An Interview with Zsuzsanna Toth
1. You have your hands in a lot of projects — tell us a little about yourself, and how you came to do what you do.
I have always been interested in words, food, conversations, design and psychology. After my fashion design studies, I ended up working for almost a decade in editorial (writing, consulting, production) and moved into creative direction and cooking.
For as long as I can remember I wanted to form an ultimate plan for my present and future, which seemed increasingly impossible. Years and years of what felt like frustration lately formed into the understanding and acceptance that I work best across disciplines, thoughts, people, connecting dots — and by doing so I created a very clear path.
Food was a quiet part, I never dared to consider it as a profession, however, plates as meeting points within all these thoughts and words always had a very important role. When I started cooking more professionally, I first thought it would be a completely new start, forcing me to close the doors and ways I’ve gone before. Lately and luckily I have realized, none of these disciplines have to exclude each other, quite the opposite. Food and cooking was a link I missed to give the attention and thought it always deserved, even before I actually put my hands into it.
2. How does your work in these practices and industries inform and influence one another as aesthetic experiences?
For me, anything “aesthetic” across all these practices happens mostly when fearlessness meets intuition, when fluidity remains unobstructed by reason. I observe a lot during cooking that — literally — feed into the words I use, the thoughts I have, the topics I am interested in. And in reverse — a lot of what I read and write and see through my research informs the way I structure a dish, a meal, an eating experience.
3. Can you tell us about GAIA?
GAIA is a culinary collaboration with one of my best friends, Julia Heifer. We first met in our “first” careers, working in fashion/editorial and reconnected many years later through our shared interest in food. She already had her own restaurant up and running and we developed a series of topical pop-ups and did some catering together. We weren’t planning to open a restaurant (yet) but when we got asked to take over a café with a surrounding wild garden, we didn’t hesitate for a second. We open this summer for a seasonal restaurant, where we can grow vegetables literally garden to plate. This place is the home and the base of GAIA, which reflects our intuitive, honest, deep bond with food, connecting land with people, hands with produce and thoughts with meals.
4. What have been some of your favorite things to make lately?
Bread. Braids. Salads. Journeys into the seemingly known, but ultimately unknown. A Business. New friends.
5. How does living in Berlin specifically influence and facilitate your work?
When I moved to Berlin 10 years ago, I never thought I would stay for good. Growing up in Vienna I was used to structure, conservative values, slow pace and radically good quality in everything (especially food). Over time the chaotic naiveté of this city grew on me. It is a cliché, but it does give you so much space to explore, to grow, to fail, and to find your feet again. In a way, the city is like a constant whisper saying, “it’s okay, keep going.”
For me it was specifically the openness of people that facilitated conversations and lead into amazing projects. I don’t think I would have dared to tap into different industries as an autodidact in an intimidating city.
6. The Descansa slide is all about taking it easy — if you were to make a laid back Descansa playlist, who would be on it?
A lot of Lauryn Hill, Four Tet, Floating Points and Classical Music.
7. What are you looking forward to most this summer?
To split my time between the not-locked-down-anymore buzz of Berlin summer and in the middle of our garden, picking and plating, thinking and creating. I really feel like this year is about actual growth and growing up and I can’t wait to explore each twist, each pain and each pleasure that comes with actually embracing a tangible plan after all.
See more of Zsuzsanna here.