Food and film have a lot in common. Both have the ability to transport you to another place and time. That strange, delirious sensation of leaving a cinema after a particularly moving, funny or bizarre film is not much different to stepping out onto the street after a good meal, a little woozy and a little changed. The cinema can be a womb-like, comforting, restorative place. Much like your favourite restaurant.
The perfect harmony of these two great pleasures is something Alissa Timoshkina first noticed a few years ago, when she had just completed a PHD in film studies. She began hosting dinners incorporating film and food, and this turned into KinoVino, the supper club that brings together world film and innovative cooking. Guests gather to watch films – global, independent works by some of the greatest directors in the business - and end with a dinner inspired by the film, cooked up by Alissa’s favourite chefs. It is impossible to leave a KinoVino event without feeling (with the aid of a few too many glasses of something strong) altered somehow. Film and food pair so naturally, and there is no better place to discuss the details of a great piece of cinema than across the dinner table.
We meet Alissa at Caravan Bankside, where she greets us with the streak of postbox-red lipstick and raven hair that we’ve come to know her by. Born in Siberia to a Jewish-Ukrainian mother and father from the far east of Russia, Alissa's childhood home was full of dinner parties and gatherings of friends, usually involving food cooked by her mother. “My mum is an amazing cook.” She tells us. “She’s such a party animal. She used to have all of these big dinner parties. She had me when she was just 20, but then in Soviet Russia it was normal.”
Moving from Siberia to an English boarding school in 1999, Alissa found herself pining for the food of her home country. Distance has a knack of making the heart grow fonder, and it was in this rural corner of England that she began recreating the dishes of her childhood. “When you move to another country you start missing the food you left behind.” She explains. “The only way to combat that is to try and recreate it. I remember calling my mum and getting a recipe for mashed potato and meatballs. I felt so comforted by it, even though it didn’t taste exactly the same…”
Alissa attended an international school, where students were encouraged to cook recipes from their home countries and present it to the others. It was during this time that Alissa got a flavour of world cooking, learning more about her own culture in the process. “Coming from Russia, but specifically Siberia, there isn’t much foreign food.” She says. “So being able to try food from Nigeria or Malaysia or Japan was just wonderful. In a way, it exposed me to all of those cultures.”
She moved on to a degree in Film Studies at the University of London, quite by accident. “I fell into the academic thing, really.” She tells us. “I never really wanted to do all of that. I wanted to explore something more creative, like set design for film. But then it was all too expensive, so I chose to do a film studies degree instead.” As it turns out, she was really rather good at it, and after excelling in her first three years, was encouraged by her tutor to move on to an MA. And after that, a PHD. It’s safe to say Alissa knows a thing or two about cinema. “Once I realised how difficult a PHD was it was too late to get out…” She laughs. “I gradually got more and more in to Russian and Soviet film in my undergraduate year. It’s nice to have that dual perspective of studying Russian culture here but being originally from Russia. It gives you a more subjective, healthier view of it. I think studying Russian film allowed me to cherish my own culture and understand it more.”
Whilst knee-deep in PHD studies, Alissa began hosting dinner parties at her flat in Bethnal Green, London. “It was the first time I’d had a proper kitchen, so I started cooking all the time.” She remembers. “I developed this balance of writing my thesis and stopping to cook as a break.” It was then that she discovered an “odd but lovely” alignment of her two greatest interests; cinema and cooking. Cooking fed her interest in film, and film in food.
During a trip to a vineyard in Cape Town, Alissa found herself under the influence of the scorching South African sun and a bottle of frosty wine. Her thoughts turned to cinema, and how the elements of certain wines could complement certain films in a loose but magical way. The idea for KinoVino was born. It began as a gathering of twenty friends, who filed in for a viewing of Peter Greenaway’s twisted cult classic The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. “It’s a theatrical, operatic film set in this huge Baroque restaurant. It’s Helen Mirren at her best.” She explains. After finishing the film, they feasted on a classic British roast with lashings of red wine, inspired by the rich, velvety shades of the film.
KinoVino launched officially in May 2015, and has since become one of London’s most talked-about projects. It’s been named one of the top supper clubs in the city by Time Out, has had its praises sung in Vogue, and has reached capacity at all sixteen of its events. These escapist dinners take place all over London, with everything from the pre-dinner tipples to the tablescapes inspired by the film on show. Some particularly memorable ones have been a viewing of Tarkovsky’s The Mirror, with Ukrainian chef (and sizzling food star) Olia Hercules cooking up a conceptual menu inspired by the film’s buckwheat fields and nostalgic Soviet dishes. “It’s about making the experience of film and food more whole.” Alissa tells us. “It’s about the journey of walking in to the film and staying there. I’ve always loved how you come out of a cinema and you can be walking through the street but your head is still in the film. Somewhere completely faraway.”
We cast our minds back to a recent KinoVino event, where the heart-softening Hindi film The Lunchbox played before a dinner cooked by British-Indian chef Romy Gill MBE. Shoulder to shoulder along tables glimmering with royal blue silk, fresh flowers and candlelight, guests reflected on the film, its intriguing ending and the way that the smell of cardamom-spiked curries and charred parathas seemed to float off the screen. We all had something in common that night, and were bound by the experience of watching a film as a group, passive aggressively gunning for canapés and holding back tears at the same moment. “When there’s wine and food it can be magical. People become friendly and warm and talkative.” Alissa says. “That’s the spirit of KinoVino for me, that moment of people coming together to eat and share stories. Sharing wine and food is one of the most intimate things you can do with someone. It’s sacred.”
Event photography: Tania Naden