Ten questions: Daniel Jardim on Retreat – The Joy of Conscious Eating

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Chickpea and Rocket Salad
Red Potato Salad

Authors on their new books: Daniel Jardim answers ten questions about Retreat – the joy of conscious eating.

Daniel Jardim … Your surname sounds vaguely French – please tell our readers where your name (and parents) really come from.

My parents are both Portuguese. My mom is from the mainland (Algarve) and my dad is from the glorious tropical island of Madeira. They met as two newly landed immigrants in the ’60s and soon were newly-weds too. All of my siblings and I were born in Johannesburg. Jardim means “garden” in Portuguese.

Please tell our readers about your background and how cooking crossed your path?

My parents are both avid cooks and although they never sat us (children) down for training, we were always helping out in the kitchen. I guess we learnt by osmosis. By doing. I decided on my 13th birthday that I no longer wanted to eat meat, and that’s when my adventure with food really began – it was clear that I would have to learn how to make meat-free dishes or live on side dishes for the rest of my life!

What is your cooking philosophy and is it different from your philosophy in general?

I am most interested in how we can live our everyday lives as a spiritual practice. From spending time at retreat centres I learnt that people really do hunger for a greater sense of connection and enjoyment in their everyday lives. It is all fair and well to have a Zen-like calm when on retreat, but the question remains how we bring some of that into what we do every day. Food is such an important part of this. This doesn’t mean that we learn how to prepare ingredients with stern austerity, but rather how we can really engage and play with food so that it something that literally feeds us on many levels. Laughter is definitely a big part of being in the kitchen.

What was the most important aspect of the book to you while you were writing it?

With this book I tried to create a snapshot of what it is like to be on a cookery retreat, but also how we can start making gentle changes in the way we select dishes and ingredients to suit our bodily needs as the seasons change. I was most careful about the photography in the book. So often dishes are styled to such dizzying heights that they can intimidate potential cooks. I wanted to create a very honest sense of how dishes looked, as they were prepared on the day, without too much cosmetic tweaking. I really wanted people to pick up the book and think, “That looks delicious”, but, more importantly, also to think, “I can do that.”

Authors normally are not rich. Why do you write?

Haha. A very good question! I do enjoy writing about food, and there is a sense of completing a certain chapter of my life which coincides with completing a book. I sometimes joke that I should devise a fad diet and make millions, but there really is no gimmick with what I write and teach. It is simply about giving people the tools to come back to the basics of seasonal living. There is a big move to step back from food fads and look at what has actually worked for us for the longest time. So many times I will meet people who will say that Retreat is finally a cookbook that speaks their language, and that for me is when it all feels so worthwhile.

Are you busy with another book?"

Ah, very top secret, but yes, there could well be another book in the pipeline. Wink wink.

What books do you read?

I love collecting old cookery books, especially from the ’50s–’70s. In this age of superfoods and endless food neuroses it is so humbling to look at pictures of tinned peas in aspic and realise just how far we have actually come! I read a lot in general. I love a good biography, and I love reading fantasy – it is my opportunity to escape into another world of wonder.

What food do you yourself like eating?

People often think I will spend hours every day preparing elaborate meals. For me, both the Japanese and the Italians have such a wonderful aesthetic of eating a food when it is at its absolute seasonal peak with the most simple seasonings, and this is often how I will eat at home. On retreat I like to teach people that it doesn’t matter how simple the dish is, it can be prepared and presented as if it were to be placed as an offering at a temple. Retreat meals definitely have a festive feel to them and I delight in seeing people engage with the visual aspect of food instead of focusing solely on the functional aspect of creating “balanced” or “healthy” meals.

Any favourite restaurants?

I don’t eat out very much. When I do, I am not interested in pretence, just really good, simple, home-style cooking. Whenever I am in Joburg I love to visit Shayona in Fordsburg. I always imagined that there was a granny in the back somewhere preparing the meals – and as it turns out … there is! Simple vegetarian home-cooking at its (affordable) best.

What is the meaning of life?

Haha. Live lots. Laugh lots. Play with your food.

Photos: Sarah Kate Schafer

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