Interview: Golubka Kitchen

March 01 2015

Golubka Kitchen is consistently among the most beautiful food blogs on the web. A function of its artistry, though, is the refreshing pragmatism of the woman behind it, Anya Kassoff, whose overarching food philosophy can be summed up in one sentence: “I truly believe that the healthiest meals are the best tasting meals when approached correctly.” Golubka Kitchen fuses beautiful, fresh ingredients with a fair degree of experimentation to come up with enticing, innovative new recipes—it’s a skill Anya honed both while growing up in Soviet Russia and later navigating the sometimes difficult food landscape of Florida.

Golubka is also a family affair, and Anya’s daughter photographs everything both for the Golubka Kitchen blog as well as Anya’s new book, The Vibrant Table. We talked with her about kitchen disaster, the trials and tribulations of book publishing and why Florida is becoming more than just citrus and good Cuban food.

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How do you take your coffee?

I don’t drink coffee, unless I’m in a cafe in France, Italy or pretty much anywhere in Europe, where coffee suddenly becomes irresistible to me. I am a dedicated tea drinker. I’m always stocked with an extensive collection of loose leaf teas – black, green, mate, oolong, fermented tea cakes, you name it. And I drink my tea with nothing added.

What’s your Sunday ritual?

I love to take my time preparing breakfast and brewing a large pot of tea to enjoy on Sunday mornings. I often have Skype time with family and friends back home in Russia. Then we usually have some kind of nature outing with my husband and six year old daughter – beach in the warmer months and a walk somewhere when it’s chilly. In the evening, I prepare lunch for the week for my daughter to take to school, it always has to be something new because we both quickly get bored of preparing and eating the same thing.golubka

You’re a native of Russia, but have lived in the US for years. Two dramatically different food cultures. What do you think you take from each?  

I grew up eating home cooking prepared from scratch using whole food ingredients, which was the only way to a hot meal in Soviet Russia. This kind of cooking still seems the most natural to me. My time in the U.S. opened my eyes to a variety of new to me vegetables, fruit, and spices, as well as amazing cuisines like Indian, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, and many more, which were simply unheard of in small town Russia. U.S. is also where my way to a mostly plant-based diet was paved.

Golubka is the Russian for dove, and you named your daughter “Paloma,” which is dove in Spanish. Why so much love for the dove?

Golubka is a variation of my maiden name. My mother used to have a custom stamp with a dove on it, and she signed all of her letters and marked all her books with it. When naming the blog, we had no idea that it would take off and grow to be as big as it is, so we didn’t put very much hard thought into the title. Now it’s a recognized name in the blogging world, so we’ve decided to stick with Golubka Kitchen. The fact that my younger daughter’s name is Paloma is just another nice connection, and I’ve always liked the dove as a symbol of peace and free spirit.

Like all great cooks, you experiment in the kitchen. What’s the best thing you’ve invented out of thin air?

One of my most recent interesting discoveries was a Sweet Potato Caramel with Cardamom, made of baked sweet potato and sesame tahini. It tastes amazingly similar to caramel, but is ten times more nutritious. I have lots of dessert plans for it.

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Any really good kitchen disasters?

I’ve had quite a few epic disasters with cakes. In fact, I always think twice before making a formal cake and usually do it for family birthdays only, when it can’t be avoided. I have a story of a cake exploding in the refrigerator without any explanation, another one fell out of the fridge as soon as I opened the door, and both of these things happened right before my guests arrived. One time, a beautiful purple frosted cake, which took me hours to frost, discolored overnight, turning into a splotchy brown mess. We laugh a lot about my cake curse in our family.

“Florida” and “food” usually conjure up images of good citrus and great Cuban food, but not much else. Do you find that it’s a difficult place to be a foodie?

Florida has been a difficult place in terms of food for many years, but I’ve been sensing change in the air. I can only speak for my home, the Tampa Bay area, but we have an excellent farmer’s market on the weekends during the winter, which is the Florida growing season, and there is some amazing organic produce to be enjoyed there. We also have quite a few really good health and specialty food markets, and more keep opening up. There hasn’t been much progress in terms of eating out yet, but I have hope!

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You seem to cook with a color palette in mind…

Yes, I’m a visual person and for me everything often begins with color. I get very inspired when I go to the market and see all the colors of fresh seasonal produce. Purple asparagus, tender green fava beans, rainbow chard, multicolored beets, easter egg radishes and such immediately give me tons of ideas for different dishes. The flavor and texture usually follow, it all develops quite naturally.

Tell us about your book, The Vibrant Table. It seems to be doing quite well!

The Vibrant Table is about my love for vibrant, seasonal, plant based food, with an emphasis on the healthiest and most flavorful way of preparing it. My older daughter Masha (the photographer) and I tried our best to highlight the beauty of vegetables and fruit at the peak of their freshness in every dish.

I’m very happy that the book is doing well and went into its second printing after only four months on the market. It was also published in France last year. I’m grateful for all the positive feedback, and my favorite thing in the world is hearing from people who have tried and enjoyed the recipes.

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What were the major obstacles in writing and producing the book?

The extremely precise process of writing recipes for the book turned out to be much more difficult than I expected. When you put every single detail of the preparation on paper, the recipe begins to look longer and much more complicated than it actually is, and simplifying without losing instructional detail is a real art. Before the book, I was used to cooking without measuring, by simply combining together amounts that felt right. I had to change my style completely, measuring, weighing and carefully monitoring every step. It took many months of corrections and several editors to get each recipe clear and free of mistakes. I came out a better recipe writer in the end.

And your daughter takes all of the photos on your blog and in your book, right? Has it ever been a challenge to work together?

My older daughter, Masha, takes photos of all of my work. Our main challenge is that we live far away from each other – she is in New York City and I’m in Florida. She has a full time job and does photography on the side, which leaves us with short weekends to do our work together. We’ve both flown quite a lot between our two states ever since publishing the first post on Golubka back in 2010. Because of time constraints, we  shoot many recipes at once, in advance. It’s hard work for us, but it leaves our friends happy, as they get to help eat up the mountains of food we end up with.

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All photos © Golubka Kitchen.