Sunday, October 3, 2010

Johanna - an expat guest from Austria

Despite our guest moving to another country and being incredibly busy, we managed to get together in order to publish this interview for you wonderful people to share.

I am pleased to introduce you all to Johanna Wagner from The Passionate Cook.  Johanna is most definitely a passionate cook too and her fabulous blog will tantalise your tastebuds with some truly wonderful recipes.

Johanna is originally from Austria and has moved around the world to become a repeated expat.

So, let's get to know her a little better.  Please join me in saying 'welcome' and read on to learn more about Johanna and her blog The Passionate Cook

Q - Why have you recently moved from UK to Singapore?

A - My husband got headhunted out here by a large Asian bank headquartered in the city state. When he started interviewing, we didn't actually think it would happen, but when talks got more serious, we thought long and hard (it's a big thing to move halfway across the world with three children) and decided to jump in the cold water - everybody says the city is perfect for raising children (very safe and child-friendly) and we were looking forward to a warmer climate, amazing food experiences and lots of travelling through Asia, which we had never really visited before!

Q - What do you hope to achieve in Singapore?

A - I haven't actually made my mind up... leaving London meant giving up my studies (BSc in Herbal Medicine), my practice (ear acupuncture and naturopathy) which was just starting to flourish, my beloved catering engagements (fancy fingerfood for private functions like birthdays, christenings, weddings). While I can still continue my food writing from here, I have yet to find out whether I can legally practise in this country and if I can find some local courses or, even better, an apprenticeship, to deepen my knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

On the other hand, I know that there is soooo much for me to learn culinarily - the various cuisines on offer here will inspire me no end and lots of people around have asked if I'd continue giving cookery lessons, which I might actually do together with my friend Pam of The Cooking Ninja.

Q - After the move, you mention you'll be starting again with kitchen supplies. What will be first on your shopping list & why?

A - My first purchase was a big wok so I can get started experimenting with local cooking. Tomorrow, I am off to my first big shopping trip to the spice market - spices are absolutely essential in my kitchen, over the years, I had amassed a great variety of wonderful (and sometimes weird) ingredients brought back from travelling or given to me by friends... those that are essential to my cooking and hard to come by, I actually brought with me - I was allowed one box with food stuff.

The first thing I always stock up on when out shopping is fresh fruit and vegetables - and I love, love, love the variety and all the new fruits I have discovered so far: snake fruit, jack fruit, long kong, japanese pear... all wonderful discoveries.

The hunt for some food items I feared I might not get here started pretty much the day we arrived... butter with fleur de sel is essential in my household, so is good bread: my Mum shipped my fresh sourdough culture via courier last week and it survived... so now I am back baking my own sourdough bread, which I missed a lot these past two months!

Q - Tell us about your food journey to this point in your life.

A - I have always loved food for as long as I can remember... my Mum is a great cook and so was my grandma. My first eye-opening food adventures were my travels - we would go to Italy four times a year, I spent pretty much all my vacations from the age of 15 in France where I had my first oysters and cooked live lobster and got to know the joys of never-ending lunches with family and friends. I then lived in Mexico where I pretty much sat in the kitchen whenever I was at home, watching the host family's helper Lupita cook amazing food and soaking up everything like a sponge... then came the student years when I met my now husband, together we would save up to eat in "fancy" restaurants which broadened our taste horizons and for a while, I was trying hard to re-create those dishes back in my own kitchen. It was when we moved to London eleven years ago that I really got into cooking - for the first time I had a big kitchen and eating out was often hit-and-miss and very expensive... so I buried myself in cookery books and got my hands dirty - I haven't looked back. Cooking has become essential in my life as a great passion - I love its therapeutic effects on me and I love how I can make other people happy with it as well.

Q - Why did you start your blog and how old is it?

A - When I went on maternity leave with my second child, I struggled not having my high-powered job in advertising anymore... I missed the variety, the sense of achievement at the end of the (admittedly very long) day - after all, I was reduced to being a milk bar to my son and changing nappies all day long!

So I set myself the target of documenting my kitchen experiments, involving own creations, old family recipes and dishes I fancied in cook books and magazines - and in my first year, I published a recipe almost every day.

That was more than six years ago now, the frequency of publishing on my own blog has slowed down somewhat (especially at the moment, but I will come back with a vengeance ;-)) - life has got in the way... three children, a practice and my studies demand time... plus I started writing for other publications as well.

Q - Tell us more about 'Digital Dish' and how you are involved?

A - Digital Dish was an initiative by a US food blogger five years ago - gathering recipes from food blogs around the world (there weren't many of us). Back then, self-publishing was as unknown as the phenomenon of blogging - the book was an amazing effort by pretty much just one person and it didn't have any funding or a big publisher behind it, so it is not really a cookbook to drool over, but documents the very beginnings of food blogging, the variety of people, styles and cuisines. So although it is probably not the kind of thing I show around proudly at a dinner party, it was cool to be a part of this piece of food blogging history.

Since then, however, I have been asked to contribute to many other publications, including regular columns for the online arm of GU, the biggest cookbook publisher in the German-speaking market, and also some books that DO look well on your coffee table, like National Geographic's "Food Journeys of a Life-Time" and about to appear on the shelves this October "Drives of a Life-Time - 500 of the World's most spectacular trips" - a few others are awaiting publication.

Q - What is your favourite cuisine?

A - How sad if I had to limit myself to just one, I find the greatest pleasure in the variety that this world has to offer. Unlike many other people, I don't despise "fusion", if it's well done, taking inspiration from other cuisines can work very well.

I would say my favourite food depends on the moment and the situation - heart-warming Austrian food, comforting bowls of soup, a proper Mexican chile con carne, or a slice of home-made sourdough with salted butter - they all have their place.

At the moment, I don't tire of eating out in singapore - even the simplest of hawker stalls or markets have the most amazing array of Asian food available and people here are passionate about eating, it's one of the greatest pass-times here... I couldn't have found a better place to live!

Q - What cuisine/food do you dislike & why?

A - I don't really eat offal - it's the idea that puts me off. I have tried all kinds of stuff, but wasn't bowled over. I also hate beetroot (the only vegetable that I don't like), but I am working on it.

Q - Tell us about the other countries in which you have lived (inc your home country) and which is your favourite to date?

A- I was born and bred in Austria, a beautiful piece of this earth - I still like going back and in certain places, my heart just skips a beat at the sight of the breathtaking scenery. The food is also wonderful - comfort food at its best, from the very simple mountain fare to the elaborate drama of eating Tafelspitz in Vienna or the elaborate cakes on offer in your typical Kaffeehaus.

Mexico was the experience of a life-time - I was young, very far away from home for the first time in my life, and things different - very different. I fell in love with the people, the country, the traditions, the music, the food, when I returned back home, my Mexican teachers at uni would say I am more Mexican than the Mexicans... I haven't been back since, for fear of not experiencing it the way I did back then, but I keep in touch with my friends and family there and all things Mexican really.

London was a great decade, I love it for how cosmopolitan it is, yet, how relaxed our life was where we lived in and around Richmond - after I gave up my job, that is. The food shopping is spectacular, unrivalled in terms of speciality shops... and the culture, the concerts, plays, exhibitions, galleries - I have travelled wide and far, but I don't think any city can match that (although NYC might come close). And I learnt so very much in my time there!

And Singapore, what can I say. I don't think I have ever felt at home somewhere as quickly as here - even moving to Vienna as a student was lonelier and took longer. The city is absolutely beautiful - very green, very organised, very exotic... both the locals and the expat community have been very welcoming and after two months, I am struggling to keep on top of my calendar! And the food - I've alluded to it earlier, there so much great-tasting fare at incredibly reasonable prices... every day there are new discoveries and I can't wait to take advantage of all the great travelling to be done from here.

Please now join me in saying 'many thanks' to Joahanna for her time in creating this post.  I know it was difficult for her with moving etc, but I am truly grateful for her efforts in producing this month's interview.

"Mucho gracias Johanna & welcome"


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