Introducing Huda Tarhuni
Posted by the Cake Shop
We’re delighted to introduce the talented Huda Tarhuni. A pastry chef and baker with her own cake business and a chef at Village Centre Community Fridge and Kitchen, Huda has recently started baking with Terry in the Cake Shop kitchen, bringing her own unique flavour to our menu. Here, she speaks with Terry about their joyful collaborative process.
Terry: So how do you feel about being in the kitchen with me?
Huda: I think it’s beautiful that we’re finally getting to work together. I’ve only been in the kitchen with you for two weeks, but right off the bat I could see that we both had similar feelings about wanting to play with different flavour combinations that might be considered a bit outside the box for the general British public.
T: We’ve known each other for more than ten years – why do you think we’ve kept gravitating towards each other?
H: I think the reason that you ended up staying in my life is that you became the female mentor in my industry that I always wanted and never thought I’d have – you know, the person that sees your potential and can guide you through, who keeps you in check and makes you aware of your blind spots, that slightly older sister vibe. Right now, I feel like we’re both at a similar level in that we’ve been through a lot more than our peers within this industry and we’ve kind of moved passed being jaded and are back in love with what we do. I think we bring that curiosity out in each other.
There’s a female chef duo in the states who I’m hoping we end up being like: Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Miliken. They are legends: they came up through old-school French style kitchens and created what they wanted to see in the food industry – looking at foods from other cultures and doing it in a respectful way, doing their research, and creating a good workplace that wasn’t toxic. That’s another reason I think we’re both in a good place to be working together: we’ve been through that toxic kitchen vibe where you sacrifice everything for work and I think we’re both at an age where we can’t be assed anymore. We’re realizing that we can have balance, and that if we have balance it’s going to make us better chefs and allow us the brain space for creativity and curiosity.
T: What do you think can help build those kind of environments?
H: We’ve both been on our own personal journeys with therapy and have had our own struggles with mental health, so we’ve learned the ability to be vulnerable with each other and to prioritize open, honest communication, which you rarely get in kitchens. I know if my fatigue is really bad one day I can tell you and you won’t see it as an excuse, you’ll appreciate the fact that I’m informing you. We both have a high emotional IQ I suppose, and we’re both very direct – not in blunt or rude ways, but in very loving ways. I guess maybe being friends helps us to communicate so openly. Again, this is all really new, because with my past jobs in kitchens no one really cared about how you felt emotionally or physically, it was about getting the job done. I think we’re both realizing that we can do that without breaking our backs.
T: What would you like to see more of in the food industry?
H: There have been times when I have been so annoyed about not seeing any representation of anything other than white people and white food culture and if anything was being done that wasn’t white food culture it was being done in a really superficial way. It’s kind of boring and it’s all kind of the same stuff. You and I were always way more interested in the mom and pop places; this random Peruvian place I found in Elephant and Castle, or I remember you taking me around Peckham market and trying Ital food when I was delivering up around there. I remember talking to you about Vittles, run by Jonathan Nunn – he’s pretty much the only person focusing on non-white voices. He doesn’t just showcase the new hot spot of the month; instead he takes this really specific dish from this hyper-specific region of India that you can only find in one restaurant in Wembley and he pays respect to it. He gives a voice to this humungous side of the food industry that no one else is really covering in magazines and newspapers – it’s only now that it’s starting to pick up a little bit and you’re seeing more food writers of color. I remember being super excited when I came across Vittles. I think it’s because they do deep dives on very particular subjects that nobody else would bother with, really granular nerdy stuff and I love it.
T: In what ways do you think we’re similar and in what ways do you think we’re different?
H: I think we both kind of feel like outsiders. I know I do in general in this country, being a fair Arab who sounds like an American even though I’ve lived here my entire life – I kind of confuse people. I know that you’ve said that you’ve always felt like an outsider as well, and I think that gives us that ability to see things differently from the people around us. But in some ways we had polar opposite upbringings. I grew up in an Arab household eating food from all over the Middle East, and also had parents who were adventurous eaters and liked to take us out. Hearing you talk about what you grew up on, and how eating Lebanese food for the first time blew your mind – to me that’s normal. Then again, just today you took me to a bakery in Chinatown and I was like: I don’t know anything of this, you tell me what you have, I’m just going to stick to your side like a child. So I think our differences really really complement each other, and make us closer in a weird way. And I think our biggest similarity is – I don’t know how to say it other than our interest – our absolute obsessive nerdy interest – in other dishes and other cuisines and other food cultures.
At the moment Huda is working a nutty rich tiffin style bake we like to call PMS pie. It’s full of nuts, nibs and dried fruits, and a few secret salty crunchy touches. It’s a protein rich chocolate affair that hits the spot at any time of month and can be a great power bar boost after a long bike ride.