Lonely Planet talks to… sustainable chef Kamilla Seidler

Destinations

From humble beginnings, Denmark-born Kamilla Seidler has rocketed to the elite ranks of the food world, landing the role of head chef at renowned La Paz restaurant Gustu – where her skills earned her the title of Latin America’s Best Female Chef in 2016 – and championing gender equality in the industry as co-initiator of the Freja Symposium.

Lonely Planet caught up with Kamilla ahead of her appearance at SXSW to talk about her travels, burgeoning foodie destinations and the impact robots will have on our future eating habits.

Kamilla Seidler was named Latin America’s Best Female Chef in 2016 © Luis Fernández

Looking at what you’ve done in your career you seem to be driven to explore the places food comes from all over the world. Not every chef does that. Why do you?

From when I was a kid I have always been very curious. I never liked coming home from summer holidays as a child and would cry when it was time for them to end! Gastronomy is a business where you never stop learning. And I learn something new about food in every place that I go.

The Kamilla Seidler Expedition (a four-month gastronomical world tour) took you to some pretty amazing places. What was the stand-out place?

No two journeys are the same. The ones that made the biggest impact are the ones furthest from my own culture. However, the differences between the places visited (the expedition included cooking in destinations as varied as Pakistan, Austria, the Philippines and Spain) makes them impossible to compare. The differences in experiences explain why – while being careful with your CO2 footprint – that you should travel as much as you possibly can.

Denmark, Bolivia.. What’s a new hotspot for foodies to think about travelling to?

Georgian cuisine is really exciting right now, but there are a lot of other places popping up that weren’t really on the map before. Odessa is an exciting food city. There’s a lot going on in Slovenia, and Eastern Europe as a region is putting out incredible cuisine. Generally we’re going to see more plant-based cooking, from bistro right through to take away, and this is driving some real creative gastronomy.

Landscape of Coron, Busuanga island, Palawan province, Philippines Kamilla’s four-month gastronomical tour took her to a variety of culinary destinations, including the Philippines © Sean Hsu / Shutterstock

Looking into the future, how do you think technology is going to change how we eat?

The future of food is going to be you waking up in the morning and saying ‘Siri, I’m hungry’ and Siri saying ‘I know’ and telling you what you should be eating based on your nutritional needs. It sounds crazy but it’s not that far off!

What have you learnt through cooking with waste ingredients?

I’m really surprised by how people are using more and more vegan and plant-based options. I find it makes you more creative if you don’t have much to work with. In more abundant food cultures it is harder to be creative. There’s incredible innovation in less-developed economies. The creativity around the use of manioc (cassava) in Brazil, for example, sees it prepared in hundreds of ways. The Indian and Pakistani use of vegetarian ingredients is mind-blowing.

You’ve spoken about ‘nudging’ people in the right direction when it comes to sustainable practice. Is this how some of the changes you’re arguing for around food waste and development goals can be met?

Both coaxing people along and being more black and white have merit and it’s important to know when to use each one. Small nudges or small changes to behaviour is a good way of getting people on board rather than lecturing them. If we manage to explain and show by example, with little steps at a time, the impact is easier to achieve. Then again, this is serious stuff and you can’t be so gentle that you reduce the seriousness of the issue.

A selection of vegetable curries at an Indian takeaway in a London market The creative use of vegetables in Indian and Pakistani cuisine blew Kamilla’s mind © Alex Hubenov / Shutterstock

Who else do you think is doing great things on the global food scene in terms of sustainability?

I’m part of a network called Chefs’ Manifesto, which is a collaboration of chefs worldwide sharing best practices. I’m thoughtful about how I can use what I’ve learnt in places like Bolivia to help colleagues in other places around the world.

Chefs’ Manifesto also gets chefs more involved in the conversation about sustainable food futures which is important because chefs are the ones who want and need raw ingredients and pass them on to other people. In the past chefs have been on the outside of this conversation. More and more chefs want to get involved and do something which is really positive, and this group is a way to make that happen.

Alongside the discussion about sustainable practice you’re doing some cooking at SXSW. Can you tell us a bit about it?

We’re going to be making a tasting menu based around products usually found in the Nordic region. However, as they’re not going to be available, we’ll have to get creative and rely on locally sourced ingredients! It’s going to reflect the philosophy behind how we prepare and present the food rather than having to fly ingredients in.

Kamilla Seidler will be appearing alongside Tom Hall from Lonely Planet at Copenhagen: A moveable feast, held at the House of Scandinavia in Austin, Texas on Monday 12 March at 11.30am to discuss her perspective on the nordic sustainable food scene.

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