Amongst the many things that have been impacted by COVID-19, the plant-based industry seems to be coming out on the winning side. The United Nations estimated a drop in the production of meat in 2019 and the European Commission is now also predicting a fall in meat consumption in 2020 due to declines in consumer demand brought on by the pandemic. Whilst non-meat eaters are often stereotyped as hippie millennials who eat seitan “chicken” wings or salads three times a day, today’s plant-based landscape is booming with restaurants, products, and leading thought leaders who want to do away with meat substitutes that sacrifice on flavour.
“A plant-based diet does not have to be complicated,” explains chef and cookbook author Bettina Campolucci Bordi. “Simply start off with grains, pulses and basic veggies and so much can be achieved. When you have great, seasonal ingredients, you don’t need to overcomplicate things.” We speak about how, especially in lockdown, many people are getting experimental in the kitchen and that includes finding creative ways to incorporate more vegetables into their diets. “It’s one of the reasons I wrote the 7 Day Vegan Challenge, the book shows that cooking plant-based from scratch is easy and delicious,” she shares. The Sybarite speaks to Campolucci Bordi about her multi-cultural upbringing and her tips for amateur plant-based cooks.
You have quite a diverse background. How many languages do you speak and are you learning any new ones?
I speak five languages, which is super useful. I learned them early on when I was growing up—I don’t think I could learn them all now! I lived in Spain for many years but my Spanish is still quite rusty, I should really brush up on that one. I’d love to learn French or Italian but time is tight with me organising my retreats, running events, writing recipes, etc.
What are some of your favourite things about your father’s Scandinavian culture and your mother’s Bulgarian side?
I think both sides have great food cultures. I love the foraging aspect of Scandinavian food culture and it’s something we all grow up with over there. It’s brilliant how most people are so clued up on mushroom and berry picking. On the Bulgarian side, it’s the summers that really excite me—the produce is so fantastic and they have the best tomatoes to make into a shopska salad. Food is an essential part of socialising in Bulgaria, like most countries, and both my grandmothers on that side of the family were excellent cooks and taught me how to make this delicious cold salad.
Though you’ve lived in a number of countries around the world, if I told you had to pack up tonight and move again, where would you head?
I’ve been really lucky to live all over the place but I love London and wouldn’t move. It’s exactly where I want to be.
Many people see plant-based cooking as being difficult due to not being able to find the right ingredients. Where are your favourite places to shop for food?
I am big into supporting local and eating seasonally so for me that starts with farmers markets and supplier apps such as Natoora and Food Chain which deliver the best seasonal produce. I also buy in bulk to reduce the price and packaging of ingredients like nuts and seeds.
With your retreats, cookbooks, and cooking classes it’s clear that you love to teach and educate others. Why is sharing your passion with others so important to you?
I think that community spirit is everything. There is space for everyone in this “food space”, so sharing recipes and knowledge is an integral part of our culture. Recipes used to be passed on through generations and around fires, amongst friends and family, and whilst that is seen less often these days, we can share through other means. Also, food has no language barrier. The amount of times I have been able to establish friendships and/or connections via food without even having to speak is amazing!
Many have struggled with their physical and mental health during the lockdown periods. Any particular self-care tips you can share?
I think there is so much advice out there. We have been inundated with rituals of yoga, meditation, teas, tinctures, banana breads and more. Sometimes I feel less is more—scale back and do what makes you feel good, and if you are working from home, make sure you spend some time outdoors and it makes a huge difference.
Tell me a bit about your latest book 7 Day Vegan Challenge
It’s a book filled with easy go-to recipes with widely-accessible ingredients that can be found anywhere. With menu planners, shopping lists, and well-balanced dishes, it’s designed to give ideas on how to incorporate more veggies into your life.
For an amateur plant-based chef, is there a recipe you’d recommend for a dinner party with friends?
Swedish non-meatballs with carrot mash, gravy and nan’s quick pickle, a recipe from my first book Happy Food. It’s crowd-pleasing comfort food.
What is one food trend that you wish would just go away?
Seitan, I call it Satan….
If we didn’t have any lockdown restrictions, where would we find you enjoying a good meal out in London?
I still try and go out as much as I can and try different places on a weekly basis to support the industry. My hubby and I go on lunch dates. We save on childcare and enjoy a long lunch and then pick up our daughter from school in the afternoon.