British food writer and chef-patron of Jikoni, the popular dining spot in London’s Marylebone Street has just released her second cookbook, Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen. Bhogal was born in Kenya and raised in London and her recipes are a collision of heritage and culture, proving recipes can indeed cross borders and create a new form of cuisine that is reminiscent of one’s past and the present. Here, Bhogal talks about her new cookbook, the idea of ‘immigrant cuisine’ and what it’s like running a restaurant business during a pandemic.
What was your first memory of food?
Sitting in the courtyard of our house in Kenya podding a sack of peas into a red plastic bucket. I lived in a large extended family, so everything was bought in bulk. I can almost still taste the raw sweetness of those peas.
What was the first dish you learned to cook?
I think it was nan khatais – a sort of Persian semolina biscuit which was my first clumsy foray into baking.
How would you describe ‘immigrant cuisine’ and what does it mean to you?
Immigrant cuisine comes from people who have the ache for what they have left behind but also the wonder of their new landscape. It comes from people who preserve their own culinary traditions but overlay them with the ingredients and traditions of their new landscape to create a new cuisine that reconciles the old with the new.
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Thank you to everyone who just joined me to hear the tale of The Pickle Maker over @bloomsburycooks #igtv Thanks for bearing with me while I got my head around the tech & calmed down! 🤦🏽♀️ 👵 The recipe for these addictive Carom Seed Mathis & the Apple Achaar I cooked is in the #jikonicookbook which is out tomorrow! As you saw it is extremely undemanding as a recipe – hope you will all have a bash at making it! 📸 @kristinperers #jikonicookbook #bloomsburycooks
What dish of yours best describes you and why?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one single dish, but I think every dish I cook reflects the mixed heritage and immigrant landscape I come from.
What is your most memorable meal?
Eating a feast in Sicily made with the most incredible produce and also the great tiramisu and hospitality from my friend Paola Castelli at Trattoria Dardano in Cortona.
What kind of ingredients are you most drawn to at the moment?
Anything that is seasonal and grown with care for the environment. I love vegetables and am inspired by their interesting varietals.
What does your new book mean to you?
It is an opportunity to reclaim a place in the world for the food of people who are not represented by a monoculture because their heritage is so mixed.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from the challenges of running a restaurant business, especially during the lockdown?
I think we are learning to adapt and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Our new sister brand Comfort and Joy was born out of our desire to be regenerative. Our packaging is 100% home compostable, we cook with green energy, and we have shortened our supply chain as much as possible to work with producers who take care of the environment. Also, for every meal we sell, we donate one to someone vulnerable who needs one through our charity partner, NishkamSWAT.
What message do you hope to share through the new book?
That you can cook across borders. Leave the borders to the politicians – they don’t have a place in kitchens.
Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen by Ravinder Bhogal is out now (approx. RM158.40, Bloomsbury).