Fresh from cooking up a feast for a hungry Olympic rowing team, exuberant Bulgaria-born chef Silvena Rowe has taken some time out of her busy schedule to chat to HELLO! Online.
The culinary whizz, who talks about some of the most unusual foods she's eaten, has been filming in the UK and stateside for two upcoming shows. The Time Machine Chefs, which aired in the US in August and the BBC prime-time series Keep Cooking and Carry On, which will hit screens this autumn.
Off screen Silvena has been keeping busy too. Her debut restaurant Quince opened in the Mayfair Hotel last year and has since become celebrated for its adventurous recreations of classic Eastern Mediterranean cuisine.
We caught up with Silvena during a rare quiet moment in her hectic schedule.
You’ve been busy cooking for hungry Olympians at your Mayfair restaurant, Quince, recently. Were they different from your usual clientele?
“I cooked for the US women’s rowing eight. Standing next to those girls even I felt tiny. They were a fine bunch of ladies with great appetites, stunning and full of woman power.
“Unusually for me we were all in the kitchen together. We had a lot of fun preparing lean ottoman lamb cutlets with white truffle sauce, a pomegranate salad, as well as halibut and orange and coriander dressing.
“They still had room for dessert to so we prepared my signature burnt orange baklava and one of the restaurant’s best-selling dishes, the white chocolate cheesecake.
“We’re changing the menu soon for autumn but this favourite is going to stay and is going to be renamed Golden Blondie in honour of this great group of blonde Olympians.”
What was the biggest challenge that the contestants had to overcome on The Time Machine Chefs?
“There were quite a few: cooking outside, contending with the elements and of course the lack of basic equipment that we take for granted these day. I was most impressed by their use of imagination and resourcefulness. They attempted difficult dishes regardless of their lack of equipment.
“For me as a judge, creativity and vision won every time. One chef who prepared a Peking duck managed to make use of every part of it, brain included.”
You experienced a few different culinary eras in The Time Machine Chefs. If you had to go back in time which period would you choose and who would you like to cook for?
“Without a doubt I would go back to the “Magnificent Century” of the Ottoman Empire just for its pure decadence. I would have loved to have cooked the great Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent and his harem of concubines.”
What’s the modern kitchen gadget you couldn’t live without?
“There no one particular gadget but modern and simple equipment that we take for granted – basics such as a saucepan, knife or chopping board or a fridge and even heat to cook on.
“The show makes you realise you just don’t need gadgets like choppers and mixers.”
Apart from duck brains, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
“Japanese cuisine is the most bizarre I’ve ever experienced. I tried fugu, which translates as river pig and is pufferfish in English. It’s potentially lethal if it’s not prepared correctly but luckily mine wasn’t!”
You’ve got a jam-packed schedule with a restaurant to run and TV shows in the UK and the US. Do you find to time cook on your day off?
“I never have time to cook during the week but I always take Sundays off and that’s a great excuse for a feast in my house. We either do a big brunch or late afternoon roast. My husband is a hopeless cook but I’ve taught my sons (aged 19 and 24) well. The other night they treated me to meatballs and a Greek salad which was lovely after a hard few weeks.”
Research for your book “Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume” took you on a journey of the old Ottoman Empire. What were your favourite foodie discoveries from your travels?
“It was such an adventure, a world like no other. Anything involving aubergine out East is a pretty good bet. Syrian cuisine really opened my eyes – it’s on the border geographically as well as gastronomically. The same goes for Istanbul, one of my favourite cities - the Turkish influence is very much present but the Arabic one is strong too.
“My favourite dishes are simply roasted peppers and aubergine. Although I’m a big meat eater, the veggie dishes there really are incredible.”
Interview by Sophie Devonshire