Things to eat, things to cook: Making every meal an opportunity to be happy

Things to eat, things to cook: Making every meal an opportunity to be happy

Natalia Kiako, the Argentine cook, shares how, after a long life journey, she makes a living from her passion.

“I see other people who can work doing anything, it’s not what matters to them in life. For me, that my work fulfills me or that it has meaning, it’s very important.”

Natalia Kiako

I remember one of the first times I saw Natalia Kiako in person; her daughter went to the same kindergarten as my son; she was one of the mothers I saw daily at the school entrance. One day, an email arrived in my inbox saying that she would give a talk about healthy eating in one of the school classrooms. “Healthy” is a word that Natalia Kiako is not interested in emphasizing these days.  At least not more than the word pleasure: food has to gather both nutrition and pleasure, she will say during the interview. The talk took place back in 2018…it was an intimate meeting, probably attended by seven mothers; we sat on some stools around a small classroom table. She had prepared a carrot pound cake I believe, and some whole wheat and cheese crackers. Little of what she said that morning comes to mind, although it doesn’t really matter because something else stayed with me that day. I have a vivid impression of what I felt while listening to her, one that stayed with me when I returned home, and one that I felt again during her interview for this article. Natalia has a contagious, irresistible enthusiasm.

Everyone attending the meeting was spellbound. We watched her move her hands while saying words like “seed”, “flour” or “legume” between witty phrases spoken with a voice that was sweet and full of life. She had discovered something – or was discovering it – that she was passionate about, another way of eating, of using new foods, foods that had actually always existed. A powerful desire had been unveiled for her; it was taking root, and it was expanding. Natalia Kiako was one of the first to share that information; she was fascinated. And that fascination was being offered on the small table so that we could help ourselves to it.

We are in Buenos Aires, in one of the bars called Bar Notable – recognized as “cultural heritage of the city of Buenos Aires” because they’re representative of the city…of the Porteños culture of the cafecito. We sit at a table near the window and wait for the server. I want to know what Natalia Kiako is going to order; five years have passed since the meeting. A few months ago, she published her third book by Planeta publishing house, she learned to read and interpret scientific papers, and gives weekly workshops for 90 people – among them prestigious chefs –, although she doesn’t feel she is anyone’s teacher. She has the same freshness and lively attitude as always, she orders a cortado en jarrito (espresso ‘cut’ with a small amount of milk) and that is a position, a decision (I will discover it during the interview). Nutrition, yes, pleasure and gratification, also. “It was never my thing…prohibitionism”, one of the phrases she will repeat throughout the interview.

Things to cook

Her training, the place where she learned the basics, was her childhood home. A mother who was a cook, a father who didn’t know how to make a hard-boiled egg, but kept looking for recipes and new restaurants to try, grandparents preparing pots of stew for the entire family, homemade plum juice, an uncle who knew how to make lemon ice cream. “I come from a family with great love for food. I literally remember my grandfather tying the lid of the pots with a string, because containers were not as readily available then. They trafficked pots from my mother’s house to my grandmother’s house and vice-versa, because there were things that my grandparents made wholesale”. That was the first contact she had with the kitchen, her palate was developed by a diversity of flavors and textures, although she admits that cooking was not what mattered most to her.

In the nineties, she studied Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. She read literary books and was concerned about having a good figure; without ever becoming obsessed, her diet was based on skim cheese, jams and diet desserts. “We grew up in the nineties, where people and especially women, had to adhere to huge pressures imposed by society. But if you had asked me then, I wasn’t going to admit that I was concerned about my figure, because I was studying literature, I was an intellectual.”

She met her current partner, Luciano, a musician in 2001 at a jazz festival in Costanera Norte, Buenos Aires. Putting emphasis on both of their diets: Natalia was thinking about her figure, she was far from being able to enjoy a plate of food, “…I was dealing with frustration, coming from a family that had given me a repertoire and a pretty great palate,” Luciano, on the other hand, had always had digestive problems, so much so that his diet had been limited to three things: chicken, rice and pumpkin. They were on vacation in Córdoba and went to visit a specialist in macrobiotic food, José Luis Martínez, the guru of macrobiotics. José Luis suggested to Luciano to follow a diet based on things radically opposed to what an allopathic doctor would prescribe. Natalia glimpsed a world of possibilities and combinations. She went from eating fruit and desserts, to cooking cereals, legumes and vegetables. “For me it was really difficult and really important at the same time. It didn’t have to be. But it obviously pressed a lot of buttons that were there just waiting to be pressed”.

Things to eat and a passion that is discovered little by little

The macrobiotic diet requires, unequivocally, time to cook. To follow it, you have to keep within very strict limits, or it won’t work. At some point, that same path that Natalia and Luciano started for different reasons, could be seen as a mutual act of love. From her to him, because he couldn’t have done it alone; from him to her, since it was because of Luciano that they had their first consultation with the specialist. “Today, I don’t do the macrobiotic diet, I wouldn’t do it,” says Natalia. “I find it too restrictive. Precisely, there comes a point when pleasure becomes very difficult.” But back then, it helped her get organized and start discovering what it was that she really wanted to do.

“I don’t like to talk about healthy food. I don’t like to pretend that I make healthy food, or cook healthy food, or teach people how to eat healthy. I just want people to go back to cooking. Home cooking is already a lot. That’s healthy; eating homemade and a little bit of everything. Prohibitionism was never my thing.”

Natalia Kiako

It took years of her developing cooking workshops, and producing her own recipes or transforming others, for all of that to become a source of income. She had graduated with a degree in Literature and her jobs had to do with press and communication, with cultural production. She liked what she did, but she felt she was missing something more playful, less mental, and cooking gave her that. It was a task that allowed her to use her hands, which was not only entertaining, it had become soothing.

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Great help

During the blog boom days, Natalia created one, almost as a game, called Kiako the cook (it’s currently her website). There, she uploaded recipes, ideas, and photos that she took in her kitchen. Days went by and the blog started growing, becoming more and more popular. One afternoon, one of Luciano’s students went to the house to take music lessons. As he passed by the kitchen, the boy saw a utensil that looked familiar, he had seen it somewhere else. Before starting the class, he said to his teacher, “Ah, but this is Natalia Kiako, I know her, I follow her on the blog”.

Julia, their daughter, was born in 2014. That same year, Soledad Barruti, a journalist, editor at Planeta publishing house, and writer who researches the food industry, sent Natalia an email offering to write a book with the material on the blog. “Sole Barruti was someone I knew well. I had read her books, she had written notes about it. I received that email and fell on my face, but in all honesty, I replied: ‘Hey, wow, how beautiful, I love it, I’m very honored. But the truth is that I have a newborn baby. If you would give me until December…” And that’s what Soledad did, she understood the moment Natalia was in and had patience. On December 1st, 2014, Natalia Kiako received the second email from Soledad. From that moment on, they began editing and putting together their first book, Cómo Como” (How Do I Eat), a self-help manual on healthy cooking.

“…and then you get obsessed with food, but you put all these cosmetics full of petrolatum on your face, and you breathe this air, and you stress all day long… So, come on, honey, what do you expect a little lettuce leaf to do? Poor lettuce, you’re asking too much from it.”

Natalia Kiako

Things to cook, things to eat, why every meal is an opportunity to be happy

On a day-to-day basis, Natalia encounters some obstacles, such as having to negotiate with the publishing house to have (finally) a professional photographer, or receiving negative comments when she speaks her mind. At one point, she felt like she was explaining herself to the whole world, “When I shared a recipe with gluten, it was: sorry celiacs. When I shared a recipe with dairy, it was: sorry vegans. I was making more and more recipes sans sans sans in order not to offend anyone.” Little by little, she found her style, her place, her way of doing. “I learned very slowly and with a lot of work, who I am in this framework, what it is that I want to do.”

“With Four Hands”, natural cooking to share with children, is her second book and “Kitchen Keys: to get back to eating tasty, varied and homemade every day” is her third book and it just hit bookstores. For Natalia, eating delicious food is as important as eating healthy. She says it throughout the interview and her tone is that of someone who shares what she learned, what she knows how to do and likes it, with the same wonder as the first day. Cooking is nutrition and it’s pleasure, it’s bringing together two passions, food and words, it is an opportunity to have a good time. “If you give it the importance that I give it and you like eating as much as I do… really, every time I eat, I need to feel pleasure because if I don’t, then I feel that…,” says Natalia and keeps thinking until she gets to what she wanted to say, “…that I missed an opportunity to be happy.”


Por qué cocinar y comer son oportunidades para ser feliz

Natalia Kiako, la cocinera argentina que hace de la cocina y el comer una oportunidad para ser feliz, comparte cuál fue el camino que recorrió hasta lograr vivir de su pasión.

Yo veo otra gente que puede trabajar de lo que sea, no es lo que le importa en la vida. Para mí, que mi trabajo me llene o que tenga significado, es muy importante

Natalia Kiako, cocinera

Recuerdo una de las primeras veces que vi a Natalia Kiako en persona, su hija iba al mismo jardín de infantes que mi hijo, era una de las madres que veía a diario en la puerta de la escuela. Un día, llegó a mi casilla de correo un mail diciendo que iba a dar una charla acerca de alimentación saludable en una de las aulas de la escuela. “Saludable” es una palabra que hoy, a Natalia Kiako, no le interesa subrayar. O no más que la palabra placer: la comida tiene que reunir las dos cosas, dirá en la entrevista, nutrición y placer.

Era el año 2018 y habremos asistido siete madres, fue un encuentro íntimo, nos sentamos sobre unos banquitos, alrededor de una mesa pequeña de las que usaban en las aulas. Ella había preparado budín de zanahoria y creo que unas galletas de harina integral y queso. Poco me viene a la memoria lo que dijo esa mañana, aunque eso no importa porque yo de ahí me llevé otra cosa. Tengo muy viva la impresión que sentí al escucharla, la que me quedó de regreso a casa, y la que volví a percibir en la entrevista que le hice para esta nota. Natalia tiene un entusiasmo contagioso, irresistible. Todas las que estábamos ahí, habíamos quedado como hechizadas. La veíamos mover las manos, mientras ella decía palabras como “semilla”, “harina”, “legumbre” entre frases ingeniosas y con voz dulce, con mucha frescura. Había descubierto algo (o lo estaba haciendo) que la apasionaba, otra manera de comer, de utilizar nuevos alimentos (que en realidad eran alimentos de todos los tiempos). Un deseo poderoso se le había develado, echaba raíces, se expandía. Natalia Kiako fue una de las primeras en compartir esa información, estaba fascinada. Y que esa fascinación la estaba ofreciendo, sobre la pequeña mesa, para que nosotras pudiéramos servirnos.

Estamos en Buenos Aires, en un bar de los que llaman Bar notable, por ser representativo de la ciudad, de la cultura porteña del cafecito. Nos sentamos a una mesa cerca de la ventana y esperamos a que venga el mozo. Quiero saber qué es lo que va a pedir Natalia Kiako. Pasaron cinco años de aquel encuentro, hace meses publicó su tercer libro por editorial Planeta, aprendió a leer papers científicos y da talleres semanales para 90 personas -entre las que asisten cocineras y cocineros prestigiosos-, aunque ella no se siente maestra de nada ni de nadie. Sigue con la misma frescura de siempre, pide café cortado en jarrito y eso (lo iré descubriendo en la charla) es una posición, una decisión. Nutrición, sí. Placer y gratificación también. “Nunca fue la mía, el prohibicionismo”, es una de las frases que dirá a lo largo de la entrevista.

Su formación, el lugar donde ella aprendió las primeras bases, fue la casa de la infancia. Una madre cocinera, un padre que no sabía hacer un huevo duro, pero que se la pasaba buscando recetas y restaurantes a donde ir, una abuela y un abuelo que hacían ollas con guiso para toda la familia, jugo de ciruelas casero, un tío que sabía hacer helado de limón. “Vengo de una familia con mucho amor por la comida. Me acuerdo, literalmente, de mi abuelo atando con piolín la tapa de la olla, porque no había tanto tupper como ahora. Traficaban ollas de la casa de mi mamá a la de mi abuela y viceversa, porque había cosas que mis abuelos hacían al por mayor”. Ese fue el primer contacto que tuvo con la cocina, su paladar se fue cultivando con diversidad de sabores y texturas, aunque reconoce que cocinar no era lo que más le importaba.

En la década del noventa, empezó a cursar la carrera de Letras en la Universidad de Buenos Aires. Leía libros de literatura y se preocupaba por tener una buena figura, sin llegar a obsesionarse nunca, su dieta se basaba en quesos descremados, mermeladas y postrecitos dietéticos. “Crecimos en los noventa, donde había bajadas de líneas monstruosas que nos dieron a las personas, sobre todo de sexo femenino. Pero si me preguntabas en esa época, yo no te iba a decir que me preocupaba por la figura, porque también estudiaba letras, me las daba de intelectual”.

A su actual pareja, Luciano, que es músico, lo conoció en el año 2001, en un festival de jazz en la Costanera Norte de la ciudad de Buenos Aires. Haciendo énfasis en la alimentación de cada uno: Natalia estaba pensando en su figura, se veía lejos de poder disfrutar un plato de comida, “…estaba muy en esa situación de frustración, y viniendo de una familia que me había dado un repertorio y un paladar bastante copado”; Luciano, por su parte, siempre había tenido problemas digestivos, tanto que su dieta se había limitado a tres cosas: pollo, arroz y calabaza. Vacacionaban en Córdoba y fueron a visitar a un especialista en alimentación macrobiótica, José Luis Martínez, el gurú de la macrobiótica. José Luis le propuso a Luciano hacer una dieta basada en cosas radicalmente opuestas a las que podía indicar un médico alópata. Natalia vislumbró un mundo de posibilidades y combinaciones. Pasó de comer fruta y postrecitos a cocinar cereales, legumbres, vegetales. “Para mí fue súper difícil y súper importante. No tendría por qué haberlo sido. Evidentemente tocó muchos botones que estaban ahí como esperando ser tocados”.

La pasión que se descubre de a poco

La dieta macrobiótica requiere, sí o sí, tiempo para cocinar. Hay que encuadrarse en ciertos límites muy rigurosos, o no funciona. En algún punto, aquel mismo camino que Natalia y Luciano iniciaron por razones diferentes, podría verse como un mutuo acto de amor. De ella hacia él, porque él solo difícilmente podría haberlo hecho; de él hacia ella, porque fue por Luciano que hicieron la primera consulta. “Hoy no hago la dieta macrobiótica, ni la haría”, dice Natalia. “Me parece que es muy restrictiva. Precisamente, el placer en un momento empieza a ser muy difícil”. Pero en aquel entonces, sirvió para ordenarse y empezar a descubrir lo que realmente quería hacer.

Tardó años en dar talleres de cocina, en producir recetas propias y versionar otras, en que eso se convirtiera en una fuente de ingresos. Se había recibido como Licenciada en Letras y sus trabajos tenían que ver con la prensa y comunicación, la producción cultural. Le gustaba lo que hacía, pero sentía que le faltaba algo más lúdico, menos mental, y cocinar se lo dio. Era una labor en la que utilizaba las manos, que no solo era entretenida, se había vuelto balsámica.

Una gran ayuda

En la época del boom de los blogs, Natalia abrió uno, también como un juego, que se llamó Kiako the cook, actualmente es su página web. Ahí subía recetas, ideas, fotos que sacaba en su cocina. Pasaban los días y el blog iba creciendo, haciéndose cada vez más popular. Una tarde llegó a su casa un alumno de Luciano, a tomar clases de música. Al pasar por la cocina, el muchacho vio un utensilio que le resultó familiar, en algún otro lado lo había visto. Antes de empezar la clase le dijo a su profesor, “Ah, pero ella es Natalia Kiako, yo la conozco, la sigo en el blog”.

Julia, la hija de ambos, nació en el 2014. Ese mismo año, Soledad Barruti, una periodista, editora de la editorial Planteta y escritora que investiga la industria alimentaria, le envió un mail a Natalia ofreciéndole hacer un libro con el material que había en el blog. “Sole Barruti era alguien que yo sabía muy bien quién era. Había leído sus libros, ella había escrito notas sobre eso. Me llegó ese mail y me caí de orto, y la verdad es que le contesté: “Che, wow, qué hermoso, me encanta, me honra un montón. Pero la verdad es que tengo un bebé recién nacido. Si me bancás hasta diciembre…”. Y eso fue lo que hizo Soledad, entender el momento en el que estaba Natalia y tener paciencia. El 1 de diciembre de 2014, Natalia Kiako recibió el segundo mail de Soledad. Desde ese momento comenzaron el trabajo de edición y armado de su primer libro, “Cómo como”, un manual de autoayuda en la cocina saludable.

“…entonces te obsesionas con la comida, pero te pones todos los cosméticos llenos de petrolatos y aspirás este aire y te estresás todo el día… Entonces dale, mami. ¿Qué esperás que haga esa lechuguita? Pobre lechuga, le estás pidiendo mucho”.

Comer y cocinar, oportunidades para ser feliz

En el día a día, Natalia se encuentra con algunos obstáculos, como tener que negociar con la editorial para poder tener (por fin) un fotógrafo profesional; o recibir comentarios negativos cuando dice algunas cosas que piensa. En un momento, sentía que daba explicaciones al mundo entero, “Cuando metía una receta con gluten, era: perdón los celíacos. Cuando metía una receta con lácteos, era: perdón los veganos. Cada vez hacía recetas más sin sin sin sin para no ofender a nadie.” Poco a poco, fue encontrando su estilo, su lugar, su modo de hacer. “Aprendí, muy lento y con mucho trabajo, quién soy yo en este marco, qué es lo que yo quiero hacer”.

“A cuatro manos”, cocina natural para compartir con chicos, es su segundo libro y, “Claves de cocina: para volver a comer rico, variado y casero todos los días”, el tercero, recién llegado a las librerías. Para Natalia comer rico es tan importante como comer saludable. Lo dice a lo largo de toda la entrevista y su tono es el de alguien que ofrece lo que aprendió, lo que sabe hacer y le gusta, con el mismo asombro del primer día. Cocina es nutrición y es placer, es haber reunido dos pasiones, la comida y la palabra, es una oportunidad de pasarla bien. “Si vos le das la importancia que yo le doy y te gusta tanto comer como a mí… realmente cada vez que como, necesito que me dé placer porque si no siento que fue una…”, dice Natalia y se queda pensando hasta llegar justo a lo que quería decir, “Que me perdí una oportunidad de ser feliz”.

author avatar
Guadalupe Faraj
I was born in Argentina 47 years ago. Since I can remember, I have been interested in art or in any other aesthetic and sensitive expression that transmits a feeling. Above all, literature and photography are my two passions, the universes where I spend most of my time. However, I must say that there is a difference between one passion and another: writing, without a doubt, is what I will do or do, what I can’t leave. Being a writer is a desire that I don’t know when it started. Since forever? It was what I wanted to be (do). Furthermore, I wanted writing to be my source of income: writing and receiving money in exchange. For it to happen, I had to make decisions, have patience, perseverance, luck, and, of course, study. I studied philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires. I did workshops and clinics with writers that I liked. I dedicated myself to traveling, reading, and writing. If through literature, I wanted -and want- to win prizes and publish articles and books that are read by many people, with photography, I had no other aspiration than to take photos when I had the camera at hand, look, and contemplate. However, I also trained myself to be a photographer: I took courses in photography, and I studied photojournalism and direction in photography. I worked taking photos at weddings, 15th birthday parties, school portraits, and rock festivals. Much later, paid work would arrive as a writer. Meanwhile, I wrote. One day, I had my first novel ready, Namura. I sent a copy to several contests, and it came out as the winner in one. The novel won the Pola de Siero Short Novel award in Spain in 2011. I received the award in 2012; I was in my first pregnancy, and two months after receiving it, nothing came of what I expected; the baby was born and died after seven minutes due to a genetic problem. I automatically stopped writing. I tried and couldn’t. Or rather, the only thing I could write was a diary in which I described how sad the mornings were, the gray sky on those winter afternoons, and the calm I achieved on some nights. The diary, added to therapeutic help and a large network of affection and love, became the way to navigate the pain. After three years, I began to write fiction again, and that diary, far from being abandoned, was transformed into a literary object. From so much writing and correcting, the distance was generated that was needed for those cathartic pages to become a book. The texts began to dialogue with each other to have aesthetic meaning, melody, and the uniqueness that a work requires. It was called The Reptile Year (unpublished book), and in 2019, it received the First Honorable Mention in the Non-Fiction genre from the Letters Contest of the National Fund for the Arts, an autonomous organization within the Ministry of Culture of the Nation of my country. In 2020, I received a special award from the same contest for Jaulagrande, my second novel, framed in the dystopian genre. One thing was clear: what I wrote was of interest to other people, although I still couldn’t generate enough monetary support to live from it. In 2016, my beautiful son Lucio was born, and I decided. Instead of working as a photographer, I would work as a writer. All my intentions and actions were put at the service of writing. Then something started to happen; the words made their way. A few years ago, one of Argentina’s most important travel magazines, Lugares of the newspaper La Nación, had an opportunity for me. A friend told the editor about me just before a trip when the journalist had gotten sick, and they needed a replacement. Although I did not get the job at that time, it was the opportunity for which I did get it sometime later. To this day, I continue to collaborate with that media outlet. Later, other equally beautiful opportunities came. I was offered to write for a magazine called The Praxis Journal that belongs to one of the most iconic Art Galleries in Buenos Aires, and in Joyhood, where I interview passionate people. Asking questions, listening, and transforming what I hear into a written story is my job. Read books of stories that others tell, talk to people who have different lives than mine, and organize reading cycles, reading workshops, and writing workshops. Sometimes there are difficulties because no path, no matter how passionate it may be, is free of obstacles, but I am happy. I couldn’t (nor would I want to) do anything different from what I do. In some of the articles I write about trips I also take care of taking photos (I never completely stopped working as a photographer). I spend a lot of time with my passions, so much so that I can say that they are part of my essence; they are my way of seeing life.

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