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Food + Drink

Chef's Table: Happy Food with Bettina

Meet Bettina Campolucci Bordi whose mood-enhancing recipes delight all tastes.

She was born in Tanzania and relocated to Sweden aged 12, brought up by a Norwegian father and a Danish-Bulgarian mother. Travel has always been a big part of her life, having mostly recently called Spain her home and now based in London. She runs Bettina’s Kitchen, a business that incorporates her blog, recipes, retreats, and workshops.

Bettina’s personal health journey has been a bit part of her journey towards healthy and happy food. She has recently launched her first recipe book, Happy Food, which encourages inventive plant-based cooking that can easily be incorporated into busy schedules. With a background in the health travel industry, Bettina pioneers food that is meat free, refined sugar free and gluten free. She believes that food is meant to make us happy, and having tasted a selection of recipes from the book, including the magnificently decadent gluten free and dairy free Sticky Toffee Pudding, I can vouch that it will make you feel great!

You had a very multicultural past, having lived and worked in Tanzania, Sweden, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria. Which is the one county or culture that you feel has had the biggest influence on your cooking?

I think that I carry a part of each country that I am from, have lived in or worked in. I tend to get very inspired by my surroundings on a “here and now” basis. It’s impossible to choose just one. I am also very lucky to come from a family of very good home cooks each amazing at their own thing.

Where else in the world would you like your culinary journey to take you?

I would like to visit Japan and more of Asia and also I have yet to discover parts of South America. I love travelling so anywhere I haven’t been!

What advice would you give for eating healthily whilst travelling?

It totally depends on where in the world you are. But I would say the usual suspects are: drink lots of water and hydrate. You can never go wrong when eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. But also, you’re on holiday! So don’t stress. A big part of a holiday or travel experience is trying out new foods. Enjoy that journey of discovery. 

What made you adopt a vegan diet?

I am not vegan. Actually I carry no label at all. Most of what I eat on a personal level is plant-based and gluten-free. The latter because of a severe intolerance. However professionally and what I specialise in as a chef is “vegan cuisine” and also free-from cooking (the most common allergens).

What misconceptions do people have about following a plant-based diet?

That the food is boring, unsatisfying, expensive and time-consuming. I would argue against all of those points.

If you were to cook for someone who hasn’t eaten a vegan meal before, what would you prepare?

When I cook for clients at retreats I call the first meal “A hug”. It’s the “everything is going to be ok” meal. I usually cook a comforting pasta because it is an ingredient so many of us recognise and feel safe with. And I always end with a dessert such as a chocolate mousse – again something that most people love. 

You’ve just published your first cookbook ‘Happy Food’ – how would you describe it and what inspired you to write it?

It’s a collection of recipes that I have cooked professionally over the years at retreats for clients or taught at workshops. It’s easy, accessible, vegan food that is also comforting. I have taken into account subjects that are relevant today such as the waste not aspect, creating recipes for 1 or 2 person households, and I’ve made sure to use ingredients that are basic and can be found in most supermarkets and countries nowadays.

Given the title of the book, do you think that food can affect our moods?

Yes! I think that food and mood go hand in hand! Cooking/feeding/eating are such emotional actions. We all know whether we feel great or not so good after a meal, don’t we? Cooking a meal for yourself or a big family feast is an emotional affair. A lot of care goes into sourcing your produce, deciding what to cook and the act itself. The effort, love and time that goes into cooking a meal is all emotional. I think somewhere along the line we sometimes forget that a meal is a gift to oneself. Every single part of that meal goes into our body to feed our cells and nourish us. As cheesy as it may sound I also think we feast with our eyes. It’s the first sense that gets hit! So in a way it is important that we make food look attractive, appetising and even a hint of excitement! (I am well aware that we don’t always have the time to do this) BUT I don’t know about you but when I am served a beautiful plate of food it genuinely makes me happy!!

What philosophy or values guide your approach to cooking?

Simplify: use simple, good quality ingredients. Buy as much local and seasonal produce as possible: it tastes better and you support your local community. Being able to rustle up a meal, quickly and without fuss: time is something we have less and less of so this is important.

You’re a busy working mum – what is your best timesaving advice when it comes to cooking? 

Set aside some time on a weekend and plan your meals ahead. Batch cook and freeze. Be ok with cooking recipes more than once and taking that perfect mum pressure off that everything has to be special. The fact that your child eats a home cooked meal is a gift in itself! Trust me I know.

What has changed in the vegan culinary scene since you started?

The judgement of it. When I started out not many of my friends and family knew what I was doing. It’s definitely so much more mainstream now and “the in thing to do”. It makes a massive difference! Exciting times ahead!

What are some of the must-have staples that every vegan should have in their kitchen?

Pasta, good flours, jarred pulses for quick fixes, good selection of spices, good quality grains and nuts. Pantry basics I guess and of course lots of veggies and fruits.

Who are the chefs that you’re most excited about at the moment?

I am very excited about Sara Popova, Timothy Pakron, Nina Olson and many more!

What are your favourite restaurants in London?

At the moment I love Dishoom and Carousel but my mind keeps changing all the time.

If you could have dinner with any three people in the world (past or present), who would you invite and why?

Ohhh….. From my past, I would invite my grandmother – I would love to cook for her again. I used to when I was little but she would be so proud. She came from a foodie background and food was always such a pivotal point in my life growing up.

Jeong Kwan from chefs table, the temple food chef. I have been fascinated by Korean culture ever since I met my best friend Soljee at university. I have visited several times and am in love with the flow and heart of the country. Jong Kwan represents that perfectly in her food and manners.

Last but not least someone iconic like Jamie Oliver. He is so “now” and just gets what’s going on in today’s society. He is a food hero and has done so much for the food world by creating incredible changes. I don’t think many realise how much he has contributed. Its an amazing example of utilising your position to do good. 

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