What Makes a Food Artist

A conversation with Tainá Guedes from the Food Art Week, Berlin
Culinary World Jun 29, 2020 Giovanni Giorgi
Taina guedes

We talked to food artist Tainá Guedes to understand what is food art and how it can inspire restaurants to make positive change.

Brazilian-born Berlin-based food artist, activist & former chef de cuisine Tainá Guedes is the creative director & mind behind the Food Art Week. Global platform & movement striving for sustainability, FAW 2020 will talk about the theme of seeds.

“Let’s cook our future together!”

Taina guedes

Photo via Food Art Week

What were your first steps to becoming a food artist?

When my father died, I started working at his studio to support my mom. He was an artist, that’s why I grew up surrounded by artists. I also worked for the São Paulo University radio station. It was my first job outside of my home, at only 13 years old. As for my career around food: at 19 years old I was involved in the opening of a Japanese restaurant in São Paulo.

And I’m half-Japanese, so that was the only Japanese part of the restaurant staff. My task there was to translate Japanese culture for non-Japanese people. São Paulo was a big gastronomic city at that time. We needed to always come up with new ideas to keep the restaurant open, so I started creating concepts for food-art exhibitions in the restaurant.

Could you tell us a bit more about your menu concepts?

The menu concept that I proposed to our chef at the time was about Japanese vegetarian dishes made with unconventional ingredients. For example, I wanted to include olive oil in our recipes. But it always was so hard to get validation for my ideas from the chef. He was a traditional Japanese cook who bounced many of my ideas. So I decided to train as a chef de cuisine.

And what happened next?

After my culinary training, I had a sort of revelation. I realized that my life was not aligned with what I really wanted to bring to this world. I left everything and decided to travel to Japan to explore the Shojin Ryori cuisine. It’s an ancient, yet modern culinary tradition.

The philosophy behind this cuisine made me realize that the answers to the global environmental crisis have already been written ages and ages ago… all those patterns (local & seasonal food, regenerative farming practices…) that we point out today as possible solutions were already part of this Japanese tradition.

This philosophy also helped me a lot throughout my life and career. For example, the idea of reusing, reducing, recycling (from the Buddhist word “Mottainai”) was the main concept of my second book Die Küche der Achtsamkeit. After this experience, I started thinking about how to apply these teachings to impact change, and in 2015 I launched the Food Art Week in Berlin.

How do you define food art?

There is no straight answer to this question. It’s like saying “how do you define culture?”. There can be different manifestations when you think about culture: a theater, a dance, a performance, a dialogue. The same applies to food art. It opens a lot of possibilities and raises many questions.

Can you explain a bit more about "Let’s Cook Our Future Together!", your motto at the Food Art Week?

When I first came to Berlin, the public was not familiar with the existence of the idea of food art. Sure, many chefs would consider their dishes as art. But an art curator can easily see a menu dish as simple food, for example.

Let’s cook our future together!” reflects my way as a food artist of elevating food into art. It reflects different ethical values, before thinking about the coolest way to plate food. We all grew up hearing about how our planet is damaged and still today many people would think: “what can I do to change things?…Nothing”. So they do nothing. Instead, the FAW is a space where people know that they have to get together to impact change in the food system.

What would be your advice to chefs to make art through their restaurant business?

Chefs must be aware that they are one of the main bridges between the food industry and the public. They have an important job in food translating culture and reality through food. However, my main advice to chefs & restaurant owners would be to not forget about human values. And this starts with providing all employees (especially those in the back-kitchen) with adequate income and good working conditions.

What is the Food Art Week focusing on in 2020?

I’m currently working on a collaboration with Uli Westphal, a researcher on the topic of seeds, the theme of FAW 2020. Really, he is the guy to work with! We’re going to present an educational food art installation on the topic of biodiversity.

The FAW will also present some works about bees, the pollinators of our crops. I am doing research on organic food and the issue of organically-grown food from non-organic seeds (on the 21st of August, I will host a seminar on this topic). Last but not least, we are going to screen movies about seeds at the Federation Square in Melbourne, one of the most renowned locations for video-art screening.

The Food Art Week 2020 is presented by the Stabsstelle Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung (the Governmental Department for Education for Sustainable Development) and is supported by several artists and partnerships promoting sustainability.

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