Recently I interviewed Riki Kaspi owner of Perth’s much loved cooking school The Cooking Professor in Mount Hawthorn. Her story is a story of an immigrant who chose to make Australia home. Many have eaten at her former Moroccan restaurant Blake’s in North Perth. Her Spice Journey product range of Harissa, Chermoula, Cous Cous has allowed cooks in Perth to authentically create the flavours of Morocco.
What we don’t know is the love for family that bought Riki to Australia. Arriving in Perth 20 years ago with her young family from Israel, to visit relatives. Riki fell in love with Australia, she loved how the country embraced people from across the globe, the Australian can do attitude. When she became an Australian citizen Riki told me it was one of the happiest moments of her life .
Born in Turkey, Riki is fluent in Spanish, French, Hebrew, English. An actress by profession she use to run her own theatre company. Her husband Heni a talented musician, plays the saxophone and clarinet. While her son Elli runs Shak Shuka bringing the flavours Moroccan street food to visitors who frequent farmers markets and events throughout Perth. Those living near the cooking school now can get Shak Shuka home delivered through Uber Eats and Deliveroo.
Riki’s love of cooking was inspired through her heritage and global travels. She recalls spending two years working in restaurants in Normandy, although her job in the kitchen was repetitive, she told me she just keep an open mind, observing what the kitchen brigade was doing. Her Australian culinary journey started as a kitchen hand at a catering company, rolling 1000 meatballs. Owners of the company seeing her potential sponsored her hospitality apprenticeship at TAFE. On completion of her studies, she worked in various restaurants in WA, including The Loose Box. Riki’s dream was to eventually open her own restaurant. Blake’s in North Perth, that bought the flavours of Morocco and the Middle East cooking to Perth. The restaurant opened 7 days, with Friday and Saturdays booked months in advance, yet endless hours running both front and back of house took a toll on her, so the restaurant was sold and the family travelled for 5 months abroad to Israel, Spain and France.
On returning to Perth, Riki decided against opening another restaurant, yet wanted to continue in hospitality, she purchased the The Cooking Professor Cooking School on Walcott St Mount Lawley, eventually out growing the premises due to demand for her cooking classes, necessitated the school to move to larger premises. Her current location at Mount Hawthorn since 2016 is the third incarnation of the school, that provides a large open space for cooking classes to those who enjoy learning different cuisines and of course eating the fruits of there labour’s afterwards. Her theme dinners at the school where she cooks are highly anticipated, with a fan base from former regulars to Blakes and a new generation who enjoy good food. Her cooking class sessions for families are always popular. The Cooking Professor also provides commercial kitchen facilities that the public can hire, whether to prepare for a school fair or those needing premises to prepare items to sell at farmers markets.
I asked her what developments, she’s noticed in her cooking classes. She told me Asian, North African and Middle East classes are in high demand. Her Jerusalem cooking classes and Tagine classes are very popular, often booked out. She told me as more and more Australians travel they’ve discovered that food from the Middle East and North Africa is packed full of flavour, is healthy and quite easy to prepare as long as they have the right ingredients. Riki told me at the beginning people where apprehensive about middle eastern cuisine. The only thing they knew about was hummus. Now they appreciate good hummus and falafel. Her friend’s restaurant The Hummus Club in Northbridge does a modern take on the dish.
Riki’s Spice Journey business origins, came about by necessity, people where missing her cooking from Blake’s, went to her cooking classes, eating her food at farmers markets, wanted to create the flavours of her dishes at home. That’s how products Chermoula and Harissa paste came about. Riki told me all you need is three basic ingredients, to get authenticity with her dishes. Her cous cous is specially sourced, after finding it difficult to find good cous cous in Perth. Turkish rice pudding is simple to make, gluten free dry spice mix Moroccan quinoa kit is flavoured packed. She started selling the range at farmers markets, listening to customers feed back on how to improve her products. She said that through word of mouth, was the best beginning for her Riki’s Spice Journey range. It’s been 3 years of trial and error, that now see the range extended to 12 different products, that is sold in fine food stores and in some supermarkets. They will shortly be available on line.
Riki mentioned her success is due to a supportive family. They all work well together, are very creative, although there are times they may disagree about things, yet her philosophy is never go to sleep angry. She refers to her husband Heni as her saviour. He helps with administration, while at the same time playing in a band, doing a degree. Her son Elli is carving his own identity with Shak Shukar, under a mothers watchful eye, that the food remains authentic, after all it’s her recipe.
Australia is indeed blessed to be able to call Riki one of their own. Her inspirational, generous spirit in teaching many people how to cook food that is healthy and flavoursome is a boon for the city of Perth.
I will be hosting wine appreciation workshops at The Cooking Professor Perth commencing on July18 and 26 starting with a tasting of classic French grape varieties that, just like migration have made new world countries their home. Some of these grapes now even outshine the grapes from their original birth place.
Visit https://www.maisonalainh.com.au To book tickets for wine appreciation tasting sessions go to email@example.com or eventbrite.com All bookings will receive a $30.00 voucher to use at any of The Cooking Professor Cooking Classes. https//www.thecookingprofessor.com.au