Iam interviewing, reviewing or writing about predominantly women (and possibly some men) who I find, inspiring, interesting or think need a spotlight for what they do, how or why they do it, the way they think or just because I like or love them.
What better way to start than with an interview with someone about food.
I am very interested in any reader responses to the articles or the people featured in them.
My article/review of the one day Soul Song Retreat in Amsterdam was a start on the project. The day was done in part by Lex Empress. The afternoon was called Food Activation and done with Erica Tangari. Her concept of activating food is the core of a completely different way of engaging with our food. Taking the food from a dormant state to a live and activated state (and then suspending it in that state to eat it).
There is so much hype around vegan food. The amount of tasteless, overproduced, ethically immoral, animal/human exploitative but plant based food available is for me ultimately depressing and a clear sign of most of the things that are wrong in our society. i.e. you take a concept that is aimed at creating a fairer world for animals and people and that sustains rather than exploits the planet. Within three years this concept has been hyped to the point where apart from giving a lot of over privileged people the chance to crow and feel good about themselves it actually in many cases ends up doing the exact opposite of its aims.
Eating activated food, learning how to activate your food is so much more meaningful in terms of cruelty free eating than veganism as it is now presented. Unsurprisingly Erika is far from a fan of the term – vegan(ism).
Changing The View And Perception Of Food
Erika Tangari was born and raised in Milano Italy, her family roots are from the South of the country. Her parents were ‘the best parents you could imagine’. Her father a bank worker, her mother a teacher. From the age of six every holiday was spent travelling in a caravan. Erika credits these journeys as one of the foundations of her connection to food;
Erika’s plant based foods have the feeling and passion of Italian cuisine, the medicinal context of Indian cooking, combined with the aesthetic sense of the Japanese kitchen. When I ate her food it allowed me to come back into myself and be in me. It was a scary experience. I understood that if I only ate her food I would lose my fat (my protection). Her food fills you on so many levels but leaves the space you need to absorb what is happening to you when you eat the food. It is impossible to overeat. Her food in your body is an physical experience of unconditional love.
The revolutionary journey from my grandmother’s food to mine is that I feed people for humanity. Food from our mothers and grandmother’s doesn’t leave the space my food does. Their food was and is designed to fill the child. I call the space that I place into my food the Lazarus space. The space between the words that call to life and the decision to (re)inhabit and come back to life. The old style food is almost an overdose of love. It leaves no space. My food brings a memory and love of the past. It brings the love of Mothers and grandmothers without filling the whole space. It fills the spaces that need to be filled and allow the rest of the body to reactivate and regenerate. To self heal.
The food of our (enslaved) ancestors was designed to allow us to survive the outside world, it’s difficulties, struggles and hatred by placing within the food, and so within the body the knowledge of the love that could not been allowed to show.
Tell me how you came to this point? Your journey to this space with teaching and sharing your/this understanding of the power of food and eating.
Food for me has always been the way to meet The Other.
My earliest memories around food are; myself as a child, as children are; with full potential and infinite possibilities. I think I was five when I first had that sense of why I had come here, that I had reincarnated, it happened with the memory in the food. The memory, taste, sensation; being fully present in the moment of tasting. That ability to be fully present when tasting, when eating brings you into the presence of your being and not being.
I remember that on Sundays I would be waiting for the opportunity to cook with my mother and or grandmother. In those moments I didn’t feel alone, I was happy and in my place. From the age of about 11/12 I started to cook alone. Cooking for and eating with my family; my grandmother, father, brother, and mother. They would look at me; ‘This is different, delicious, good’ in those moments I began to develop the magic touch with food. I knew I was doing what I was supposed to do. In those moments with the whole family present in body and spirit. There to enjoy the experience of my food, celebrating life and the taste of the present moment
The issues and problems with my father’s job, the stress engendered by the school where my mother worked they all disappeared in those living moments of the shared meal.
When we sat at the table we were completely present, undistracted. We didn’t sit eating, thinking and speaking of other things; what needed to be done the next day. My family didn’t sit to eat and do other things. Which is something that happens often. We would sit and really be there, eating and feeling the work the food was doing. For me those Sunday meals were a celebration of the present moment and also a celebration of me as a child.
It is through her sense of smell and her engagement with food that Erika first connected with her deep knowledge of past lives and the existence of re incarnation.
We know that children are connected to the true present, they live in the present. Those meals for me were the celebration of truth. I would sit with the five loves that is my family, all present, all there to celebrate the love of life, in food. It was not every Sunday but often. Everyone was home. It was a day of celebration.
I remember we sat down at the table to eat, the first argument would be what we were going to eat next. Literally sitting down to lunch, my grandmother would ask ‘What would you like for dinner?’ ‘Nonna, I haven’t even tasted lunch yet I can’t think about dinner’. The next conversation was about what we were eating; it’s good, it’s tasty. In Italy you eat also for pleasure not just because you have to eat. Food takes, brings and holds our attention. It is an illusion of presence.
One of my mantra’s is that we eat at least 3x a day our whole life. If we make eating an exercise of being present. Then we will be present at least in those 3x a day for the rest of our life.
We met at your Soul Song and Food Activation One day retreat in Amsterdam. It was amazing. Will you be doing more of them?
We will be repeating the one day retreats, but not this time.
This visit we are working on setting up an innovative kitchen concept in two restaurants.
We want to evolve a kitchen that is different from what you expect or generally get. A place where you create medicine. I am not speaking about a focus on healing a specific medical condition, the basic concept of the cuisine is reconnection. This reconnection is actually more a recognition of the truth. I am working to create a sustainable kitchen in a city. A place where people come to eat and through/with the food remember the knowledge, reasons and purpose of their re incarnation. The WHY they are in this life.
For me the analogy is ‘it’s like eating food made for you by your grandmother.’ But upscaled. It is very clear to me at the moment as I have just come from visiting my home and family and once again eating my grandmother’s food.
There is a sense of the present that you can feel, taste, experience when eating activated food. It is a meditation, this exercise, this experience is what I want to bring to the city.
The second restaurant, the same collaboration, bringing the same concept is an opening with a friend of their restaurant in London.
I asked Erika why she is working in Amsterdam in a nation of ‘fuel’ies, people who eat food only because and as fuel rather than ‘foodies’ who enjoy the sensual pleasures of eating.
This is the place where change around food needs to occur. Aside from the personal reasons, (Lex her partner is Dutch). I came to Amsterdam for the first time a year ago but for the last five years I have been telling people ‘There is something for me in NL’ They made jokes like ‘Yes you’re going to learn to cook with tulips’!
There is a pragmatism here. In Italy we can have a thousand ideas and then we speak and chat and discuss these ideas over cappuccino, meals, wherever and whenever. In NL they have one idea and they bring it to fruition. The history of this country is that they are responsible for bringing spice all around the world. They made food a commodity. Food is full of stories, the Dutch ignore that. In France and in Italy food is a knowledge, your history passed with passion down a family line.
The art of food is also the (dark) story of humanity and it is the story of science. Food allows you to connect to a person’s soul.
When I fed Dutch people on the retreat, their eyes popped open with shock, they became immediately present. They looked at me and said ‘This has never happened to me before.’
So there are people who came to the Retreat a year ago, they have formed a small community of individuals who are still activating their food. They have completely changed the way they eat and are encouraging others to do the same.
This country has everything, it is so consumerist, it imports and exports. Food is still tied into oppression. Here you can buy anything, everything. This is the place you need to start or to set the change. We need to change lifestyles, we need them and eating to become sustainable. It is possible if people can change their focus, aim to eat in the most simple, healthful way.
If we can change the way we eat as a species, if we can steer that in the direction that I am sharing, we have a big chance of creating a better world. The NL is the best place to begin to make this change (and of course we are also going to London next).
It is important to understand this way of cooking, this way of looking at and understanding food. That is why I want to do it here.
The space that Erika’s food leaves and creates is a call to bring those dead, unloved spaces and places within us back to life. The Lazarus space (as she calls it) is the place where only the individual can make the choice to step once more into life. Erika’s food allows you to recognise all the parts and spaces within that have died in this struggle to BE and it creates the possibility to step back into life. Personally I found that call challenging, unspoken, but felt clearly in the food, a call to embrace and step (back) into life
“What I do is bring this memory of the hurt and pain in the body, through all time and space.”
The body is the both the concrete and the subtle connection to the work that Lex does when she sings in the energies of the galaxy. Lex places those energies into the space that I create with the food. Lex enters and revitalises, allowing the possibility to be in the present and jump into the future. I make the space with the food. The combination of what we do is so beautiful to watch; to see and experience what materialises in front of me. In my case it was also beautiful to feel the changes materialising within!
The day retreat was like walking into a clogged room in the morning, the soul song exercises clear out all the junk. Erika’s food (2 meals) clean, disinfect and open the space, then in the evening Lex’s personalised soul songs give ideas and blueprints on how to further inhabit, decorate or design that newly created space.
Erika and Lex have been working together for just over a year. They first met three years ago in the restaurant where Erika worked on Ibiza. Where were you working?
It is a magical, ancient, finca that was one of the first restaurants on the Island. It has deep energy and a history of creating foods of love. When I worked there the owner would ask people how they
were feeling. There was a daily menu but I watched and connected with the people when they came in and fed them from my intuition.
Lex ate and said ‘Who made this food. Is she gay? Is she single? I want to marry her!’
She then did a month group cooking course with me. And she showed me that what she does with her voice work is the same as my work. She asked if we could collaborate at that time but it took me a while. I was running around, doing lots of other jobs, still trying a little to escape, not living my full potential, not really trusting my path.
When I finally came back to the Island after Xmas holiday, I met her at one of the plant based restaurants and she asked (again) if I would work with her on the Retreat. That is when we began the journey, we have been together ever since.
I actually began the interview with a check in on how she’s doing?
I have just come back to Amsterdam, I was in Italy and Spain. I’ll be here for 2/3 days and then I am not sure. The next retreat is in October. I am open to other things at the moment.
In the summer the energy in Ibiza is a little unstable and it’s best not to push. To try to do the work there in summer energy is too much. The function of The Work is to go inside, to go deep within the self. In the summer everything is outside. The spirit is far from the body. Energetic work needs to be compatible with the seasons to aid the work.
On her past and how she literally came to this moment
I studied architecture and interior design. I grew up in the illusion. Society doesn’t allow us, at the moment, obviously we are trying to change this but it doesn’t allow or give us the room to grow into our full potential. We are unable to do easily what we are supposed to do.
Doing what you love and working were in my brain incompatible. So I studied architecture which is also on of my passions but it is not my way to completely express what I am feeling inside. It is a beautiful form in which to express but I have always been so attracted to sustainability and when I was studying, sustainability was not on the university’s agenda. So the use of certain materials for me was just crazy.
Like eating oysters in Ibiza or salmon in the centre of Milano. Food that doesn’t connect with the land, the space is not appropriate to eat in that land or space and I felt the same with construction.
After the architecture I did a masters in yacht (interior) design. I went and worked in the Lake Como area, while I was there I was invited to come and work in Dubai. It was in Dubai that I realised my/the calling of my path.
I would gather to eat with the Italian ex-pats. It became almost a ritual. At these gatherings, I would cook. People kept asking me “Why isn’t this your job?”
I was the youngest Italian ex pat. But I wanted, maybe needed to create the kind of Sunday dinners I remembered with my family, so I started to do them there. People really enjoyed it, they kept telling me I had a talent and that this was really special. The repetition of this idea, gave me the strength, it finally convinced me to go back to Italy.
Nothing in Dubai is sustainable. There are retinues of slaves maintaining illusions. There was a moment at a party when I was so disappointed with a cake. They called it an Italian cake, claimed it was a typical kind of cake made in the area that my family come from but actually it lacked everything necessary to make it authentic. Moreover it was a type of cake that requires a lot of time and attention. I had been taught to make that kind cake from a very young age I was almost devastated by what was being passed off as this Sicilian delicacy. Talking to the chef about my reaction, being able to list everything that was wrong with it. A lightbulb moment.
It was a big deal to go home and say to everybody, especially my family. ‘Thank you all so much, thank you for having been able to study but, I really feel that food is my journey. I was 24.
Food is what makes me feel happy and enables me to make the people around me very happy. I believe this is my mission.
I began to work anywhere and everywhere it was possible to learn something, anything about food.
I consciously chose to go back to Italy because somehow there, everything come back to or down to food. You go into a cheese shop it’s a cheese immersion course from everything the shop worker knows to the way they cut the cheese. Italians are made of food!
When I had been in Milan for five months a big adventure started. Santeria was a poly functional space, with a performance area, and a small shop, kind of Berlin style. A group of fifteen people from music, graphic and artistic worlds created this mixed platform.
I was the chef of what was initially going to be a little bistro serving maybe 25 plates. After 6 months we had 150-160 people for Sunday brunch. After a year it was one of the most popular places in Milan and the kitchen was non stop. We served up to and over 200 plates a day from a 15 metre square kitchen!
I worked there for four years, doing chef school in the evenings for six months. I did the study because although I was head chef I had no training. The staff working for me were all trained and in the beginning they would ask for or about things and I had no idea what they were talking about or asking for. So in addition to the 80 hours I was working in the kitchen I did another 20 in the evening to gain my certification for the job I was doing!
I really honed my skills and learnt my trade in Santeria. In the beginning there were three of us two chefs and the dishwasher, when I left there were seven chefs alone! It was an amazing experience but after four years I felt a calling to learn and explore other cuisines. I travelled for a year going to India, Thailand, Indonesia, Nepal. Then I went back to Italy and after I had spent two weeks in Milan a friend called me to say she was going to open a finca in Ibiza. I went to help her for two weeks but I have now been there for four years.
The purity and the quality of what we do is unique, beautiful, powerful. It is so far beyond the mundane, our personalities, our decisions, it is a constant yes to What Is. The work makes us truly greater than the sum of our parts. We amplify but bigger, each other but more importantly the work. I see us as the moment when the finger of God and the finger of Adam meet in the Michael Angelo painting. I am working from the gifts of mother Earth and Lex is bringing in gifts from the centre of the galaxy the person in the middle receives both.
I have always had a really clear, strong gut feeling. I trust it. Anything that is not right or just, I feel. I have to follow that feeling. There is no possibility for 99 or 98% truth it is or it isn’t. Everything that nature creates is sustainable and there is no reason for us not to operate from that same place.
My mother always taught me that whatever you take or use or put back, the space that you took it from and that item has to be left or returned better and or cleaner and or more beautiful after our use.
Currently there are a lot of things in the pipe line and Erika promises that she will have a whole new load of adventures to share very soon if our readers are interested…
What I loved most about meeting Erika at the day retreat and also in the conversation is her focus and determination to change the world.
“The most important thing is to try; the purpose of our lives is to try. We know the planet will be fine, the issue is will humanity survive?
There are things that need to happen, we need to mitigate the impact that humanity has on the planet. We could do it, we could get it done.
Whether humanity is really worth saving we won’t go into because the most important thing is to find and follow our true mission and strive to protect the Earth. It’s about what we do and that we keep trying to the best of our ability to the very end.