A blogger after my own heart is fellow Londoner Leyla Kazim, who is as enthusiastic about eating out in London and as excitable about travelling and eating around the world as I am myself. Find out more about Leyla in today’s Meet The Blogger.
Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.
Hello! I’m Leyla and I’m a twenty-something lover of all things gustatory living in South West London. I started my blog in October 2012 – it’s intended to be a personal anthology charting the places I visit, the cultures I experience, the food I eat, and the impressions they make upon me.
My mum is Mauritian and my dad is Turkish-Cypriot – to say I was brought up surrounded by some pretty exceptional cooking is an understatement, and I have little doubt it’s because of my parents that food is such a huge part of my life today.
I studied Astrophysics at university and worked in a software company for several years – neither of which automatically marry themselves with the love of food. But I got to that age where I came to realise what I actually enjoyed doing with my time and what meant the most to me. So my work now is writing about food or photographing it. And when I’m not working, I’m eating.
What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what what inspired you to cook?
Despite my mum being a pretty great cook, she was always very territorial in the kitchen. No one was really allowed to get involved or in her way, so I first learnt to cook rather late in life when I moved out of home to go to university and had to feed myself. It was the first time I had free range in a kitchen, and I was in my element. I started out not even being able to make an omelette, but quickly learnt a lot and soon found myself cooking whenever I wasn’t busy getting drunk.
A lot of my family on my dad’s side have been in catering most of their working lives. My parents themselves own a café / restaurant and I started working in it at the age of 12 on Saturdays. I did everything front of house and my dad was in the kitchen. Nowadays, I’m mostly found on the other side of things as a guest in restaurants. But I suppose you could say I’ve been in that sort of environment, one way or another, for most of my life.
Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!
I made a sorbet once, with egg whites. It tasted of frozen egg white. God, it was awful.
Which food or ingredients could you not live without?
Lemons. The juice of them may as well run through my veins. That’s the part-Turk in me.
Is there a particular cuisine or style of cooking that you seek out most often?
I’m attracted to food of the Levant like a homing missile. For me to delay a visit to a newly opened Middle Eastern restaurant for much longer than it takes to glance over the online menu, is nothing short of sacrilege. I guess it’s ‘in my blood’, as they say.
My two other favourite cuisines are Japanese and Spanish. Gah..
Which single dish could you not live without?
Bread. I can give up anything else you throw at me (with some protest). But I could not give up good bread. Did you know bread is considered sacred in Turkey and if people find a piece on the floor, they will pick it up and put it on a wall or something out of respect. You can have that little nugget for free.
How do you decide where to visit next?
Through much torture and deliberation. There are so many restaurants to visit in London alone and not enough time / money / metabolism / willing dining partners to even begin to make a dent. And I’m in restaurants more than the average Jo. Nowadays, I just slam my finger down on a map with my eyes closed and see what’s good in that area. That, or take recommendations.
What current / upcoming trends in the restaurant scene do you find the most exciting?
Middle Eastern food has had some sort of second coming of late, what with Sabrina Ghayour’s fabulous cook book Persiana, new London openings such as The Palomar and Arabica Bar & Kitchen, and Alan Yau is opening a lahmacun place on Shaftsbury Avenue soon. See you there.
What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?
Bad table manners. Oh my, I cannot abide it. I can’t stand people chewing with their mouth open, loud chewing, talking with your mouth full, licking of fingers, wiping of fingers on jeans. And so on.
Do you have a current favourite restaurant (or top 3?)
I had lunch at Lyle’s last week and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was. I’m 100% returning for their evening menu.
One of my favourite restaurants to date is Café Murano for exquisite Italian.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you in a restaurant?
I was on a date once in a very posh restaurant and managed to set the menu on fire. It was a good ice breaker.
What’s your take on the never-ending “discussion” about taking photographs in restaurants?
As long as you’re not setting up a tripod and reflector box between tables, then I really can’t see a problem. Photos are ultimately taken to share with others through some sort of online channel, so it’s all free press for the restaurant. Thankfully, most seem to be entirely fine with it. I’m yet to be asked not to take photos, but then I haven’t eaten in Paris for a while..
Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that appeals to your readers / differentiates you from traditional journalists?
I think people read national press reviews to enjoy the read, not necessarily to then pick up the phone and book a table at that restaurant. With bloggers however, I feel people are more likely to actually visit the places we have said are good. It’s the voice of the people – while there is more than enough room for both journalists and bloggers (and I do swing between the two), there’s no denying that bloggers have a very big influence.
What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a foodie perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?
The blog has only been running for two years, and there were a lot of places I visited prior to it that I haven’t written about. One highlight was Naples and the pizza that left me and my partner starting at each other wide-eyed after the first bite, with expressions of ‘Errr.. are you getting what I’m getting? Holy sh*t this is one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.’
In more recent times, Japan. All of Japan. All three glorious weeks travelling around and eating my way through Japan. The fish is so iridescent and so luminescent that it doesn’t look like it can possibly be real. It’s all a bit incredible there, really.
Where are you going next?
Do I have an answer for this.
From December, I’ll be embarking on a nine month travelling expedition. I’m basically hitting all the countries that I’ve been desperate to eat in for as long as I can remember. There’s been some hard saving that’s gone into this, and I can’t quite believe it’s finally within grasping distance. The countries include: India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico.
As long as I don’t get hit by a bus in the meantime.
What three things can you never travel without?
Sun cream – I have no desire to age prematurely. Some sort of GPS device for every moment of every day when I am lost – I have a terrible sense of direction. A notebook – if I don’t write it down, it didn’t happen (I also have a terrible memory). And a fourth one is my SLR.
What’s the best travel experience you’ve ever had?
We stayed overnight in a Berber tent on the fringes of the Sahara once. I woke up to find the nomads climbing some mighty sand dunes under a bruised sky just before the sun was due to come up. They were climbing to watch the sun rise over the desert – we joined them. It was incredible.
If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?
I think it would have to be Japan Kavey, right?
Blog Class (Entire section is optional)
Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?
If my writing hasn’t improved over these two years, then I quit. I started pretty terribly, so there was really only one way to go.
What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?
Procrastination is a pain in the arse. But it’s a bit like exercise – once you start, you remember you quite enjoy it. Oh, just me then..
What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?
It’s the journal of my life, really. I get a lot of pleasure looking back on what I’ve done, places I’ve been, and I’m a person that loves to record things. I plan to post something weekly while I’m travelling – it will be an invaluable chronicle of what will be a once in a lifetime adventure.
Plus, people seem to like it – that’s always nice to hear.
What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?
I’m desperately searching for some fresh hazelnuts but can’t find them anywhere – ahhh. Also, my plum tree in the garden is in its first year of fruiting. I picked four ripe ones yesterday. They were small, but goddamn they were the sweetest most exquisite plums I’ve ever eaten.
What’s the single most popular post on your blog?
Something about ribs – one of Gordon Ramsay’s recipes that I decided to cook and blog one day. I know nothing about SEO but something I did on that post has seen its hits rocket off towards the edges of the universe. I think that’s a strange anomaly and so I mostly ignore it. So the second most read blog is my 10 Things to Eat in Istanbul post – a lot of research, time and love went into it, so it’s really nice to see it appreciated.
Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?
Hows about a big up for my cousin’s gaff in Stamford, The Mad Turk. He’s doing the Turkish-Cypriot cuisine proud with the food coming from his kitchen. Great restaurant, wonderful food, and he’s a lot of fun.
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Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of the series, here.