Olia HerculesOlia Hercules, photo by Issy Croker

Selected as one of the Observer’s Rising Stars of 2015, Olia Hercules started out as a breakfast chef in Ottolenghi’s famous Islington kitchen. After that, she became a freelance recipe developer, lending her tastes to food magazines like Jamie and Sainsbury’s, and working on Salma Hage’s cookbook The Lebanese Kitchen.

Of late she has been working as a food writer, stylist and chef, all rolled into one inviting little package. And, as if making a career from testing recipes and having the coolest name on the planet wasn’t enough, Olia Hercules regularly frequents the pages of The Guardian Cook, and will be releasing her first cookbook in June.

“I’ve been a chef for a while, but it was only last year that I sat down and really thought about what I wanted to do,” Olia tells us. “I was sitting on this treasure chest of amazing recipes. I was going through a lot at the time, and exploring these recipes helped me through it. It all just happened quite naturally.”

The book, Mamushka, is a love note to the food Olia grew up eating in her native Ukraine. Growing up in the port city of Kakhovka, her mother and grandmother took advantage of the abundance of produce in the surrounding countryside.

If you’re obsessed with something and it comes from you, then it will work.

“There are so many misconceptions about Ukrainian food. People forget how huge it is as a country. There’s such a huge spectrum of food and where I’m from it’s all about fresh produce.” Olia tells us while whipping up a poussin tebaka, a fish dish from the book that is served in a herby butter sauce with chunks of Ukrainian sourdough.

“Everything was extremely seasonal growing up. From April to September we had this bounty of produce. We had a gooseberry bush in the garden and lots of strawberries and a cherry tree! It was just normal to us. Come winter there was nothing, so we fermented everything. That seasonal change has really influenced my cooking.”

Olia was raised on a fusion of Eastern European foods, her mother from Ukraine, an aunt from Armenia and a grandmother from Siberia (the ‘Mamushkas) – this amalgamation of unique tastes is at the heart of the book. On top of capturing the flavours of her homeland, Olia also brings international flavours to the recipes, having lived in Cyprus and Italy before finally settling in England 13 years ago. The book will shed light on vibrant, comforting dishes from often overlooked regions like Siberia and countries like Azerbaijan.

“There’s a spotlight on women in food at the moment. They’re all proving that anybody can do it. If you’re obsessed with something and it comes from you, then it will work,” Olia tells us as we scrape up the last specks of sauce from the pan.

More at thecuriouspear.com

You May Also Like

City Guides

You know how you have that one incredible friend who knows their city inside out? That’s us. We take the world’s most dynamic destinations, hand-pick the best bits and give them to you in one place. This is the kind of guide that you don’t need to run by a local – it was written by one. Eat your heart out, shop until you drop, drink like a fish, dance your socks off, sleep – then repeat.


Curate your bookcase with the full SUITCASE library. From Volume 2 through 24, we've been around the world, explored uncharted landscapes and reexamined travel perceptions along the way. We invite you to do the same; grow your collection today.

Download Suitcase App
Learn More