News: Five minutes with Guilio Sturla of Roots, New Zealand

13 December 2018
Giulio Sturla (Roots, Lyttelton, New Zealand)

We chat to Chilean-born chef Sturla about foraging, sustainability and his Lyttelton, New Zealand restaurant Roots.

Chilean-born Giulio Sturla is the chef and co-owner of TL&CC Collective restaurant, Roots, which he opened with wife Christy Sturla in 2012. Giulio is also the founder of Eat New Zealand, a collective dedicated to celebrating local chefs, suppliers, tourism operators and more.

What first inspired you to become a chef? The opportunity to be surrounded by good food in a kitchen, to be able to try everything, and the sensation of pleasure when something is delicious. A journey to pursue food pleasure.

Do you have any stand-out early experiences with cooking or food? Eating ants in the Amazon when I was 20, eating my first cuy (guinea pig) on the side of the road in the Andes in Ecuador, and eating cochayuyo, or Chilean bull kelp ceviche.

Your Lyttelton restaurant, Roots, celebrates foraging and found ingredients. What element does foraging bring to the dining experience? Foraging opens up our senses and connects us to the natural environment. It give us the opportunity to continue discovering new ingredients every year. The never-ending curiosity and the astonishment that new flavours in the wild can bring is what we want to transfer from our dishes to our guest. We pick our ingredients daily so that the flavours are an expression of time and place.

What are some of the examples of foraged ingredients you have used on the menu previously? We have found everything from wild asparagus on the beach to reindeer moss in the Southern Alps, porcini and many wild mushroom in autumn to wild roses in the spring. Many wild fruit varieties such as peaches, cherries, plums, loquats, berries, and crab apples, as well as indigenous ingredients like kawakawa, horopito, manuka, puha, karaka, ti kouka.

You don’t have a set menu – why is this? We don’t want to limit our creativity to certain ingredients. We like to produce menus that express our freedom with the produce we find daily and the many techniques we can apply to offer a unique experience.

What are some of your other food philosophies or values? Our menu evolves seasonally to utilize the best of what nature has to offer at that particular moment in time. This way we can showcase the changing flavours and colours of our environment.

How does Roots champion sustainability and the environment? We support farms that are really close to the restaurant to ensure freshness and nutrition, our seafood comes from artisan fisheries in the South Island, and animals from the land are grass-fed and sourced directly from the farmers. All of our food is from New Zealand, unless ingredients that are not produced in the South Island like coffee, cacao, coconut products and very few others.

The source of energy in the South Island is hydropower, that is why we only use induction tops instead of gas. Our kitchen is zero-waste, we create compost with our green waste and grow food to give back to nature and understand it better. The same ingredients that our guests eat are the same as those used in our family meal.

You are the founder of Eat New Zealand. Can you tell us about this initiative and what inspired you to create it? At one point after opening Roots, I felt the disconnection between the food system and the people of New Zealand. I started questioning everything and looking for answers about how this system can be improved. After an email sent to 100 random people in the food sector, I realised many of these individuals had the same questions. The opportunity to get together and have a conversation to find solutions for a better food system is the inspiration that has motivated me to create this interconnection of food producers, farmers, chefs, fishermen, people, etc. and encourage talk around what we eat daily.

How can people find out more?

Is there anything else you would like to add? This conversation around food is relevant and necessary more than ever; we need every single channel to spread this message. We need to bring people back to the kitchens to start gaining the knowledge and independence to feed themselves, and to understand why food should be the most important thing in our lives. Good food feeds us, nourishes us, makes us happy and keeps us healthy. It also creates resilient communities working towards a more sustainable future.

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