Work and lifestyle on the cutting edge: In our conversations with contemporaries, we examine different claims, clichés, and ideals that circulate about our workplaces. This month, Titi Laflora talks about what her kitchen means to her: about an office that was turned into a kitchen, about inspiration through simplicity, and about the sensuousness of a perfect yeast dough. Kaffeeklatch with Nicole Kolisch.
Titi Laflora, also known as Judith Holzer, was born in Brixen, South Tyrol, in 1968 and she’s still an Italian citizen. Cooking and fine food have always been major parts of Judith's life. Her grandmother had a restaurant where the grandkids often liked to help out. Her Italian Mama cooked passionately for many people too.
The apple does not fall from the tree, so it’s no wonder that after completing high school Judith pursued a degree in hotel and tourism management and trained as a professional chef on the side. And then: A formative year in the kitchen of a small, fancy restaurant in Merano. The experience expands her culinary horizon but also exposes its limits. Judith gets the sense she was not meant to work in a restaurant.
She goes to Vienna and works as a project manager and event organiser for André Heller for 10 years. Gradually, she realises that she wants to do something completely for herself, not just bring the ideas of others, creative as they might be, to life.
Together with her husband, Judith opens an office for communication and design, an experience that still influences her food design. Because nutrition—she is convinced—is the transfer of knowledge, both communication and interaction between people. That’s exactly what she's been providing in recent years to an ever-expanding clientele under the stage name Titi Laflora: Creative edible art that brings people together. We met for the interview—appropriately enough—in her kitchen.
Titi Laflora, is your kitchen a sort of personal refuge for you?
Yes, it is my refuge. When I cook on a very personal level—which is truly something very intimate—then I feel most comfortable here because I am surrounded by my familiar things. And it’s also great for spontaneity because when I need something quickly—spices, ingredients, etc.—I’ve got it. It’s all here. I have to think it all out beforehand when I work in someone else’s kitchen, and I can’t be as spontaneous.
But inspiration often strikes when one is put in another workspace….
True. That always gives me a lot of inspiration. I like cooking in other people’s kitchens. Every kitchen has its own distinct logic, which it was built upon. But, hidden behind individual differences, there’s always a common denominator that's the same everywhere. The challenge is discovering it. I need about a half an hour, and then I’m fine anywhere.
A new environment brings new ideas. Sure, I can see things through the eyes of other people and imagine myself in another situation when I am in my own kitchen, but a completely different energy is released when I am physically in another place.
If you had to choose one favourite thing about your kitchen, what would it be?
My stove. And there’s a story behind it: The apartment where we live used to be a kayak factory, and the reception area used to be where the kitchen is now. We knew that we wanted to put in a company kitchen when we moved in. A block in the middle with only two burners, not at all what I was used to. The central idea was simplicity, ’back to the roots‘.
It was a real challenge for me to see how I could make do with only two burners and to think about how many people I would be able to cook for. Conclusion: Surprisingly many! After all, cooking is a type of project management—and it’s even more so with very few burners.
When working for myself, I have always wanted a really huge stove: Five burners, an enormous oven. Not anymore. The first thing I made was oven-baked lasagne. And I really learned to love my oven. And cooking with gas.
Your coffee grinder is rather unusual….
That’s my second favourite thing. I am a big coffee drinker and went for a manual coffee grinder. When you just press a button and let the coffee pour out, I find that extremely non-sensual. You get nothing from the coffee—from its texture, the beans, the aroma… Grinding coffee by hand is hard work, and you have to think about whether you really want a cup. But it’s a totally different experience when you drink hand-ground coffee.
Your kitchen seems almost empty.
I work very simply as far as appliances are concerned. No microwave, no electric kettle, no food processor. But, my pasta maker is very important to me—and it’s manually-operated too.
My philosophy is: This feel, this touching and experiencing, it may take longer, but I am convinced that it flows into the food, and you can taste the difference.
Do you think that your kitchen says something about you?
Yes, the simplicity and at the same time the playfulness in the details. Form follows function. The kitchen was designed for optimal workflow. The way in which the counters, sink, etc, are arranged was done specifically so that the distances between them were short as possible and workflow would be uninterrupted. It is really tiresome when these steps are interrupted, which they often are by the details….
Is there a ’dream kitchen' where you’d like to work?
On a ship. Well, a luxury cruise ship wouldn’t excite me at all, but I'd like to work in a galley on a container ship for example. Something really down-to-earth like that.
Simplicity fascinates me. It’s incredibly inspirational when you are so completely sealed off and not flooded with an oversupply of appliances and food. You need a lot of imagination to make the best out of what’s there.
Is there anything that you wish were different about your kitchen?
It would be nice if the kitchen wasn’t separated from the space where I design and do my thinking. In other words, there should be less distance between the kitchen and the office/desk/laptop. The areas should be separate, but still in the same room. But I’ve been thinking that an iPad might temporarily solve that problem….
Do you have certain rituals when you work?
I always need the countertop to be clear, like a blank page when you are writing. And before I start, I align myself with the theme and energy of each edible art project. For example, I just had a job where the theme was Marcel Breuer/Bauhaus. In Bauhaus, art and crafts flow together to form a constructive element and that also had to be reflected in the food.
Have you ever had a ’wow’ moment in the kitchen?
On a job about sustainability. I was supposed to create a (lunch)box design using fingerfood. I had worked with lunchboxes before and didn't want to do the same old thing. But there wasn't a lot of time, and I couldn't just have new boxes made, especially for 120 people! Also, the fingerfood had to be fixed in place and couldn’t just be flying around inside the lunchbox.... So, I panicked a bit at first—and then went shopping to calm down and to get some eggs, among other things.
And I have to admit that I’ve always had a hard time throwing away egg cartons because they are design objects themselves. And so after I got back and was about to throw the empty cartons into the recycling, I took another look and thought, ’That’s it!’ That was the piece that was missing! Serve the fingerfood in egg cartons!
It’s a recycled material, which fits with the theme of sustainability, and after the event, the used cartons could be given to the MQ children’s workshops and be used for crafts (Note: MuseumsQuartier in Vienna). This would close the gap in the recycling loop, which exemplifies the sustainability theme perfectly.
In addition, we put the idea of sustainability into the heads of the guests simply by reinterpreting a common household item as something valuable. That realisation—while simply throwing an egg carton away—now that was truly a ’wow‘ moment in the kitchen.
Do you have one task that you’d consider a favourite part of your work?
Definitely. Making yeast dough. It’s really a shame that fewer and fewer people are making yeast dough.
Yeast dough is unbelievably sensual. This softness, this vitality, this elasticity.... It is impossible to experience anything more sensual. The way it rises, the fact that it’s dependent on where or how long it sets, this sweetness and the aroma…. I get weak in the knees just thinking about it!
But, ultimately, I like all dough. Kneading them, handling them—you can learn a lot about people by the way they handle dough and whether or not they dare to go at it.
Another thing I really like is frying food. I love the sizzle.
Cooking is a lot like magic. Creating something new from raw ingredients is pure magic. Like all creative work, it’s 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration. But that doesn’t bother me. I enjoy every bit of it. I even like doing the dishes. It’s a meditative and cleansing moment—it cleanses from within too. There’s something about that. Only washing lettuce—if there's one thing I hate, it's washing lettuce.
Thank you for the interview.