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Taste Maker : Tiffany Eslick

I am thrilled to kick off the Tastemaker Series and introduce you to my gorgeous and talented friend Tiffany Eslick! Tiffany is an award-winning creative & content director with over 15 years of experience in media focusing on food and travel! She is a true food lover and cooking enthusiast, who has been passionate about culinary exploration since she was a child. Her adventurous spirit and love of trying new things have taken her on a journey of discovering new cuisines and ingredients around the world.

I have known Tiffany for years, and her enthusiasm for food and cooking is truly infectious. She has an impressive collection of cookbooks and food magazines, and she always has a new recipe or food trend to share. As a qualified chef and the Editor of Spinney’s magazine, Tiffany has combined her love for food and media to create engaging culinary experiences for her readers.

In this Q&A Tastemaker series, Tiffany shares her childhood food memories, tips for home cooks, and insights into the evolving food culture in Dubai. She also shares her go-to recipe, the Chocolate Fondant Cake, which is simply divine.  She has also generously shared a wonderful Tomato Tart recipe that is definitely going to be one of my go-to recipes.  Tiffany’s love for food is contagious, and her passion for culinary exploration is truly inspiring. I am so excited to share more about her journey and her love for all things delicious!

How did you first develop a passion for food and cooking?

I owe any interest in food and cooking to my wonderful Mum. She’s always been an adventurous and inventive cook who always encouraged us to always try new ingredients and dishes. She’s also the person who inspired my love for cookbooks and food magazines – we used to read them in bed from when I was very young. I used to sit at the kitchen table watching her work her magic – sometimes I’d get involved. It’s having to fend for myself at university that made me experiment in the kitchen on a regular basis. I used to go home over weekends, “shop” Mum’s fridge and pantry cupboard, and be set for the week with all sorts of goodies students can’t really afford. It was great. Over the years, my interest in the culinary world has grown into an obsession. I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot, trying many dishes from around the world, I work in food media and I’m now a qualified chef.

I’ll still always prefer Mum’s food to my own though!

Can you share any memorable food-related experiences or traditions from your childhood?

Like her father, my mum is a talented gardener. Some of my earliest memories include being in the garden, picking and eating knobby lemons from our tree, or sitting on my grandfather’s shoulders while he hoisted me up to reach handfuls of mulberries. I’d always eat far too many and be covered in purple juice. I’ve never been afraid to try something new; I would devour a tin of kalamata olives, or slurp back oysters from when I was around three years old. I remember insisting that I try fruit bat curry in the Seychelles when I was five. It ended up being quite fiddly to eat. I dislike porridge and that is because I was fed this when I was in Zimbabwe while being incredibly ill – so just the whiff of oats cooking makes me feel sick to this day.

My parents entertained a lot and I used to love the buzz in the kitchen before any event.

As a South African – I grew up being exposed to a real mix of cuisines: British, Dutch, Indian, Cape Malay and the food our Xhosa nanny used to make, too. Most of our family originally came from Europe (I’m talking great grandparents) so some of our “traditional” dishes are influenced from there. I’d say the only “traditional” dish that I have, and will always look forward to, is my mum’s Christmas fruit cake.

How do you go about finding inspiration for new recipes and meal ideas?

Through a lot of travel, talking to people from many different cultures and consuming mixed media. I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks and food magazines; I follow inspirational chefs and cooks on social media; I sign up to too many newsletters and I watch a lot of Netflix.

Do you have any favourite ingredients or cuisines that you like to cook with or explore?

Overall, if I absolutely had to pick my favourite cuisines, I’d say Japanese, Vietnamese, Italian, Persian and Moroccan. But I’ve just come back from Mexico, realized how amazing the food there really is, so I think this needs to be added to the list! When it comes to ingredients, I will go to the greatest lengths to shop local and organic as much as possible – and I prioritize quality.

Have you ever faced any challenges or obstacles in your cooking journey, and how did you overcome them?

Last year I was fortunate to spend 3 months at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland on an intense chef training programme. I loved the course and did exceptionally well there. Everything I made seemed to turn out perfectly. But, when I returned home, there was a good amount of time where NOTHING worked! My breads didn’t rise properly; trying to make kombucha was a disaster; making pastry was never quite right… It came down to not having the greatest oven, room temperatures in Dubai, and working with different ingredients, mainly. I’d say this “relearning” phase was a challenge. I started to wonder if I had indeed been to culinary school. But with research, a good few attempts at making the same thing over and over again, and chatting to friends, I overcame this.

Do you have any tips or advice for home cooks looking to improve their skills and try new recipes?

I’d say never be afraid of failing – try new recipes and skills, and if something flops, try again. Book yourself into courses (in person or online); read and watch as much as you can – there are so many great books, masterclasses and shows about flavour, techniques and understanding the science of cooking. If you’re baking – ALWAYS follow the recipe! Until you’ve mastered it, then you can experiment.

How do you think the food culture in Dubai has evolved over time, and what trends do you see emerging in the future?

I’ve lived in Dubai for 12 years and it has been great to see and be a part of the change in its food culture. Currently there is such a dynamic group of restauranteurs, chefs and cooks who are creating experiences and dishes which speak to the diversity of people living in this country. I think everyone has realized that we don’t need to take concepts from other countries – we can build on the richness and talent that we have here. This goes for production, too. It’s great to see farmers (traditional, vertical or hydroponic) growing everything from oyster mushrooms to fresh oysters! It’s an exciting place to be.

Can you share any of your favourite recipes or meals that you like to cook at home?

At the moment, I’m recipe testing for a breakfast club I hope to open soon – so it’s all about that. But, when I do go on a spree in the kitchen (always over weekends) I will usually be making chicken soup (in all forms, bone broth, pho, laksa…) – I love it; spaghetti alle vongole; whole-roasted spiced cauliflower with a herby yoghurt and lots of fresh dill, coriander and mint; and some sort of tart or cake. I don’t eat a lot of red meat at all so a lot of what I make is vegetarian or pescatarian.

How do you think food can bring people together and create meaningful connections?

Is there a better way for communities to connect than through food? I believe not. It is arguably the only thing that has can bring diverse nationalities together universally, no matter our ethnicity, religion, background, or status. Everywhere, around the world, people eat together. And a communal meal allows for meaningful exchanges, breaking down barriers between us. To understand a country’s culture and its people, you must try its food – that’s power.

Can you share your favourite recipe? Tell us what is so special about this recipe?

One of the first desserts I learnt to make was a Chocolate Fondant Cake. It’s one of those go-to recipes that takes hardly any time or effort but always works, looks great and makes friends and family “ooh” and “aah”. I like to serve it warm, so it’s gooey and comforting. But, it is also delicious when dense and cold.

Tomato Tart is also another one of my favourite recipes to make. It is perfect for those days when you’re craving a light yet scrumptious meal. Bursting with fresh flavours, this tart is an ideal dish to prepare during the warmer months when tomatoes are at their peak, and you’re looking for a delicious meal to enjoy in the sunshine.

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