TO Rilka Warbanoff, every recipe has a history: it’s this firm belief that underpins her part-memoir, part-cookbook Rilka’s Feasts: Stories and Recipes for Family and Friends and ABD radio segment.“Somewhere, it (a recipe) started from something. I often talk about where food came from – people love to understand that,” Warbanoff said.
The resident food expert on the 774 ABC Melbourne’s Drive Program loves nothing more than cooking “real food” and sharing it with family and friends: “My earliest food recollection is watching my mother and grandmother spend Saturday afternoons creating fabulous dishes, then seeing the pleasure they experienced through sharing the meal in the evening”.
Formerly working in the corporate world, the passionate foodie was surprised when she was invited to present a program about food on ABC local radio. Always up for a challenge, Warbanoff was no stranger to biting off more than she could chew and chewing “really fast”; the next thing she knew she was on air.
“I just find radio an extraordinary medium. It was never something that occurred to me that I could do. It wasn’t in my psyche!” she laughed. “I am a very social person, but I literally got thrown into the deep end of that. (But) I’m loving this. I’m getting to talk to people I never would have talked to before.”
“My mother was an extraordinary woman and she told us, ‘The word cannot does not exist in the English dictionary and therefore you will not use it’. She also said, ‘I gave you a mouth and I expect you to have an opinion about things’,” she said.
The move turned out to be a precursor to even bigger things. Her on-air work led to an unsolicited approach by publisher Harper Collins.
“Suddenly I was approached to write a book. I thought, ‘If they’re the fools that are willing to publish it, I’m willing to write it’,” Rilka laughed.
“I wrote it in nine weeks. Writing the introductions to each section, that was the easy part. I was just relating what I’d say to them (readers) about my life if they were at a dinner party or I’d just met them. I literally dictated the book – I got a typist. That allowed me to literally talk,” she said.
“I’m not a natural writer, I’m a natural talker. I couldn’t do it otherwise.”
For Rilka, the harder part was organising, testing (and translating) the recipes – turning something she cooked by heart into a written recipe others could follow.
“When you’re doing it (cooking) for yourself there are no quantities. So, I sent an email to my friends inviting them to drop by for an open house every night at 6pm to sample food. I literally was feeding people every night. I lived in a townhouse complex and all my neighbours would drop in. It was fabulous. I loved it,” she recalled.
“I felt like the journey was of my life with my family and friends. They came and shared my success and failures with me. Some days were a disaster. Four a.m. every morning I’d get up and start cooking. It was great.”
The end result is a book with a distinctly conversational tone and plenty of tempting recipes (Rilka highly recommended the Drunken Sponge for dinner parties: “The men will love you”).
“It’s how I speak. A girlfriend reviewed it before I sent it to Harper (Collins) and she said, ‘It sounds just like you talking’.”
Rilka is now working on another book, which will cater more for people with food allergies: “I’m taking one recipe and transforming it many ways to meet peoples’ different dietary needs”.
If you live in Melbourne, check out Real Food with Rilka and 774 ABC Melbourne every second Tuesday at 3pm.