Beyond Club Culture part VII – Meet Nu

A self-taught chef originally from Vienna switched her diet to plant-based after experiencing high levels of stress which manifested in psoriasis all over her body. This period of self-introspection in her mid-twenties was the catalyst of her desire to show the world that being vegan can be full of “abundant flavors, colors and textures.” We have a chat about her conceptual gourmet dinners with meat-free taste experiences, Berlin’s vegan food scene to resounding success. 

The Beyond Club Culture photography series is an ongoing project by sustainable fashion brand, The Black Market. By exploring the diverse plethora of talent that lurks extrinsic to Berlin’s infamous club presence, we meet Berliners in daytime mode and chat about how they’ve honed in on their art form and the role Berlin has played during their metamorphosis.

Hi Nu, could you please tell us about what you do?
The aim of my work is to inspire a new and more sustainable way of eating. This includes many different things. As a vegan food artist, I create conceptual gourmet dinners with plant-based taste experiences. Next to being a recipe developer, I work as a food stylist and photographer. For gastronomy, I do menu planning and consulting. People can also book me as their private chef or for their retreats. I have my own catering service and give vegan gourmet cooking classes and I also sell my own products through a local producers market platform.

What influenced you to change your diet to plant-based?
I decided to become vegetarian when I was 18, so it was not the first change in my eating habits. When I was 25, I had a mental breakdown and got psoriasis all over my body due to stress. At that time I reflected a lot about our society’s life and workstyle, but especially about the way we consume as humans.

I felt the urge to make a big change in my life by taking action. Part of it was becoming vegan. At the beginning, it was like going through detox after being unhealthy for a long period of time. After a short period, I realized how much lighter I felt, so I couldn’t imagine ever going back to my old habits.

Berlin is known as the capital of veganism in Europe with approximately 80,000 vegans living in the city. The city also boasts over 50 plant-based specific restaurants. What is your favorite restaurant?
My latest discovery and current favorite restaurant is MON at Oranienplatz. I love the Cha La Lot in betel leaves and the aubergine carpaccio is so incredibly delicate and delicious. The best vegan ice cream shop can be found at DUO sicilian ice-cream. I cannot wait to get my first coconut ice cream this year. My favorite go-to places are continuously changing since I love to discover new flavors to inspire my cooking.

You offer private catering for office events, lunch, and dinner. What is the hardest thing about cooking in a new kitchen?
The hardest thing is preparing and packing everything on point before I arrive at a new kitchen. Since my cuisine is very complex and every dish consists of many ingredients, I need to be perfectly organized and structured. Often, I haven’t even seen the kitchen, equipment and tableware before I cook there, so flexibility and creativity is pretty much necessary to make the dishes look on point. Whatever happens, my mantra is: “A real skilled artist can create a masterpiece with what’s given”

What is the biggest myth about being vegan that you encounter?
The biggest myth is that you have to sacrifice anything when you choose a vegan diet. In fact, becoming vegan gave me a life full of abundance in flavors, colors and textures. I can definitely say, I have learnt so much about what mother nature provides us with, like all kinds of herbs, edible blossoms or mushrooms. Another misbelief is that vegans won’t get enough protein. Athletes are afraid of not building enough muscle when they don’t have meat or eggs. And I always say, being vegan doesn’t automatically mean that someone is eating healthy. The key in whichever diet you choose, is a balanced diet.

You were pursuing a career as a fashion designer in Vienna before moving to Berlin. What made you decide to become a chef?
During my fashion studies, I wrote about the effects of globalization on clothing and therefore the loss of traditional handcraft. Even though I was passionate about working with textiles, I was in a constant internal conflict with the environmental impact of the fashion industry. My vision was to recreate something that didn’t exploit cheap labor and our natural resources. So I dedicated my work to building up sustainable textile projects, with the aim to raise awareness. Even though I was working with “the right” values, most of the time I felt physically and mentally exhausted.

In the long run, I needed to change not only my work attitude but also my field of work. I thought about what I could do to restart again while considering having a positive impact for others as well. As complicated as the question seemed, as simple the answer was. It felt like a glimmer of hope. Every time I was burnt out, the only thing to rebuild again was to slow down and take time to cook and nourish myself. What I love the most about making food is, it is not just about nurturing someone, it is about creating a moment. The moment you enjoy it, it disappears.

Since moving to Berlin and becoming vegan ten years ago, has the vegan culinary scene in Berlin changed over the years?
Yes, the vegan food scene in Berlin definitely transformed in it’s colorfulness and vibrancy. The view on being vegan has rapidly changed over the past years, due to the spiritual and environmentalist movements. Veganism became more focused on issues of health, fitness and a conscious way of life, rather than only a radical left ideology. But of course a plant-based diet is more than ever a main topic in the political climate change debate. I remember back then, there were just a few boring vegan restaurants in town for some “weirdos”. Compared to my native country Austria, there were at least some.

So when I started to become vegan, I totally had to cook for myself. Luckily this is how I learned all my cooking skills. First I veganized my favorite dishes, since no one did or was able to do them well. When I got bored, I started to experiment and to be creative. Today the vegan heart can get everything it desires – from the best vegan ice-cream to donuts, the best burgers and it is even possible to eat at the first zero-waste restaurant in the city center. What I like so much about Berlin is the forward-thinking outlook, famous for embracing sustainable and innovative ideas. Also, our local start-up food businesses are constantly flourishing with new products. I truly love to collaborate with regional producers such as Infarm or Ministry Of Cultures for my creations.

On your profile, you mention, my biggest passion is to cook for somebody and see how much they enjoy it.” What is your favorite dish to cook for friends/ family?
To be honest, I like to approach every dish with the intention of surprising my friends and family with something new. I get easily bored by repetition and enjoy developing my skills and ideas at a pretty fast pace. Working with food is infinite, it is like using all colors and flavors to paint something on a plate. My idea of eating together is to provide a new experience of flavors everytime my friends are at the table. I actually use them as my taste testers and love receiving constructive yet honest compliments.

What are five staple/ important ingredients you must have in your kitchen at all times?

  1. Himalayan salt because it is without microplastic
  2. Smoked pepper powder to give it the hearty touch
  3. Lemon for the fresh and juicy twist
  4. Tarragon as a surprising aromatic
  5. Chili for the inner fire

Credit

Interviewed by: Lisa N’Paisan @lisa.kuro
Artist: Manuela Trinh @nu_bites
Photographer: Jennifer Derksen @jenniferderksen_
Photographer’s assistant: Syarif Wulffraat @slyshaudi
Stylist: Joan Ling-Li Nesbit-Chang @joanlingli
Production: Lisa N’Paisan @lisa.kuro
Clothing: The Black Market @theblackmarkt