation force people to eat junk food.
Source - Are we likely to be swamped by chain restaurants? How do independent restaurants contribute to local economies that chain ones don’t? (From unemployment/ wages to buying local produce as opposed to far away deliveries)
Maria Kuehn - We are already swamped by the faceless chains. Looking at the like of Wagamama where the cooks are all wearing chef’s hats and they’re bus opening bags of sauces etc that are bought in. They use formulas and they work. I don’t like it particularly. I remember when I visited Krakow years ago and saw a McDonalds – it was thoroughly depressing.
Source - You won a Sunday Observer food award. How did that come about?
Maria Kuehn - I entered the competition and was fortunate enough to have my recipe put in front of several Michelin starred chefs who voted my chicken and pistachio curry the best entry.
Source - You also had a lot of recipes published. How and where?
Maria Kuehn - Most of the foodie magazines such as Olive and BBC Good Food as well as The Sunday Observer have featured a number of my recipes - I’ve also won a number of prizes for my dishes. I was the runner up in The Morphy Richards Home Cook of The Year competition.
Source - You run a blog where you review restaurants. How long have you been doing it for and what was the motivation to publish it?
Maria Kuehn - I love writing about food. It’s that simple. It’s like a drug to me.
Source - You run a café as well. Tells about it?
Maria Kuehn - The Lounge café in Kilburn is our first venture and we are about to open a second in Wembley. Our philosophy is simple – we produce simple, honest food using the freshest of ingredients. We know about eighty percent of our customers by their first name. I think that speaks volumes.
Source - You offer any other related services?
Maria Kuehn - We offer an outside catering service for both private individuals and companies and are also heavily involved in teaching the local community to cook healthily for life.
Thanks you for your time. We look forward to check it.