A New Yorker, a Londoner, and a world traveller. Tom Wolfe is an artist, and a celebrity chef, who worked around the globe and visited Ukraine many times. Recently, I had a chance to ask him about his work, travels, and his favourite places in Kyiv.
Tell us about what you do.
I work as a cater and a food artist. I have had a catering company in London for the last fifteen years. And since 2009 I began to work as a food artist as well. My training is a bit complicated, I have been always cooking since I was very young, but I went to an art school first, and then I went to a cooking school later. So when I moved to London I set up my catering business and combined the two. I was partly designing, making my own food trays, designing the waitress clothing, getting involved in the production of the events, but also I was catering all the food. Which is quite unusual for a catering company.
How did you get into this work?
I left New York when I was 26, and started apprenticing around the world with different top chefs, and during that time I was in Asia, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, for about two years. Then I started figuring out what I wanted to do and began getting all these creative ideas and concepts. Then I finished my training in France, and I came to London in 1996. Although, London is like a capital of Europe, I found the whole event catering side of things was 10 years behind New York City, and all the other places I have been to. So, I saw a gap in the market that needed to be filled, and I was going to fill it.
Where do you get inspiration?
It kind of comes from everywhere. I get inspired from travelling, as by now I probably worked in around 20 different countries in total. Although I have been to all the best restaurants in the world, and the really expensive ones, those are not the places that inspire me. I get my inspiration from street food, from going to people homes, a “grandma” cooking, or from a traditional dish. That what inspires me, cooking wise. Design wise, the last 10 years for me it has been all about Russia and Ukraine. Russian a-vanguard, constructivism, the whole Soviet time design and what came out of it, for me it is just genius.
Tom at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Photo courtesy of Tom Wolfe
How many times have you been to Kyiv?
Countless times. The first time I went there was 8 years ago. Since then, I have been going as much as I can. I was even living in Kyiv before the revolution, last September to November (2013), almost three solid months. I was working at multiple events, and writing my book on Zakuski (Закуски, – Ukrainian). I find it much friendlier than London, and more buzzing. I love the food scene, the art scene, everything. I also was a regular visitor to a support camp of Yulia Tymoshenko in Hreshchatyk street, where I was drinking tea with the protestors!
Have you encountered any art in Kyiv that inspired you?
Well, a lot, it’s very artistic. Ukrainians are very talented and creative people. If you look at Malkovich, Kandinsky, they are Ukrainians, I believe so. Ukraine has got poets and writers. It’s an incredible legacy, and it’s very inspiring.
What places would you recommend travellers to visit in Kyiv?
For me, I like St. Sofia Cathedral, but I also like Mother Motherland monument (Ukrainian: Батьківщина-Мати), and the War Memorial (the Museum of the Great Patriotic War). It’s a sad, but magical place to explore the history of that time. It’s very well made, and it shows what happened during the World War ll, and what Ukrainians went through.
The Metro, – seeing it go over the river. I also like the design of the metro stations, some are very futuristic, and some have retro feel to it, whereas London Underground stations could be anywhere in the world.
Now, wealthy Ukrainians would disagree with me, and they told me not to tell it to anyone, but I love going to Hydro Park! In the middle of the Summer, you can just get a taxi (or Metro) and be in Hydro Park in 10 min, lying on a beach, in the middle of the major city. It’s a huge nature reserve right in the centre of the city.
Also, I would recommend Pinchuk Art Centre, and the Besarabka market. In general, I spent a lot of time at Kyiv’s food markets.
I am writing a book on Zakuski, and about 50% of my recipes are from Ukraine. I have a lot of Ukrainian people and friends who helped. Ukrainians are very generous, they are good friends, and I love the whole food culture. When you are friends with a family, they invite you, and you feel very welcomed.
How do you feel about the war on the East of Ukraine?
I am sickened with the war going on in Ukraine. I hope to do some charity work to rebuild things when it’s all over. As a celebrity chef it gives me a wonderful opportunity to help people and bring them together and I want to use this in Ukraine.