For the Argentinian born, food conceptualist, Antonella Tignanelli, food is a lot more than just a mere fuel.
I first met her on a rainy day in Barcelona in 2017. She was waiting for me in a Chinese restaurant in front of Arc de Triomf with her friend, Sofia. Shortly thereafter I was introduced to Antonella´s photographs and the world that opened up through her work was one of the artists: flooded in warm sunlight, her visual universe was already fragile and confident, sensual and fierce - and always beautiful.
So I was understandably surprised to eventually encounter Antonella in her current digs, kitchen. At first, visiting her apartment I saw a few cookbooks on one side of the kitchen and poetry with some English literature and philosophy in the other section of a spacious apartment near Via Laietana. I´ve quickly realised that apart from having a unique way of seeing things and being a mother to almost a two-year-old baby boy Luca, Antonella is also a time traveller, an alchemist and precisely a cook who has lived many lives in many eras and in many places.
The honesty and simplicity of her dishes were quickly appropriated by the cooking world, and she found herself creating and perfecting home cooked recipes for the restaurants such as Baldomero and Camping. Today, she's eager to share with us her philosophy on life, freedom, food, gatherings, love and self- reliance.
In your photography, your own choice of subject or point of departure seems to almost always revolve around flowers and women, like a theme with variations. Which is your favourite picture and why?
I don’t think I could choose a favorite picture, but as you said, my favorite subject is nature and women. I think it’s because I find them intrinsically related: they represent the beginning of life and the ability to nurture. And I like to see that as a starting point of reflection on how to stay true to certain values that I see as really important in life. Subconsciously I think that my aim is to portray vulnerability, which has taken me ages to achieve, and by focusing on these subjects I could finally understand what it meant and how to invite it to my own life.
What artist inspires you?
Too many, in many different disciplines. The firsts that come to mind are Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, Virginia Woolf, Gordon Matta Clark, Francis Bacon, Martha Rosler, amongst many others…
But nowadays I find a lot of inspiration in anonymous artists or artisans as well, like the grandmothers and workers of the land who shaped the way we eat and consume, and who wrote the first recipes that, in my opinion, are the first form of women's literature. The same women who took care and nurtured all the great men of the nations so we could achieve “freedom” and space to be artists, and other values we cherish today and also take for granted.
What does 2020 taste like?
In my own reality, it tastes like MasaMadre (Sourdough) Besides the fact that in my house there’s a different type of dough rising every day, and that has given me a real sense of being at home. In a metaphorical way, I would stand by that: Sourdough is complex. Its taste is deep and unsettling.
It represents the potentiality of a great future, that you can take care of with patience and make it grow or ruin it by rushing it and making it vanish. But it can also be the beginning of a beautiful life. In any case, it is alive and it depends on you if that life is fulfilled or not.
What food memories do you keep from your childhood?
My grandmother, who was one of the humans who shaped me the most, used to love throwing dinner parties. Once a month, her house would become the home of around 40 friends who played cards in different rooms and tables and in the main saloon, they would always have incredible feasts that she cooked 3 days in advance. Every single time this event took place I would spy on her doing it, wanting to get involved, but she wouldn't let me, and instead made me watch. So I spent years like that, and when the time finally came for me to make these dishes, they tasted exactly the same as hers. That’s when I actually saw that I could cook for a living.
Another thing about this was the true love of being a vehicle for gatherings, she gave me that, and that’s a big part of why I work in the restaurant industry.
What is your favourite part of dinner?
My favorite part is the motive.
What is your current project ?
I’m working on several projects right now. Writing docuseries about food rituals in different cultures; I co-own a sort of Mediterranean chiringuito with a cultural proposal called Camping; I’m writing a cookbook about people’s memories with food and trying to convert a restaurant I co-created last year into a new type of business according to the times we are living.
How do you see your role in gastronomy?
My involvement in the restaurant industry is mostly from a creative director and concept developer point of view, and nowadays with our reality changing so fast and so much, we are very challenged to create new concepts that accommodate to the needs and the new types of lifestyles people are gonna have. So that’s something I’m focusing a lot on right now, rethinking what the restaurant industry has to offer and how to keep up to date with the current times.
How different food can tell what times we are living in? What is your take on superfood?
For me, food is timeless. If you take what we consider superfood in Western societies and go to the East 1000 years ago, they were already consuming it. So I don't see food as something that follows a trend or even a timeline, it is circular. Just like in fashion, most of the things we consume, have been consumed before but are just put under a new spotlight in a different context. I even find it funny when people think there are trends or try to avoid them, I think avoiding trends is the biggest trend of them all.
For me food is food, it’s nature and people who work with what they have in hand, may that be a potato or a spirulina turmeric chai latte. Ingredients have always grown, globalization brought us what was popular in other places but we didn't know about.
Everything is equally as noble, there is no ingredient per se that is less interesting than the other, the judgement stays in the eye of the consumer and its cultural background.
What is your favourite object?
Hard!!! I like objects that I can make something with. My camera is one of my favorites, my knives, a cast iron pan inherited from my grandmother...
Any dream collaborations?
Would you agree to say that cooking should be taught at school as much as maths or languages?
I’d love to see schools adding food programs, it would be very helpful. I think that as many things you know how to do that you need in order to survive, the better. If we always rely on third parties for eating good or for having our pants fixed or any domestic task, then we are completely dependent, and what do we do if those things fail? We definitely need to go a bit back in time and learn how to do simple daily stuff by ourselves instead of getting it done by other people in order to be able to sustain our jobs. That, I think, is gonna be a change of paradigm we are gonna be faced with soon if not now.
Also, there's a huge component about health when you talk about food, and environmentalism, so I definitely think those subjects need to be addressed inside of the education system from an early age.
In food you can see as well history, maths, chemistry, physics; I think it's actually the only context we have on our daily lives where there are all of this components working together and we use them without even noticing it, all those math equations we didn't know what they would serve us for, or the chemistry formulas… If we could only see that as kids, it would make all the difference.
You share so many unique recipes on your social media. What would you like to share with Can Pep Rey ?
I’d like to share a really really simple dish I made this summer in Cabo Polonio, Uruguay.
When the light from the sun goes down in Cabo, you are left with some candles and moonlight, so it is not that easy to cook complicated things. We were there that night with my friends India and Carine and decided to venture into cooking a whole fish in the grill. Half the way, we were already exhausted, so we saved the fish for the day after.
This charcoal-grilled cold Corvina looked too good in the morning, and I just tore the meat apart with my fingers, added avocado, basil and a lemon ciboulette dressing with lots of olive oil and chilli flakes. The three of us still remember that simple dish today, so I encourage anyone to make it. It’s humble, easy and so fresh. There is really no recipe needed, just the combination of the ingredients won’t ever fail you.
Text by Marta Marszalek