Who’s Who: Olia Hercules

Olia Hercules

Olia Hercules - Credit: Archant

Bringing up a baby and cooking 100 breakfasts

Whipping out 100 meals a day working in the sweltering heat of one of London’s most celebrated kitchens might be enough for some people.

But not content with plying her trade as breakfast chef ­extraordinaire at Upper Street’s famous Ottolenghi restaurant, Olia Hercules has now taken up the reins in a new type of culinary revolution – at the same time as bringing up her baby son.

Ms Hercules, who until very recently was a Newington Green resident, is head chef at The Recipe Kit. It is a new delivery service that serves up globally-inspired recipes along with the exact quantity of ingredients so that food lovers can create restaurant quality cuisine from the comfort of their own kitchen.

It’s a start-up business that is going from strength to strength, but it’s not the first time the 29-year-old has taken a brave ­career plunge.

“I used to write for screen International,” she said. “But I wanted to change my life so I quit my job and to I retrained to be a chef. From there I ended up at Ottolenghi. I was there for a year and it was an amazing experience, but quite tough. It was really tough actually.

18-hour shifts

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“I was doing 18 hour shifts on breakfasts and salads. I would work every weekend doing 100 or more covers, with people queuing up.

“Put it this way, chopping and dicing a box of chillies very quickly is not a problem anymore.”

Having honed her core skills and techniques, she left the prestigious Islington eaterie to ­expand into food styling and writing, a period during which she also gave birth to her son Sasha, now 18 months old.

“I was looking at a couple of options and I thought ‘how can I do a job with a baby?’ But when I saw the Recipe Kit it looked perfect – it’s great because it’s a start-up and they knew I had a kid when they took me on.

“It’s still pretty crazy, but it’s better than a normal job.”

One of the ideas behind the Recipe Kit is to provide ingredients that would be impossible to find in the average supermarket, including edible flowers and Pied Bleu mushrooms, and the recipes offer some fairly exotic fare.

“Ottolenghi was a big influence on me, but I grew up in Cyprus, so Middle Eastern and Greek food always been obsession with me.

“We spent summer creating recipes and sending out testers, perfecting the recipe cards. It was a hard three months but we’re really getting somewhere, though there’s always room for improvement.

“I have been given full creative freedom and I know its sounds a cliché, but these are recipes that come from the heart and my love of food.

“That’s what I try and make people realise, that you can cook for fun, not just for convenience and you can create great flavour without spending hours in the kitchen.”

So how does a kitchen maestro with a wealth of experience concoct interesting dishes that any old Tom, Dick or Harry can make?

“It’s all about balance,” she said. “The boss is always saying to keep things simple and not to create any more flambé recipes.

“I’m just joking. I’m working on a nice easy lasagne recipe right now.”