This is the start of a new series of features on the blog - meet in your kitchen! I will be meeting artists, chefs – people with a great passion for what they do, in their kitchen, to cook or to bake while we talk about their culinary life, current projects and inspiration.
I’m very excited to start with two artists who I first saw live a couple years ago, Phia and Josh! Phia performed on a houseboat on a big lake outside Berlin and mesmerized me with her singing, her Kalimba and the loops she created during her show.
The two artists grew up in Melbourne and decided to move to Berlin three years ago to grow as artists and touch new musical ground. They soon found that their ideas worked well together and the time was ripe for a colaboration. Phia, the singer who plays the kalimba and Josh, the guitarist and producer understand and enhance each other and in a few months they will share their musical vision on the first Phia album!
Although the two are very busy in the studio at the moment they took some time out and invited me to their Berlin kitchen. They arrived in the city with little more than a suitcase and had to piece together everything from scratch. The furniture and every single pot, plate and mug has its own story, mostly coming from friends who moved back home or flea markets, a unique space full of soul and personal memories.
Phia’s family is very passionate about cooking, both her parents love to be creative in the kitchen. She chose to share a very special recipe with me that she used to bake with her mother when she was a child, a recipe rich in young kitchen memories! It’s Mum’s French Cake, a spongy and fruity cake which is as delicious as it is quick and easy to bake, a perfect candidate for those spontaneous late night (or early morning) baking sessions! Phia covered the cake with apples, but plums are another of her favourites for this recipe.
Mum’s French Cake
“I chose a really simple cake recipe that my mum taught me. I’m not the most confident baker but this one is so simple. Depending on how large you want the cake, you take 1-3 eggs and weigh them, then put in the same weight of flour, melted butter and sugar. Then choose whatever fruit you want to put on top. My mum actually brought the recipe home from a French class she was in when I was younger. So the first time we made it we did it in French: “… deus oeufs …” etc!”
For an 18cm / 7″ springform pan you need
apple, quartered and thinly sliced, 1
organic eggs 2
weigh the eggs with their shells and measure the same weight of the following ingredients
baking powder 1 tablespoon
a pinch of salt
Set the oven to 180°C / 355°F and butter the springform pan.
Combine the dry ingredients. Mix the eggs and butter for a few minutes till fluffy and add the dry mixture, mix until well combined. Pour the dough into the springform pan, arrange the apples in circles and bake for 25 minutes or until golden. Check with a skewer, it should come out clean. Serve warm!
You both grew up in Australia, what are your food memories?
Josh: Australia is a fairly wealthy country with really good weather and at various times a great influx of immigrants from around the world (although not currently because of our extreme rightwing government). This has meant that food is in wide variety and really great quality. You could find Indian, Afghan, Vietnamese, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Turkish, Thai, African, Lebanese, Japanese and a lot more (as well as modern fusion) to a beautiful standard all within close proximity. Restaurants just don’t survive if they’re not doing it the way it’s done in the home country. I guess we’re spoilt in a culinary way. This standard or commitment to food is still lagging very much in Germany which I find surprising because there are a lot of people from around the world living there. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist but I still have not found a decent curry.
What effect did the move to Berlin have on your cooking?
Phia: I’ve become a lot more confident since moving here! Last year I became really bored with the recipes that I knew, so I bought a couple of cookbooks and made some new meals. My favourite was Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty”, a vegetarian cookbook. He has this delicious soup made with chickpeas based on a Tuscan ribollita which I make a lot now.
What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?
Josh: I started lifting weights after high school, trying to get buff. At the time I was known as “Mr. Vegetarian” because I was pretty big but still vegetarian. My memory of cooking by myself (that wasn’t frozen dim sims or pizza) was a taco filling that was packed with kidney beans and chickpeas for protein.
What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Berlin?
Phia: We are really spoiled for choice in our part of Neukölln. All of these are within walking distance of us:
Favourite coffee: Five Elephant, a super nice place in Reichenbergerstrasse
Delicious and cheap tapas: Gaston on Weserstrasse
Best gelati: Fräulein Frost on Panierstrasse
Fresh fruit and veggies: the turkish market on Maybachufer
Josh: Everything Sophia has said plus ‘Il Casolare’ – excellent pizza and atmosphere by the canal.
You live and work in Berlin at the moment, what are your upcoming projects?
Josh: The Phia album is still in full swing, still producing… we’ve mixed some of the tracks and still going over the editing and post-production stuff for quite a few of them. Final mixing should happen at the end of August.
I’ve been producing some music for a few other artists too.
I’m also working on my own project ‘Josh The Cat’. I sing songs, tell stories, dance a little bit with my guitar. Influenced by Bowie, TuneYards and Radiohead but people say it’s sounds a bit like The Whitest Boy Alive with a loop pedal and I look like the guitarist from Incubus. I recently heard The Whitest Boy Alive have disbanded so maybe there is an opening for me.
What or who inspired you to become musicians?
Phia: I grew up in a household filled with music. My mum and my sister and I used to sing three part harmonies, I learnt piano, sung in lots of choirs and did musicals. It never occurred to me that I could be a professional musician though. At school I thought I would be a teacher, or a writer. After high school I made a spontaneous decision to enter a music university rather than the law degree I had been accepted into. I thought I’d complete a year and then go back to academia, but I stayed!
Why did you choose Berlin as the place to live and work?
Josh: I wanted to shake up my life a little. I’d played in a few different bands in Melbourne ranging from Synthpop, FreeJazz to Instrumental soundscape. It was either NYC, Tokyo or Berlin and Berlin won. It’s a great base for branching out, there’s a lot of creatives to bounce off and I find the East meets West, the old crashing into the new, inspiring.
You just finished recording your album, what were your biggest influences during the writing and recording process?
Phia: The songs on the record definitely reflect the period of change of moving from Melbourne to Berlin. Some were written just before the move, and some after, and I think you can hear a continuous thread throughout the album of conflicted feelings change brings. The joy of expanding our experiences to the pull of homesickness.
Our lifestyle has been so different since moving to Berlin. The people we’ve met, the places we’ve toured, even just day-to-day living in Neukölln and having the luxury of working on music. You can definitely hear that on the album.
What did you choose to share on eat in my kitchen and why?
Phia: I chose a really simple cake recipe that my mum taught me. I’m not the most confident baker but this one is so simple. Depending on how large you want the cake, you take 1-3 eggs and weigh them, then put in the same weight of flour, melted butter and sugar. Then choose whatever fruit you want to put on top. My mum actually brought the recipe home from a French class she was in when I was younger. So the first time we made it we did it in French: “… deus oeufs …” etc!
If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?
Phia: Merril Garbus from Tune-yards. I bet she’d have some killer recipes.
Josh: The RZA from Wu-Tang Clan comes to mind. It would be good to have a chat with him too.
You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?
Phia: Definitely a big salad, maybe with orange and chickpeas, lots of wine, maybe some roast veggies or a baked dish.
Josh: Depends what is in the house. I find lentil soup very satisfying and hopefully the guests would too.
What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?
Phia: I wasn’t the most adventurous eater as a child so it was probably that Australian staple borrowed from our Italian immigrants – spaghetti bolognaise. Now I love eating new foods from the countries we go on tour. Last year I tried perogi in Poland for the first time, which was amazing.
Josh: My favorite food is Indian or Sri Lankan, I love the spices they use and the vivid flavours. Although I’m not vegetarian I prefer vegetarian food and this goes well for me with all the lentils, vegetables, chickpeas and the occasional paneer their food has. I don’t remember particularly liking food as a very young child but I guess I’ve liked any food from Asia since about the age of 12 or 13. I’ve always hated asparagus and it still makes me gag.
Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?
Phia: When I wasn’t so confident I needed to do it on my own, I didn’t like being watched! But now I love learning from others and it is fun to cook together.
Josh: I think someone who is good with food generally needs patience or at the very least a sensibility for how all the elements interact. I don’t really have that. Or perhaps my problem is that I usually try to ignore I’m hungry until I am absolutely ravenous and by that point I have no patience for preparing things properly. So cooking for myself comes out of necessity and cooking with others is probably more fun because it has probably been planned ahead. By others, I mean Sophia, who has good ideas generally, plans ahead and never allows herself to get so hungry as to become irrational and hasty as I do.
Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?
Phia: I’m definitely a meal planner – no improvising in the kitchen for me!
Josh: I would admit that conceptually a planned meal should work out the best but I haven’t properly tried that.
Which meal would you never cook again?
Josh: When I was at university I was known by my housemates for my signature dish: “bachelor’s special” which ingredients consisted of pretty much everything cooked in a saucepan served over some sort of carbohydrate. I think I’ll leave that one in the past.
Thank you Phia and Josh!
Here you can listen to Phia and Josh’s music and find out when the album will be released: www.listentophia.com