Zuri Camille De Souza: who is the first cook in the residence at Villa Medici

Zuri Camille De Souza, a young chef of Indian descent, arrived at the French Academy in early 2022 and will conduct her gastronomic research in the gardens of Villa Medici in Rome throughout the year, helping to activate new connections with artists and the city through food

Zuri Camille de Souza © Daniele Molajoli

It will present itself to the city on the occasion of it Night of the CabanesJune 25, on the opening night of Villa Medici’s gardens, dressed up for the presentation of the four pavilions that were erected all summer as part of the festival that activates the park designed in the late 16th century on occasion by Ferdinando de ‘Medici, around the family’s vacant residence, on the Pincio hill. Zuri Camille De Souza is a young Indian chef who started her first restaurant project in France, but she arrived at cooking thanks to a path to reflection on the landscape and human relations.

Edible flowers at Villa Medici
Edible flowers at Villa Medici

ZURI CAMILLE DE SOUZA IN RESIDENCE AT VILLA MEDICI

From January 2022 and throughout the current year, she is the one chosen for the first artistic residence that Villa Medici has decided to focus on gastronomic research. In fact, since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the villa has been the Roman seat of the French Academy, founded in 1666 (and drawn to various urban areas) to welcome the winners of Prix ​​de Rome and the artists of the time protected by the French aristocracy. The custom of welcoming scholars and artists into the residence continues into the present: today Villa Medici is a research center – starting with the studios that host the creatives – and an important cultural space in the Capitolian landscape with a program of exhibitions, appointments and guided tours that invite Romans and tourists to discover a historical heritage of the city that far too many still do not know. Also for this reason, on June 25, the villa’s gardens will open their doors to the public for free, animated by the artistic, musical and gastronomic program created for the evening. Zuri will be an active part of the organization, cooking personally and coordinating gastronomic realities and cooking guests for the event, in an unprecedented partnership tasked with establishing and consolidating collaborative relationships with those working in the city.

The kitchen of Zuri Camille De Souza at Villa Medici
The kitchen of Zuri Camille De Souza at Villa Medici

THE GOALS FOR A GASTRONOMIC HOUSING

The feeling of a gastronomic home is precisely this: “Activate relationships“, explains the chef”among those who live and work in the Villa every day, but also between the Academy and Rome“.
In recent months, its presence has led to the reactivation of the Villa’s café-bistro (previously managed to offer a service to visitors), but only for internal use:
I make sure to coordinate the kitchen staff, devise the menu, arrange lunch and dinner, for 50 people every day.In the meantime, however, Zuri focuses on research: “I spend a lot of time in the garden, historically also born to produce food. We have the citrus trees, the area with aromatic plants, while I implement the space dedicated to edible flowers along with the gardeners and I also spend my time with the beekeepers. I observe, collect, catalog, study, experiment with methods of processing and preserving fruits, herbs and flowers. It has always been a central interest in my approach to food, here I try to set up a method that will be useful, I hope, for those who will come after me. The hope is that this accommodation will create a continuity in the use of space and gastronomic content as an element of internal comparison and projected externally.“.

Zuri Camille De Souza ® Adrian Bautista
Zuri Camille De Souza ® Adrian Bautista

WHO IS ZURI CAMILLE DE SOUZA

In Zuri’s personal and professional history is relationship it has always been central. Born in Mumbai, to a father originally from Nairobi and a cosmopolitan mother who lived between Mauritius and Hong Kong, she spent her childhood in southwestern India on the coast of Goa in a family “who have always preferred to use food over words to express themselves. Today, cooking for me is a form of meditationBy taking advantage of this context, his education as a graphic designer, with an education in human ecologyhas determined in adulthood its approach to food, matured in connection with one constantly working on designing common areas which restores the relationship between man and nature. Interested in studying how the human presence changes the landscape, she soon embraced the path of activism and followed on earth the destructions (social, economic, natural) of migration phenomena caused by conflicts. After a period spent in Palestine on the island of Lesbos in 2018, he started a communal garden designed to restore normal spaces in the first reception center for migrants fleeing Syria: “The idea was to create a meeting place for refugees, it was very challenging to work with the concept of community in a passage: every morning someone went to seek happiness somewhere else, the influx of new people was constant. In that situation, people try to organize a normal life, take cooking classes, play basketball. We tended our garden, chopping and sowing one of the driest soils I have ever faced: Many looked at us confused, and instead the project flourished, causing a series of chain reactions. After nine months, we had also opened a radio station, to give people the opportunity to control communication with the world themselves, to tell about themselves without an external narrator being able to make them victims.“.

Preparation of bread
Preparation of bread

ZURI CAMILLE DE SOUZA FROM MARSEILLE TO ROME

The move to France came out of love: after the not-too-happy first impact with little Montpellier, Zuri chose to settle in Marseille, where he entered a professional kitchen for the first time: “On Lesbos I started cooking for the local community, in France, self-taught, I found a job at an Egyptian restaurant while studying to improve my technique“. Then came the pandemic, and the need to reinvent itself again. Thus it was born Sanna Marseillea gastronomic laboratory focusing on the improvement of regional Indian cuisines: “Focus on vegetable recipes, little known flavors outside of India, delivery only, by word of mouth via Instagram and deliveries made by bike, by me, throughout the city “. A project not only gastronomic, but also creative in rethinking the relationship with ecology, born with the aim of decolonize India’s culinary identity. A small one-man business that was noticed and which also attracted the interest of the gastronomic circle led by Laura Vidal (La Mercerie and Livingston in Marseille, Chardon in Arles): thus Sanna’s cuisine became itinerant, attended events and appeared (with We Are Ona Group, recently seen at the Venice Biennale and Milan Design Week). The contact with Vidal resulted in Zuri’s candidacy for Villa Medici’s residence: “I was elected after a rehearsal dinner. I arrived in town, became familiar with the ingredients, walked around the markets, tested the dishes for a few days. Then I cooked and they took me “. In Rome, he benefits from exploring the local cuisine and the supply chain of local products, in touch with small agricultural realities: “Here I found an incredible plant biodiversity, I love the balance and freshness of Roman cuisine, which is intense in taste but respects the ingredients. In Rome I found a strong sense of community around food: the context of the villa was new to me, but through food you can break the surface, create new connections “.

Cake inspired by the shores of the Tiber (from the dinner event at IUNO, Rome)
Cake inspired by the shores of the Tiber (from the dinner event at IUNO, Rome)

THE CONNECTION WITH ART

Contacts are also with the exhibited artists and with the realities of the city obliged to explore the perimeter of contemporary art: from IUNO, a research center that Cecilia Canziani and Ilaria Gianni opened a year ago in an apartment in the Prati district, The chef has recently “activated” Chiara Camoni’s ceramics (for the project Cleft, flowers, leaves), during a dinner performance honoring the exploration of the natural world.
And other collaborations will come. While Zuri prepares vinegar and syrups to leave as a dowry for his successor, Zuri thinks about the future. Without ruling out stopping in Italy for a while: “To learn new things about cooking, discover ingredients and producers, and why not take the Sanna project on a trip to the peninsulaToday, however, the focus is on Villa Medici: “I want to create a network of people around the Villa so that the next chef in the residence can count on it. This is only the beginning of a story. I want this place to open up to the city: many people tell me they’ve never been here, they’re almost scared, it should not be. And even young chefs and food producers can bring their ideas here, leading to a shift in perspective“.

Livia Montagnoli

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