Anna Schmidt, 39, was born in Russia where food was “a necessity, rather than a pleasure”, she says. After the Cold War ended she moved to Berlin, studying and working in market research. Relocating to London a decade later, she was overwhelmed by the abundance of ingredients, devouring cookery books and experimenting with recipes. “I had found my passion,” she says. Embarking on a dramatic career change, she graduated from Le Cordon Bleu and this year founded London For Cooks, what she calls a “cookery school in your own home”.
When were you happiest?
When I went to Rome with my husband on a surprise trip our first Christmas together. I didn’t know where we were going until we were at the gate.
Where would you like to live?
I’ve moved around a lot during my life. I grew up in St. Petersburg, then spent ten years in Berlin and for the last ten I’ve been in London. It always takes time to feel at home in a new city and the older you get, the longer it takes. But now, when I return here it really feels like coming home.
What is your favourite sound or smell?
I rely on my senses when I’m checking the seasoning in my dishes. I love cooking smells, whether it’s fried garlic, or freshly made veal stock. At the moment a piece of pork shoulder is in the oven, surrounded by garlic, ginger and a myriad of other spices. The smell emanating from it is heavenly.
What is your greatest life achievement?
Finding my passion and going for it. I think it’s extremely important to discover what you are passionate about; it took me nearly 20 years. I worked in a hospital when I was studying in Germany, then in a market research company and financial consulting before having children. When I started cooking I found out how much I enjoyed it.
What is your earliest memory of the area?
When I first moved to London I took a wrong turning and wound up in a cul-de-sac: a quiet place in the midst of busy London. There were kids playing hopscotch and kicking a ball on the street. It was the home zone in front of the Eleanor Palmer School. It was so peaceful I loved it. Some years later I moved to Kentish Town and had children. They now go to the school and play hopscotch in the home zone.
What makes you unhappy?
I love sleeping and get terribly unhappy when somebody wakes me before the alarm clock.
What simple thing would improve your quality of life?
More spare time. I used to go to Highbury to get fish and meat, but now that Meat NW5, Jonathan Norris and Bear and Wolf are here I can do all my groceries in one go, which given me an extra hour a day for my cello.
What is your most unappealing habit?
I am quite direct. This is where my Russian and German roots come through. I remember when I came to the UK, age 14 and part of the first group of children sent abroad after the end of the Cold War, our teachers told us some of the differences in the way people address each other in the UK. The English would say: “Would you be so kind as to pass me the bread, please?” while in Russia it was perfectly polite to say “Pass me the bread”, with please being optional.
What is your guilty pleasure?
A slice of freshly made French toast eaten alone on a sunny day on the terrace.
Where do you hang out?
I don’t really hang out anymore, as my free time needs careful planning. But my husband and I do make an effort to do “grown up” things. We always pre-book concert tickets to the Wigmore Hall and the Royal Festival Hall well in advance – and once booked we go. And we try new restaurants a lot as well.
Who or what do you hate and why?
I am very impatient and don’t like waiting – which can be a problem when you’re cooking. A good cook needs to do things quickly, but also to be extremely patient. There is no sense in trying to turn frying potatoes too quickly – you’ll never get a proper crust on them.
What’s been your best experience here?
The best is the sense of community. Every time I go out into the street I see somebody I know and am greeted with a smile. Sometimes on a gloomy day it makes my day seeing people smiling back.
The worst was the day the riots took place about three years ago when my youngest daughter was born. I went to the hospital early so didn’t get stuck in the traffic, but once there got increasingly worried as the riots started to get closer to Kentish Town, especially because my husband was joining me and the younger kids were staying at home with the babysitter.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I am actually quite content with my appearance at the moment. I am out of the baby blues phase, when you don’t like anything about how you look. I have cut my hair short again (I let it grow when the kids were tiny) and I love it.
What’s the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
Before I had my own business somebody asked me, “What do you do?” And I answered, quite happily, “I’m a full-time mum”. They replied “Oh, is that it?”
Tell us a secret…
Never wash your hands with hot water after handling fish as fish proteins coagulate and the smell will linger.
What is your favourite dish and why?
My favourite dishes change constantly. Recently I fell in love with the Spanish pork cuts: presa, secreto and pluma – they are so full of flavour and the meat literally melts in the mouth. For a fish course I’d choose a simple piece of brill with beurre noisette, lemon and capers, and samphire. But ask me tomorrow and it will probably have changed.
Describe yourself as an animal.
That’s a difficult one: maybe a very busy monkey.
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