Where supermarkets see non-regulation oddities, Tanja and Lea from Culinary Misfits see lunch, and the true face of naturally produced food. Starting out their adventures in regional, seasonal, organic foods in 2011, and working at Kreuzberg’s Markhalle Neun in 2012, the Misfits message is one every food business could learn from. Working directly with growers and farms means they can pay a fair price for high quality - but otherwise wasted - produce, and every single fruit and vegetable has a known origin and a sustainable growth process. Plus, since nothing has been covered with chemicals, everything tastes extraordinary, and each variety is allowed to display its individual flavour characteristics in the dishes served by Culinary Misfits in their café on Manteuffelstraße.
The thinking behind the food spreads out into the whole café, using carefully chosen recycled and second hand good wherever possible has given the Misfits a beautiful, individual and comfortable space to eat, meet and learn in. It’s in the café that FOLKDAYS caught up with Tanja for a coffee and a chat.
Who are you?
I’m Tanja, I’m one of the founders of Culinary Misfits. I’m a product designer initially, and I thought a lot about sustainability and came to the subject of food culture, and what food culture means in terms of the social aspect. Then I stumbled upon the fact that there’s a huge dilemma in our food culture because we’re so distant from it that we don’t really know or appreciate where our food comes from. So I researched everything and eventually founded the concept of Culinary Misfits with my business partner Lea who is also a product designer.
What are you up to here and what made you start?
I was really shocked when I found out how much food we waste on a daily basis because people expect everything to be there 24/7 so a lot of stuff gets over-produced, while on the other side of the world there are people who starve. We don’t really appreciate what we have. I talked to a lot of producers, farmers whose hearts really hurt when they have to throw out half of their harvest just because it has a 3cm defect or the beetroot is too big or something, and that’s such a shame. So I think culturally, we just totally forgot what nature could look like, and people think that everything has to be perfect: we always hunt for the perfect beauty ideal, even in the supermarket so everything has to be the same, and that is not what nature looks like. We loose a lot of diversity by expecting that; diversity in shape, but also in taste. It’s something that I think has happened more in the last generation or two maybe. I mean, back in the days of our grandparents, every little orchard or village had their own type of apples, and now, today we think we have this huge diversity, but it’s an exotic diversity which comes from New Zealand or somewhere, and on our own city outskirts there are so many old trees that die out because we don’t take care of them. And so many kids don’t get to taste all these different flavours or don’t even know what a real tomato can taste like. So we are trying to address some of these issues with the Culinary Misfits.
Has your work on Culinary Misfits changed any of the choices you make in your personal life?
I guess it’s all connected of course. It was a parallel development when I was working on my Bachelor’s thesis about the subject of food culture and I started to buy organic vegetables at the market, directly from the producers, and rediscover all these tastes. I also learned about how animals are kept, what goes into food, and overproduced foods that are made for profit not health. I’m super conscious to know what I eat. But also, I mean, I’m not super strict – I’m a human being who creates seasonal vegetarian dishes here all day, so in the evening I sometimes like to go and eat out! I also got to know a lot of other people who work in the food sustainability area and I’m really involved in that socially. I talk a lot about what I do, but I find that it can be really hard to talk about food culture at the table, for example, when somebody just ordered a steak and you start talking about mass produced meat – it’s a very delicate subject!
How do you imagine the ideal world?
The ideal world is one where people connect more, where people feel bonded and there’s more love and appreciation for each other but also for food. I think if we appreciate each other more, then a lot of things are solved. If we love others more, we can achieve a lot through that.
Any last words?
Yeah, of course: Eat Misfits and the whole harvest!
Their mission is definitely on the road to success. As well as the Misfits café they also have a catering service, and workshops to share what they’ve learnt; plus they support others in the local ethical food network by selling choice produce and products – from delicious, tangy pressed apple juice to cookbooks that can help guests continue exploring what they’ve sampled or learnt at home. Plus there are of course more ideas in the Misfits pipeline. Last year, they worked on a joint pilot project across 10 branches of the Bio Company selling fresh soups, so 2015 may well bring a new dimension to the business based on all they’ve learnt so far.