Alumni profile - Alissa Timoshkina
The knowledge that I gained at Queen Mary is at the heart of what I do, even if it takes on so many different guises, from a PhD in Soviet Holocaust cinema to a podcast about motherhood and food.
What influenced your decision to study Film Studies at Queen Mary? I absolutely loved my visit during an Open Day, and the presentations that some teachers offered really inspired my decision to choose Queen Mary as a place of study. A talk about Henry Ford’s Westerns by Pauline Small particularly stood out for me. When I was applying for my degree, the Film Studies department didn’t exist yet, so I did a joint Film and French, and staff at both departments were so welcoming and inspiring.
What aspects of your degree did you find most enjoyable? What modules did you enjoy learning about and was there anything that surprised you in your studies? It really was the most eye-opening experience which helped shaped my world view and push past certain outdated modes of thinking. I was completely transformed by a module called ‘Unlearning Sex’, many modules on French cinema, trauma, and multiculturalism offered by Dr Libby Saxton, while the module on Russian cinema from Professor Jeremy Hicks inspired the trajectory of my post-graduate work.
What were your early experiences like after graduating from Queen Mary? Did you find interesting work straight away or was it more of a journey? It was a really smooth transition, as I started an internship with a Russian film festival while completing my MA, thanks to Professor Jeremy Hicks’ advice, and continued working there for a year until I started my PhD at King’s College. To complete a full circle, I then came back to Queen Mary as a teaching assistant for two years, while I was completing my PhD.
Can you describe what you do now and what a typical working day looks like for you? My professional life unfolded in a series of pivots, and during the lockdown I have come to another point like that. At the moment, I am working on a new cookbook, I contribute recipes to various publications, run a podcast on food and motherhood, and am also planning a launch of a new cooking course for mothers-to-be called ‘MotherFood’. I am also looking after my toddler from home, so no day looks the same. But usually, I divide my day between some work on my laptop - writing, editing the podcast; our kitchen where I test recipes and cook for my family, and spending time with my daughter outdoors.
What is the most exciting thing about what you do? The creative freedom to explore what truly matters to me and inspires me. The community of women that I am lucky to work with and be part of is extremely welcoming and supportive, so even if being self-employed and working from home might feel at times isolating, I am so excited to be working in times where women have so much support and freedom to pave new professional paths.
You published your first cookbook, Salt and Time, last year. What was that process like? Do you plan to release any more books? It was a real dream come true! By the time I got my book offer, I was working in the culinary field for three years and felt a clear pull towards the idea of a modern Russian cookbook. It was clear that there is a niche to be filled. I wrote a proposal fairly effortlessly as those recipes are so close to my heart and many of them are staples in my kitchen. I was lucky to attract a wonderful agent who helped me secure a deal with a leading culinary publisher. The work on the book took place over nine months. That’s where my knowledge of film really came in handy; I loved overlooking the creative direction, somewhat obsessively designing mood boards, selecting the photographer and the stylists who I felt would resonate with my vision the most. I equally loved the solo work of recipe testing and writing. It really has been the most rewarding creative experience. I am currently working on a proposal for my second cookbook, which will have a touch of gender and feminist studies, that I so enjoyed exploring during my years at Queen Mary.
You also run a cinema and supper club, KinoVino. Can you tell me more about this and how you came up with the idea? It was a very natural marriage of my love of hosting dinner parties and my knowledge of film. The idea came to me back in 2014, when I was visiting Cape Town with my partner where we did a lot of wine tasting! I loved the idea of pairing wine and food, and mused what if one were to pair wine with film, say, what wine can complement your experience of a Bergman film? The idea kept brewing until it developed into a plan to host a screening followed by a sit-down dinner inspired by the film. The first edition was Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, which was a bit of a shock for many and certainly inspired a lot of debate at the dinner table. Over the past five years I hosted over forty five evenings, and the supper club was featured in some leading food and culture publications.
In addition to your cookbook and supper club, you also run a blog and a podcast and work as a food writer for various publications. Where do you look to for inspiration for your various projects and how do you balance it all alongside motherhood? I love cookbooks and have a really extensive collection. Travel and eating out, as well as going to markets are another big resource of inspiration for me. And I guess there is also a natural evolution of interests, that change with my life circumstances. I never expected that motherhood would have any impact on my career and creative interests, yet here I am. Drawn into this new direction with the podcast, which in turn inspired a realisation that a cooking course for parents-to-be is a natural continuation of my work in the realm of maternal support and empowerment. I have a lot more ideas in the field of womanhood and food, where ideas of community, women’s voices and women’s pleasure are at the heart. So, in this way, I don’t really divide the different strands and embrace them as a whole, where each part feeds organically into the other.
Looking back, how did your time and study at Queen Mary help with your career and development? In so many ways! I really feel that I have laid a very important intellectual and social foundation for my future life. The knowledge that I gained at Queen Mary is at the heart of what I do, even if it takes on so many different guises, from a PhD in Soviet Holocaust cinema to a podcast about motherhood and food. And I also made some of the most important social connections and friendships at Queen Mary that have nourished me for the past fifteen years.
What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments or favourite places on campus? The Film Studies department really felt like a big family. There was only a handful of us there at the time and we were such a close-knit community. The best memories are always of the special screenings at the Hitchcock theatre followed by passionate discussions over numerous drinks over at the Globe pub.
Do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside of your field?I’ve been so fortunate to have met some truly inspiring teachers, inside and outside the classroom. There are so many creative and intellectual luminaries to whom I’ve been introduced during my studies, and even if I’ve never met them or even lived in the same time as them, I consider their impact on my life essential. Most recently, I’ve had the absolute pleasure to meet so many inspiring women who forge unique and meaningful careers in the conventionally and historically male-dominated world of food.
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? I’d say to think of their education and their experience at Queen Mary as a whole, rather than focusing uniquely on the subjects which they have studied. You never know what new opportunity might come up and how different it might be from what your aspirations initially were. Remaining open-minded and curious is always key.
This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Nathalie Grey. If you would like to get in touch with Alissa or engage her in your work, please contact Nathalie at email@example.com.