From Denmark to Tanzania, Bettina Campolucci Bordi has a wealth of inspiration when it comes to her food. She is known best known for her focus on seasonal, local and plant-based recipes she shares as Bettina’s Kitchen. We explore where her love for vegan food came from and the founding principles for her Chef Academy and worldwide retreats.
After working in the food industry for 10 years, Bettina found her love in mindful retreats and the healing power of food. Bettina always utilities local and seasonal produce regardless if she is cooking in London for her friends and family or abroad at one of her retreats.
Bettina lives by the motto that: we should all eat seasonally, locally and from farm to table as much as we can; we should support small businesses within our communities and those around us; we should use roots, shoots and all.
Cooking waste-free is particularly important to her, and she lets the vegetables do the talking – the best plant food is fuss-free, simple, easy, inexpensive and speaks for itself. Her love for this led to her founding her wildly successful blog, Bettina’s Kitchen, and writing her first book, Happy Food and her second The 7 Day Vegan Challenge, which launched on the 26th December 2019.
Tell us a bit about your journey to Veganism – was there a turning point for you?
My background is in hotel management within the food and beverage sector, so, when I was offered a partnership in running wellbeing retreats 8 years ago, I jumped at the opportunity and wanted to cook on the retreats. Being super inspired and obsessed with food from a young age it was the perfect fit. I specialised in plant-based and gluten-free dishes and the rest is history! It really was one of those AHA moments, when I realised this is exactly what I was supposed to be doing.
I like to see it more as a journey towards discovering plant-based dishes, cooking techniques and flavour combinations and continuing my passion for what I do. I don’t like to put labels on things and prefer to view my journey as to how I discovered the love for everything I do now on Bettina’s Kitchen; which includes my passion for seasonality, fresh foods, supporting local and organic farmers and creating a colour palette on people’s plates using amazing and delicious produce.
As a successful retreat chef, what are the responses to your plant-based catering?
I think first and foremost it’s always been the misconception that plant-based foods are boring or tasteless – I beg to differ!! And I have made it my mission to bring colourful, interesting and delicious plates of food to the masses – making the veg the hero ingredient and letting it shine. It’s amazing being in a new location, you get to discover unusual seasonal and local ingredients and introduce them to a new audience. The first thing I do is suss out the local markets and ask local chefs where they get their produce from and start to build my dishes around that.
Do you have a funny story you can share about cooking vegan in remote locations?
They are all so different… in some countries, I have to have a translator because none of my team speaks English. In many countries, there are just lots of hand gestures and sometimes funny mistakes as to what vegetables are what, or what to do with them. The ordering process can also be very amusing when I show up at a venue and see what has arrived in my pantry. A kilo of beetroot as in a whole kilo rather than smaller batches and aubergines the size of rockets!
Have you found attitudes towards Veganism change depending on the country you are cooking in? How so? What countries/places have surprised you?
I think it’s generally much more common now than when I started out 8 years ago. The magic really happens when I use local produce and show the team what can be done. Some countries have such amazing ingredients that they are only using in one way as they have for generations. So, when you can demonstrate what is possible and show the locals something new with assets they already have its magic! That’s where my love for food really comes into place – I can leave something behind and equally learn lots from my local teams to take with me! I was in Costa Rica recently with Reclaim Yourself and learnt loads about cornflour and plantains that I’ll continue developing, adjusting and tweaking back in the UK.
As part of my Retreat Chef Academy, I see people’s eye really opening up to the array of plant-based foods; there is a real need for well-trained retreat chefs and an eager curiosity when it comes to gaining knowledge about plant foods.
The processes and techniques I teach come from my food background and growing up in East Africa, Tanzania and Sweden where sourcing was important, and both my Grandmothers were huge advocates of preservation and slow cooking. Traits that we have now forgotten but that I can see are slowly coming back into fashion and if we don’t preserve our food traditions, we will drown in the fast-paced life we have created ourselves. If food culture/systems disappear then so will our social structure/culture and community – food is so much more than just food – it’s linked to everything and I am so grateful to be able to educate and inspire a new generation of foodies through Bettina’s Kitchen.
Tell us about your latest cookbook! We are big Happy Food fans – what can we expect from your latest creation?
Vegetables always take centre stage in a fuss-free and easy-going approach in all my meals on Bettina’s Kitchen and so it was only right that they were the main focus of my second book “The 7-day Vegan Challenge” which launched on December 26th 2019 (Hardie Grant). It’s a book that will hopefully inspire lots of people to give eating veggies for a full week, full month or even longer ago! It has simple to use menu planners and easy to go recipes for anyone and for all tastes.
How do you see your book impacting the way we eat and shop?
It’s a mixture really, I want to show people how to use simple ingredients easily to help hero vegetables and utilising local producers and seasonal veggie boxes as well as focussing on how we, as a nation, can produce less waste by planning more. The book has a huge focus on bulk cooking, storing and saving but still allowing you to cook from scratch so you don’t lose out on the magic that happens from home-cooking and the wonderful nutrients that come from our food – but without having to throw loads away.
My favourite recipes from the book have to be: Hedgehog veggies – a simple but life-changing technique for getting the maximum flavour and texture in your dishes; Foux Tuna Melt – you wouldn’t even be able to tell its not the real thing; and the Pea Soup – a delicious, vibrant bowl of goodness.
What books or people have inspired you and your food?
There are so many people and their respective books that have shaped the person I am today, but equally, so many different countries and cultures have too, including the travel I did as a child and my family. Everything I do, read, taste and experience inspire me and my food and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Where do you see Vegan food and Vegan lifestyle going this year?
It can only keep growing! Personally, I also think it’s important to not label too much, I prefer to let people make their own decisions when it comes to their diet choices. Whilst I will always encourage people to eat more veggies and incorporate plant-based meals into their week, I like to have a flexible approach so that nobody feels discouraged for not following the rules 100% of the time. s long as you’re making a conscious effort and being mindful of where your food comes from, that’s all that matters!
We need to think rather than adding more to our lives and food systems we need to simply simplify.
Buy less, waste less, purchase seasonally and support locally. Eat better ingredients, better quality and less quantity.
If we look at our consumption as a whole and are able to peel off a few layers then I think we have hope on having a better future.