‘There needs to be some responsibility from each one of us to preserve our culture‘
Italian and Egyptian; A rare partnership of cultures combined. This is how I would describe the talented, passionate, and hard-working duo team; Stefano de Costanzo and Sara Afifi.
Stefano has worked his way up to an Executive Pastry Chef and has worked in some of London’s top high-end restaurants and hotels. Sara has been cooking since she was twelve and is the creator of Mazaq, where she has provided catering services for the last six years, making mouth-watering cakes and pastries.
Their backgrounds and their love of food and culture has led to the creation of a new food channel on YouTube called Culture Whisk. It was a real pleasure talking with Sara and Stefano to find out more about Culture Whisk and why they are so passionate about it.
How did you first meet each other?
Stefano: We met about 3 years ago at a pastry course. The course was for three days and we happened to be partnered together during this time. We realised very quickly that we were a good match, as we had a lot in common. It took us about six months after the course until we met again. When we finally met, Sara invited me to her home, and this is when she first cooked Egyptian food for me. I was blown away!!
I believe Sara has a deep understanding of what cooking is at a really high standard. She is a true professional within her cooking and her attitude. She is brilliant and I love her as a sister. This opportunity working together is great, because we get to create something that we are both so passionate about.
Sara: There is a strong bond between us. We support each other and lift each other up as well. If one person goes down, then we both go down together. We are two people, but one team and we really work well together.
How did you come up with the idea for Culture Whisk?
Sara: We had been thinking to do something like Culture Whisk for a year. Stefano and I were having dinner one day and I suggested we should do a You Tube Channel. We both thought it would be a great idea and we also thought about opening a business at one point, but we never had the time.
I had a full-time job and I am also a mother. Stefano also had a full-time job where he would work long hours. Therefore, the idea would have been impossible to happen. However, once the pandemic started, I brought up the idea again and we decided to go for it!!
Stefano previously, as with most people did not know much about Egyptian food. Most people identify Egypt with the pyramids or the sphinx. When people think about Egypt they never think about Egyptian food. This made me sad because the food is amazing. I then decided that I would like to show the world what Egyptian food is about. Egyptian food is connected to history and most of the food we cook comes from ancient Egypt.
With Italian food, many people associate it with pasta and pizza, however there is so much more to Italian cuisine than this. Stefano and I have decided to make this a cultural experience for the both of us.
I learn from him on what his culture is about and vice versa. This is how we came up with a multicultural, historical show. We cook together and discuss the history of our cultures and food. We also discuss the links between the food we cook.
Stefano: There needs to be some responsibility from each one of us to preserve our culture. There’s a lot of fusion at the moment and it is beautiful to merge, but you still need to preserve your identity.
It is incredible the commonalities between the food we cook and how we can relate to each other. The final products we cook are different, however they are equally as good in sensations and flavours. Culture Whisk is a journey which has just started. We have a clear picture on what we want, but there is no limitation. This is how we came across the idea for the name Culture Whisk. We wanted something which did not frame us and would allow us to speak about culture and history using food as a vehicle.
One point to also mention is that Culture Whisk apart from our own cultures, will explore other cultures too. We started this as an exchange of our own identities, and this is what we will explore in the first season of the YouTube channel.
However, as we progress, we would like to explore other cultures. We live in a multi-cultural society in London and I feel blessed to be able to experience different cultures. We want to make Culture Whisk open to everyone and make everybody feel included and interested.
Sara: This is where the idea for Culture Whisk came from. The idea of whisking cultures together in an appreciative and informative way. From starting this project, we have discovered links between our cultures and so many other cultures. We have been discovering the roots and authenticity of so many foods. It is beautiful to gather all the cultures together, to form a story and a journey. This is what we enjoy.
What is typical Egyptian food?
Sara: Egyptian food can be split into two. There is breakfast which is an important meal for us. Breakfast consists mostly of beans, fava beans and falafel. We also eat a lot of bread which is closely attached to our culture. Then for lunch or dinner we would have stew. We stuff lots of birds as well.
Egyptian food is quite different and unique in the way it is prepared. When I cook for people and they taste Egyptian food for the first time, they always say this is new and tastes really nice, why do we not know more about Egyptian food. I can find most of the ingredients in London, as it is a melting pot of cultures and normally find the ingredients I need in a Turkish or Arabic shop.
What new things will we learn about Italian cuisine?
Stefano: From the Italian side, you would be surprised of how many things are not known about Italian cuisine. There are also a lot of bad interpretations of Italian food, especially from westernised versions of what people think Italian food is.
Italy has a lot of micro cuisines, and the beauty is that any region or city you go to, food can change radically. I would like to focus on the cultural aspects and ingredients, and there are lot of nice ingredients that you can source. I come from Apulia, in Italy and I believe there are many new things that I can introduce people to about this region and Italian food in general.
What have been the most challenging things about starting Culture Whisk?
Sara: I think for me it has been to make our videos look professional. Creating our video’s, we have had to become directors and have a vision in our heads of what our videos should look like. We both are perfectionist and we are always looking to perfect things as much as possible. Stefano speaks perfectly, but for me being on camera does not come naturally. The amount of skills that you need to be able to do everything we want is quite challenging.
Stefano: I am risking everything right now because I am not working, and I have no income. I am investing all the money I have to do Culture Whisk. We are both working on this full time now and hopefully we will be able to economically support ourselves in the future.
Starting Culture Whisk has been a big learning curve for us. Sara and I are the hosts of the You Tube channel which we edit and shoot ourselves. We have also had to learn new software and more about technology and lighting.
We both have great experience with food and cooking; however, we do not have any experience in these other areas. Therefore, we have been learning a lot of new things every day. At times it has been mentally draining, but it also has been an enjoyable experience.
Although it has been a challenge for us, we wanted to use this time we had during the lockdown in the best way we could. Sara’s husband has also been a great help to us. He has been acting as a director and given us a lot of feedback. He has also helped us with the editing and has helped us to bring our ideas to life.
We have posted a few videos and I am proud of what we have achieved so far, especially considering that we do not have any experience in this field.
What are your future plans for Culture Whisk?
Stefano: We launched our first video on the 6th July, which can be described as a teaser and we have produced a few more since then. We would like to soon produce a video that promotes and explains a little bit more about the dynamics of the channel, however it takes time to produce content and make it engaging.
Eventually, we would like to travel to different countries and experience different cultures. We are flexible with the dynamics of the YouTube channel as we have just started and are still learning a lot of things.
We will be posting weekly and may have guest speakers in the future. We would like to have more people involved to share how to make their dishes and learn about different cultures. We also have in our vision to at some stage to produce a cook-book, and we are currently writing down our own recipes.
Our goal at the moment to grow and gain more followers and subscribers and to hopefully one day be funded.
Sara: We would love to have an audience who will take the time to listen and follow us. We want to cultivate an audience who care about what we are doing and who would like to learn about the role food plays across many different cultures and identities. Hopefully, our passion for these things will come across in our videos and many people will subscribe and continue to follow us.