Luciana Bianchi is an Italian-Brazilian journalist, book author and trained chef with a background in Molecular Science. A frequent traveller, polyglot, and food researcher with more than 20 years experience in the field, she has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants, cooked for celebrities, interviewed highly acclaimed international chefs, and published work in 15 countries. According to those in the industry, Luciana Bianchi is one of the most influential people working in gastronomy, forming opinion and discovering new talent around the world.
You have an incredibly extensive amount of experience in cooking and food writing; what brought you into gastronomy in the first place?
I come from a family of food lovers and great cooks. However, in Brazil in the 90s, cooking professionally was not an option for young people who had a family with an academic background. In 1990, a friend gave me the book ‘White Heat - Marco Pierre White’ with the photos of Bob Carlos Clark; it impressed me so profoundly that I decided to leave my Business Studies course at University to become a chef. This is probably why I take cookbooks so seriously - one of them changed my life!
With the fast-growing presence of social-media, as well as a multitude of other multi-media outlets in all fields of communication, how is the profession of food writing changing?
Substantially! Communication is now more immediate and available at incredible speeds. You can self publish and there are endless possibilities to communicate opinions and ideas through the social networks. The disadvantage is the abundance of wrong information available in the webspace too. Not all people disseminate real facts, but rather turn personal agendas or weak opinions into "true facts". You must check the sources before trusting what you read online. In gastronomic terms, people who eat in restaurants as a hobby are often believed to be food experts - magazines and newspapers started to accept unqualified people as food writers, as many of them write free of charge, desperate to have their names published.
With such an internationally-based career, is there any one place that you consider “home”?
To be honest, I never had that feeling, even as a child. I was born Brazilian-Italian and multiculturalism is in my blood. I had one Italian grandmother and another Native Brazilian Tupi-Guarani. I was always a restless person, wishing to see the world. I think that the feeling of belonging to a place can lead to division, to nationalistic ideas, and to over protectionism towards one’s own culture. When you travel, you see that we are all part of one world, with similar problems and ideas of happiness - what differs is the "tribe" you belong to, and you can find your tribe anywhere in the world. However, home for me is with my husband, daughter and dog. The location is irrelevant.
What inspired you to collaborate with Peruvian chef Virgilio Martínez of top restaurant, Central, on the book, ‘Lima Cookbook: Peruvian Home Cooking’?
Virgilio initially asked me to make his ‘Central/Mater’ book first. Then, because he wasn't very well known outside the gastronomic scene, we decided to make ‘Lima’ first, the cookbook of contemporary home cooking.
What was the experience and process of conceiving the cookbook like?
This is an unpretentious book and Virgilio wanted to make it simple - a clean and modern design, avoiding any Latin clichés, with easy-to-make dishes representing modern Peru. Central's food will generate a "coffee table" cookbook in the near future, but nobody will buy it with the intention of cooking at home, as it is based on exotic products and avant-garde concepts. On the other hand, ‘Lima - The Cookbook’, is accessible for everyone. With modern ceviche recipes and many light and healthy dishes, anyone can cook from this book, regardless of which country they live in. It is the first Peruvian book with a chapter dedicated to Tiger's Milk, for example. A real big deal for Peruvians! The important information about the products and the cultural context of the dishes are explained in a casual, yet informative, way. The main intention was to share information with foreign friends and to make them love cooking Peruvian food at home. Lima is also the only cookbook in the world with a quote on the cover by a Nobel Prize winner. Very posh - I know!
I’ve visited Peru many times, spending one month in Lima, at Central restaurant, making the food styling and working as photo director with the photographer Erick Andia. The book is now sold in 15 countries, and getting great reviews for its unassuming, yet authentic, presentation of modern Peruvian cooking.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now I’m focussing on the next book of Gastón Acurio, and re-editing the 4th edition of ‘Brazilian Food by Thiago Castanho’, the star Amazonian chef of Brazil. I am also an Associate Lecturer at the Basque Culinary Center, focusing on case studies in 5 countries. Ethics, sustainability and humanity shouldn't be treated as academic or fashionable words, but as intrinsic values in the kitchen and in our everyday lives. I try to help students see beyond the glam image of chefs and to add a global and realistic perspective to their formal education. I’m also part of a Laboratory project in South America, uniting scientists, chefs and farmers.
Of all your many internationally acquired food experiences, which of them do you remember most fondly? Which experiences have you yet to check off your bucket-list?
Having the opportunity to experience the kitchens of Massimo Bottura and Grant Achatz changed my perspective regarding my profession. The gala dinner of Elton John with El Bulli and Paco Roncero is one of my fondest memories - we worked hard preparing El Bulli classics, and had lots of fun doing it. Also working for 8 months on a scientific project for Heston Blumenthal and The Fat Duck about Aroma Encapsulation was very special.
My bucket list is not as big as it used to be some years ago. I am fortunate that my work has allowed me to taste the most exquisite products and visit the best restaurants and producers in the world. Because of this, my bucket list is the opposite of what one might expect… I would love to own a farm one day, plant organic vegetables and have farm animals. I could then experience my own food growing around my home and cook for family and friends.
What excites you most about attending this year’s Terroir Symposium?
I am honoured and very excited to be part of it! It is going to be my first time in Toronto and at the event, so I am curious too. I believe that sharing knowledge, experience and ideas is the only way to grow professionally and as human beings. We must learn with each other, observe and listen to various perspectives and opinions to gain a full picture, especially on topics related to technology, culture and areas involving humanities. I hope to be able to contribute to the event by sharing my experiences, and also to learn a lot from all of you.