29 May 2015 Kamilla Seidler: “Those who had ‘the guts’ to believe in Gustu now reap the rewards”
The young Danish chef, whom Claus Meyer entrusted, along with his colleague Michelangelo Cestari, to open a cooking school and a restaurant in La Paz, explains the project around Melting Pot Bolivia and its socio-economic and emotional impact on the Bolivian population. Today, Gustu, opened in April 2013, is positioned at number 32 on the ’50 Best’ in Latin America list.
Still in her early thirties, she received three years ago the task of building a gastronomic dream far away from Copenhagen, her hometown. Kamilla Seidler (Copenhagen, Denmark, 1983) traveled with Michelangelo Cestari (Caracas, Venezuela, 1984) to La Paz, to start Melting Pot Bolivia, a project initiated by Claus Meyer to boost the social development and economic growth of the Latin American country through gastronomy. It was this Danish gastronomic entrepreneur (you can read more about Claus Meyer here), René Redzepi partner in Noma (number one in the world) and architect of the New Nordic Cuisine movement, who convinced Cestari and Seidler to go to Bolivia to launch a new culinary bet deferential to the social ingredient.
This young duo of chefs, who met working at Mugaritz (where Seidler learned to speak Spanish), promotes Melting Pot Bolivia, through a dual route: The launch of a cooking school and the opening of Gustu. This restaurant, opened in April of 2013 in La Paz, ranked 32 in the ‘50 Best’ ranking 50 best gastronomic areas of Latin America. As a foundation, runs a philosophy: the use of the Bolivian pantry, with their products and identified producers, and inspiration from the local cookbook to develop a gastronomic offer of contemporary style. And, in addition, there is a clear objective: to get Bolivians to be proud of their cuisine and, therefore, of their country, with the socio-economic impact that this bet may implicate.The consequence of this approach is the development of a Bolivian Gastronomic Movement, baptized as such, and as assumed by the project´s website.
Kamilla Seidler visited Spain in early March to participate in Parabere Forum, celebrated in Bilbao, where she, like other women linked to gastronomy, told her story. «When, a few years ago, I was asked ‘why cooking‘, I wasn’t sure what the reason was. Later, yes; I think that part of grandmother’s ‘pancakes’ or the memory of preparing Christmas dinner with her, of that patience, emotion and memory about cooking», explains Seidler, in an interview with Gastroeconomy, carried out in her visit to Bilbao.
In any case, from that familiar memory to her decision to devote herself to cooking, there is something of coincidence or circumstantiality. “I graduated from high school, I didn’t know what to do, I was going to study Law, but I realized that I had to devote myself to something more creative so I opened, with my ‘mom’, a decoration shop”, she tells. “But, one day, I opened the newspaper and saw an ad for the public school of hospitality of Denmark (Hotel and Restaurantskolen København), that announced courses for that year. I called my mother and said to her: ‘ You know what? I am going to become a cook; I think we have to close the shop’. I began and did my basic studies”, she adds.
With her newly finished studies, she met Paco Morales at a chef contest (he was participating and she was a chef’s assistant). At that time, Paco was working at Mugaritz (in Rentería, Guipúzcoa). «I told him that I’d like to do an internship there and Paco told me to send an email to Martxel Arozena [who today works at the Basque Culinary Center]. A couple of months later, I was sitting on a plane to San Sebastian. My first kitchen was Mugaritz«, she recalls. It was 2005, and in Andoni Luis Aduriz’s space, the cook worked nine months.
Following stops on her résumé? First, in Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, led by Raymond Blanc, in the county of Oxfordshire (United Kingdom); and, later, in Copenhagen, in Paustian, then with Bo Bech at the head (today, it is headed under the chef Jacob Holst Hansen) and where Keidler remained one year as a cook. After one year in a French restaurant in the outskirts of Copenhagen, the chef worked again with Bo Bech, who was opening Geist in the Danish capital (less than five years ago). “I stayed there two years and ended up being head chef, before leaving to Bolivia”.
Arrival to La Paz
From Copenhagen to Bolivia? «Claus Meyer was in search of a Latin American chef with experience in Europe and, as Copenhagen is small and everyone knows each other, he thought of Michelangelo Cestari [he is Venezuelan and had lived the last ten years in Europe]. We knew each other from Mugaritz. One day, he told me that a woman would not stop leaving him messages in Danish on his answering machine and told me to listen to them; I told him that it was Claus Meyer’s assistant and that he had to call him. They met and needed two people for the project of Bolivia. Michelangelo said that I was the other person. We met with Claus; he tells us, we like it, we reached an agreement and, a couple of months later, we were going to La Paz«.
Keidler and Cestari arrived in October 2012 to the capital of Bolivia, where Melting Pot was getting started. Melting Pot, an initiative driven by Claus Meyer (pictured below) as a Trust with the idea of «educating young people in gastronomy and social models»; and an argument: «We believe that it is possible to change the world through food«, the core idea of this Danish gastroentrepreneur’s belief.
What is Melting Pot Bolivia
«Gustu is the result of the dream of a group of visionaries who believe that it is possible to change the world through food and who are working arduously to inspire a whole new generation dedicated to gastronomy, the culinary arts and productive food activities so as to discover the true potential of the Bolivian gastronomic culture becoming an engine for the national socio-economic progress», they announce from Melting Pot Bolivia.
The project, which started with 7 people and today sums 79 employees, includes a culinary school and the restaurant Gustu (quechua word that means ‘flavor’ ), opened in April of 2013 as «a high cuisine restaurant that applies the philosophy kilometer zero, that is to say, that exclusively uses Bolivian products basing their work on the premise that the natural variety, cultural and geographical Bolivia offers a universe of infinite possibilities, which should be used and disseminated for the benefit of the Bolivian people, giving them the necessary tools to improve their living conditions, their families and their communities».
Seidler arrived in La Paz, which added another challenge, apart from the challenge she shared with Cestari. «I had never been to Latin America. I’m Danish, not Bolivian. For me, having to adapt to that culture was key. It was shocking to reach La Paz, a mountain that is radically different from Copenhagen, which is flatter than my hair. Everything was very strange, but I’ve always liked travelling and living abroad, so in the end, it was manageable. Besides, I had not made the decision to go without thinking about it; it was something very meditated,» acknowledges the chef, who speaks perfect Spanish. «Thanks to having been at Mugaritz and having worked with Michelangelo».
As the headquarters, the Gustu School offers «free training, very complete that covers all areas related to gastronomy, by applying a teaching-learning model one hundred per cent practical, with regular courses of 18 months duration and quotas to train national and international interns (apprentices) in different areas”.
The idea is that students trained in the school go nourishing the restaurant and the new Manq’a cooking schools, in El Alto (in addition to the initial/the beginning Santa Isabel, Santa Rosa, Primero de Marzo and Franz Tamayo), whose creation in Bolivia is planned in the context of the Trust Melting Pot Bolivia. «All work in the restaurant. The idea is that when you have more experience, they will be teachers in the Manq’a schools», says Keidler. In total, there will be 14 schools.
Meanwhile, Gustu works as a restaurant that diverges from the gastronomic culture of the country and its pantry. «Bolivia has an incredible biodiversity due to its different climates, where immense areas, almost depopulated, coexist with developed cities, while ancient customs and traditions remain alive. That was the starting point», says Kamilla Keidler. «When we arrived, the idea was to do a little bit of Peru, a little bit of Ecuador, a little bit of everything; and we decided that it was not necessary and that we could focus on Bolivia and its immense pantry to remain with it and make a local movement, without it becoming nationalist, and defend that each product comes with a name and from an identified producer, that is, to label each product to know its origin and make sure that the producer is paid fairly». This way, governs «the exclusive use of products planted, grown, born, bred, transformed or processed by Bolivian hands in Bolivian territory; under a program with producers, with the idea of ensuring that economic business derived from local produce stays in Bolivia, stays in the country».
The restaurant operates with a menu of native products, which gives rise to“dishes with everything I’ve been taught in the different restaurants where I’ve worked, but with the inspiration of the products and traditions of Bolivia. We do not cook typical Bolivian food, but we cook with its traditions”.
Gustu works with a menu (consisting of 7 starters, 7 ‘bases’ or main courses and 7 desserts); another of Snacking (with dishes, with an average price each of 20 to 30 bolivianos, 2.5 to 3.7 euro); and 4 menus: ‘5 Tastings’, for 375 bolivianos (about 46 euro); ‘5 Vegetarian’, at a price of 330 bolivianos (41 euros); ‘7 Tastings’, for 490 bolivianos (60.5 euros); or ‘Menu Bolivia’, for 825 bolivianos (102 euros). These menus can be accompanied by wine pairing and spirits, with prices from 120 to 215 bolivianos (about 15 to 26 euros); or without alcohol, from 75 to 140 bolivianos (from 9 to 17 euros).
This gastronomic space is based on «different menus, where each dish is part of an amazing experience aimed to highlight with simplicity and elegance, the qualities of each product. Their chefs have developed an innovative culinary style to offer the visitor traditional products whose innovative combination surprise Bolivians and visitors from other countries with food that is as tasty as it is vibrant and colorful in a perfect combination of textures and incredible appearance», they indicate from the restaurant.
On the side of the beverage offering, Gustu «has made a commitment to give visibility to Bolivian producers of wines, singanis, beers, spirits and quality spirits»; with a wine cellar of 112 references from 25 producers from 4 areas of production; and 20 brands of beers from 8 micro-breweries, bottles of singani from over 30 distilleries and different types of liquors, aguardientes and distillates 100 per cent bolivian..
Distribution of functions
In the day-to-day at Gustu, there is a balance of responsibilities in this Danish-Venezuelan duo. «With my colleague Michelangelo Cestari, we divvy the functions. He says that he is not creative, he is not interested in the cooking and prefers to dedicate himself to management; I don’t know anything about business and I am not interested in creating Excel spreadsheets, but rather the cooking. Each ‘grabbed’ a function and it worked out super well; each one respects the other’s branch and we consult each other», she argues. «Michelangelo is getting his Master’s Degree in Business and asks me things, as I do as well regarding food. This is how we support each other».
This cook, of one hundred per cent Nordic aspect, speaks with latina calm and transmits a positive attitude. «La Paz turned out to be incredible. Bolivia is a beautiful country and has a lot to offer; now, it is already a country that is growing like crazy and has a huge potential also in regards to tourism», she explains. «We are making people react. For example, we are not paying advertising, because, with that money, we can hire a guy for the school. But, when we received media coverage and managed to have the bolivian beging to understand our story, it was an incredible moment. It was key to have the people understand that we were not here to disturb, but for them. We saw a big change. Initially, the thought was ‘ this blonde is going to show me how to do my own cooking, who does she thinks she is ?’. It was completely normal that they think something like that, but, Gustu has now become a project with Bolivian heart defended by Bolivians. That has been the most important thing for us, to transmit what were going to do in Bolivia».
Today, Gustu is ranked 32 on the Latin American version of the ’50 Best’ list, according to the edition published in September 2014, that is to say, when the La Paz restaurant barely had a year and a half of life. There have been more awards: Best of South America in the Premios Cono Sur, which, in addition, elected Kamilla Seidler as the Best Chef in the region.
«For Claus, Melting Pot Bolivia is a donation to the Bolivian population; if you want to use it, fine; if not, no problem. We are here to do something positive and something social. This is his thought. If, then, comes the international press and awards, even better, because we are in La Paz, where nothing is easy. This helped us a lot, but also the national pride of the guys that ‘grow a meter’ every time there is a recognition. They tell me: ‘Oh chef, I didn’t know that we could win these things and achieve this’. I tell them that they obviously could, that everything that they want they can achieve; they just need to apply themselves. This is the message».
Along the way, there has been faith in the project, and in addition to doubts, people who believed and others who did not trust. «Obviously, it’s been a lot of work. There are people who didn’t believe in the project and many guys who quit because they thought it was just a scholarship to graduate and get an easy job. But it is hard, they are working, with their tasks to meet and for their job. “Those who had ‘the guts’ to believe in Gustu now reap the rewards”, she declares. «Melting Pot Bolivia has returned the pride to Bolivians around their cuisine and their country,» she adds.
Gustu. Calacoto. Calle 10 Nº 300 (casi Costanera). La Paz. | Phone 591 (2) 2117491
‘A la carte’ & 4 Tasting menus:
‘5 Courses’: 375 bolivianos (unos 46 euros)
‘5 Vegetarian menu’: 330 bolivianos (41 euros)
‘7 Courses’: 490 bolivianos (60,5 euros)
‘Menu Bolivia’: 825 bolivianos (102 euros)
Drink pairing: Wine pairing, de 120 a 215 bolivianos (de unos 15 a 26 euros); o No alcoholic pairing, de 75 a 140 bolivianos (de 9 a 17 euros)
Cierra domingo y lunes
Photographs by: Gustu & Manuel Diaz de Eada. (Parabere Forum).