At a time when the culinary is world awaiting her next move, the former head chef of Gustu is redirecting the attention toward a subject that sorely needs it.
Five years ago, Kamilla Seidler rolled up her knife bag and ventured from her home country of Denmark to a country she’d never stepped foot in. It was a challenge given to her by Noma co-founder Claus Meyer, whose vision was to open a restaurant in a part of the world where revenue could help the immediate community. He was looking for a Danish chef who understood the Nordic food movement and could appreciate the use of local products, as well as someone fluent in Latin American culture. That's how Seidler, a Danish chef, and her friend Michelangelo Cestari, who was born in Venezuela, ended up in La Paz, Bolivia. They went to open Gustu, crowned number 14 on the list of Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants.
“We ticked all the boxes,” laughs Seidler, who accepted the one-year contract before setting off into, what was then, the unknown. “We were supposed to set up a curriculum for the culinary school, which was part of the restaurant. But then it got out of hand... in a positive way. The project and the foundation grew and it became more of a fine-dining restaurant than we had intended,” she explains. A modest comment if there ever was one. Not only did Gustu become a verifiable fine-dining destination, but Seidler went on to earn the title of Latin America’s Best Female Chef in 2016.
Despite all the accolades, however, Seidler's plan was never to stay forever, and after five years of growing the restaurant and foundation, she decided to move on. “It was about finding the right moment, when the team was ready to take over and the restaurant was stabilized enough,” she says. “It took a year from making the decision to phase myself out of the project.”
“The sun is out and it finally feels like spring!” Seidler says of Copenhagen when we speak on the phone. Since moving back to Denmark in January of this year, she's started working for Food Organization of Denmark, a public-private partnership that works on a number of projects, including two large-scale culinary festivals—the Food Festival in Aarhus and the Copenhagen Cooking and Food Festival—to promote and improve Danish gastronomy.
Seidler’s role? Workshopping ways to promote women in the culinary industry in Denmark and beyond. These days, Seidler is far too socially conscious to take on any project that doesn’t involve some kind of social impact. At a time when the world awaiting her next move, she's redirecting the attention toward a subject that sorely needs it.
The Food project, which aims to improve equality in kitchens across Scandinavia, is something that is very close to Seidler’s heart. “We often hear ‘yeah we want to include women,’ but we’re simply not there yet. At the moment, the industry is very chef-focused. Few people consider the producers, and that some of the best producers are women,” she says ardently. On the heels of the ongoing #MeToo movement, and with Iceland having recently passed a groundbreaking law that demands equal pay for equal work, there has never been a more relevant time to address gender equality in the workplace.
In August this year, the Food Organization will host the Copenhagen Cooking and Food Festival—an event that will draw around 90,000 people, including a host of international chefs—as well as a symposium called Freja, an ongoing campaign to create equal opportunities for leadership and recognition for women in the hospitality industry. The symposium will host talks and workshops geared toward giving women more opportunities in the culinary world, and will also serve as a networking event for the women who attend.
“One thing women are always accused of is not being able to network enough,” Seidler says. With Freja, she hopes to give women a platform, to recommend and expose people in the industry who deserve more recognition, and to celebrate the ones that are setting a good example. “Rather than pointing fingers, we want to promote and celebrate the restaurants that are doing a good job at driving equality,” she says.
Seidler will be at the helm of planning the event and will sit on the advisory board, along with other influential women in the industry, including journalist Lisa Abend, founder of Copenhagen-based LêLê restaurant Anh Lê, and food writer Trine Hahnemann. “We have to talk about it all the time and give good examples of when it's done right,” she continues.
Seidler knows that Freja is just one step in the fight to bring more equality into Nordic kitchens, and she won't stop there. “It’s a battle we need to have. We can’t say that all male chefs are disgusting, because they’re not. But my reality is different to others. What we should all be fighting for is simply equal rights,” she says. “I hope for Nordic countries to be a model to follow. Many people look to the Nordic and Scandinavian countries for the social models that are here,” she points out. “I would love for us to become a leading star in equality in gastronomy, and be a role model for people to follow." If Seidler’s success at Gustu is any indication, we're happy she's taken the mission upon herself.