Five minutes with Bettina Campolucci Bordi
Vegan chef, Bettina Campolucci Bordi (known as Bettina’s Kitchen), had her third book, Celebrate, published by Hardie Grant in September. The book is filled with plant-based recipes for all the big occasions – birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s parties, etc – to help readers cater for all dietary requirements.
Bettina also runs a quarterly Retreat Chef Academy – a 7-day course in which she passes on her experience and expertise to aspiring chefs. We caught up with Bettina to find out about her cooking habits and the new cookbook.
What’s your very first memory of food?
My first memory of food comes from my time growing up in Tanzania, East Africa. I grew up and lived in Dar Es Salaam from the age of 0 to 11 years old in a family that loved food and cooking so all of my memories are centred around the foods we cooked ourselves. In particular, I remember the foods we cooked in the lead up to Christmas. Because of the multicultural heritage of my family, my father being Norwegian and my mother being Danish/Bulgarian, we would celebrate Scandinavian Christmas on the 24th December and Danish/Bulgarian Christmas on the 25th. I remember the house smelling a certain way and the excitement of what was to come.
What’s the first recipe you properly learned to make?
Pancakes, when I was seven. I would make them for my friends who would come for sleepovers or for my mum and dad on weekends. It’s the recipe my daughter now knows how to make as well – it’s a great one to pass down the generations.
What’s the recipe you can’t live without?
My tamari dressing from my first cook book Happy Food. It goes well on anything from salads, to noodles to stir fries.
What’s the one ingredient that you’d take to a desert island with you?
Salt! I love a good salt, it makes food tasty and enhances flavour. It even makes sweet dishes even sweeter.
What’s the food you’d miss the most whilst there?
A good sourdough. It’s the perfect vessel for anything, sweet or savoury.
You can have a one-off dinner party on your island… who would you invite?
I’d love to invite my grandmas (both have sadly passed). They were great cooks and absolutely lovely people. But how many can I invite? I’d definitely love to sit around a table with Nelson Mandela, Oprah or Maya Angelou! One thing all of these people (including my grandmas) have in common is the huge wisdom they hold. I would love to hear the life lessons they might have to offer.
Which cookbook would you take with you to the island?
Probably a survival one – perhaps The Noma Guide to Fermentation. It would work really well with my essential ingredient: salt. At least I’d survive on all the potential fermented foods I could create.
How were your plans affected by Covid-19?
A lot. My Retreat Chef Academy came to a complete halt. All my freelance Retreat cheffing jobs and my own Retreats stopped. I also think that all businesses just had to pause over a certain period of time – especially during those 3 months when no one knew what to do, what to promote and the world was just slightly discombobulated. Covid had a pretty huge impact on my business, but it’s slowing coming back and I definitely learnt a lot from lockdown. I think we all did.
Which meal did you cook the most during lockdown?
Fridge-raid curries! Just a mish-mash of whatever I had in the store cupboard with some great spices and creamy coconut milk. Always a winner in our household.
And what did you binge watch on TV?
I mean, everything. I think we got to the point where we had pretty much watched everything there was to watch.
Where’s the first place you ate once restaurants reopened?
I think it was the Casa Italia in Liverpool – my in-laws’ long-standing favourite restaurant and also an institution in Liverpool. We spent the second half of lockdown with our family up north.
What’s your favourite plant-based restaurant in London?
For brunch it would be Dark Arts Coffee. For a pub lunch, the Spread Eagle and for dinner, Fallow – which isn’t plant-based but has great plant-based options and is both seasonal and local.
What are your thoughts on vegan dairy and meat replacements?
I think it depends on how they are produced and where they come from. Personally, I am not into meat replacements at all. I prefer to create that texture and umami myself by using whole foods. But I do understand their place in the market and why people love them. As for dairy replacements, I am an avid plant milk fan, so it’s a yes from me. When it comes to cheese, I like making my own based on nuts and ageing processes – something I teach at my academy.
You’ve got a background in the catering industry. What was that like?
It was great. I worked in restaurants from an early age in Sweden which is where I spent my formative years, from 11 years old to my early twenties. I have always loved the hustle and bustle. But there is also the other side of the catering industry which involves long hours, high demand and little free time. I also had several small businesses in southern Spain before getting into the wellness industry, which then brought me to cooking on retreats.
It’s 8pm, you’ve just got home. What are you rustling up?
It would have to be a fridge-raid curry or stir-fried noodles which are always winners and both so quick to make. They’re always tasty and satisfying with lots of room to add in veggies from the fridge. I always pair them with a wicked sauce (my tamari sauce with lime, sesame oil, garlic and maple syrup works a treat).
What was the premise for your book, Celebrate?
My goal with Celebrate was first and foremost to make vegetables the hero ingredient at a celebratory meal. I want to give people the confidence to cook something that looks and tastes incredible, and a dish that everyone can enjoy regardless of food allergies and/or intolerances. Whenever a group of eight or more people meet, there will usually be someone there with a specific dietary requirement; being able to cater for everyone by making just a few showstoppers takes a lot of stress out of hosting.
What recipe do you cook the most from the book?
The leek and tahini dip is a favourite. It’s such a great way of eating leeks and the recipe really brings out the best in them.
What are you most looking forward to cooking this Christmas?
I’m excited to cook from the book’s Christmas chapter this festive season. I’m most looking forward to making the saffron bread, rice pudding and the whole Christmas table feast in particular!
Follow Bettina on Instagram for plenty of cooking inspiration.
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