One of the pioneers of the social economy in France, this self-taught chef advocates for the destigmatization of haute gastronomy. Her gluten free innovative restaurant reinvents the standard in a holistic and inclusive culinary way.
Photo Courtesy of Nadia Sammut
"Before you want to change the world, start by changing your world.
Born in Lourmarin, in the beautiful Luberon, Nadia Sammut is the first gluten-free Michelin-starred chef. A self-taught Chef, Nadia is at the origin of the Cuisine Libre® (Free Cuisine) movement, campaigning for healthy, environmentally-friendly food that contributes to changing the way we live, think, and eat. As the daughter and granddaughter of female Chefs, Nadia, who was diagnosed with celiac disease at a very young age, grew up eating dishes prepared especially for her. She learned about biochemistry before deciding to become a Chef at the age of 30 in order to address food intolerances in a new holistic approach. Her goal is not to propose a cuisine without something. On the opposite, the idea is to propose an inclusive cuisine while working concretely on the ground of a sustainable future. Anchored in her native ‘terroir’, she walks alongside the producers, breeders and farmers who provide her with the best products. A fervent defender of the peasant cause, she also works to develop agricultural sectors. Her holistic approach to cooking nourishes the body and mind, erases fatigue and brings inner calm. This talented visionary chef also received the Michelin green clover as a reward for her efforts towards a committed and sustainable gastronomy.
Welcome Nadia to Chefs for Impact!
By Nadia Sammut as told to Chefs for Impact
What was your experience growing up with celiac disease?
"I was born into a family of restaurateurs. All my life the answer to my illness, has been to prepare a special dish just for me. The special attention made me feel excluded somehow."
What exactly does allergy, hypersensitivity and intolerance to gluten mean and where does it come from?
"Gluten is the protein fraction found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt. ‘Glu' means glue, which is what gives the sticky appearance when mixed with water. Over the years and with the industrialization of agriculture, wheat has been modified to be more resistant, to whiten the bread, and to glue better. These cereals have been mutated to the point of being indigestible, sometimes with much more gluten than before. This has caused inflammation and irritation of the intestinal wall to the point of hypersensitivity and poor assimilation of the ingredients in the body. Nowadays, wheat is stickier and allows the bread to swell faster. Moreover, wheat being a cheap additive, the food industry adds it everywhere from chewing gum to a sauce binder... Then the interaction with other ingredients, especially refined sugars, accentuates food hypersensitivity and therefore chronic fatigue.”
Does it mean that consuming ancient grains and other unprocessed ingredients would reduce the risk of being affected?
"It's hard to know since the problem is that we've already been widely exposed to these highly processed ingredients. As a result, the overall condition of them has been altered. Tomorrow, the reintroduction of an old wheat will not cause any problems if you are gluten intolerant. The question you must ask yourself is: what do you put into your body? There is no point in eating ancient grains if it is combined with refined sugar, poor quality butter, vegetables that are not ripe or in season. It's not just a question of wheat.”
When did you decide to become Chef?
"When I was 10, the doctors thought I was getting better and my parents were told that I had to eat again like everyone else, except that I was poisoned for 20 years. It was a chronic pathology, perhaps silent at one point in my life, but very present. When I was 30 years old, I fell ill in a much more important way. It was time to make a commitment to my heritage and my education and the true angle of sharing and transmission. I decided to travel the world to better understand what food alternatives are used when people have evictions or food problems".
What did you learn from these trips?
"All the Gluten free solutions that I found all over the world were full of additives, no quality products sourcing, and zero transparency. Universally, I realized that it was always about deprivation and never about the tasteful culinary experience. What is fundamental is indeed the human experience and how it correlates to the positive gustatory memory that reassures, as we call it the Proust's madeleine. It was revealing for me. I had to use my education to take the lead and share these values. My project has become a real rebirth for me."
"I cook with a mission."
What did you start with?
"I start from scratch with the seeds. I studied ecosystems, I took sides on environmental and political reflections to try to make codes evolve. I then joined the social entrepreneurship incubator of a major business school in France (ESSEC). I reflected on my desire to create a world that was positive and open (whereas the one I was offered wasn’t) and where cuisine is inclusive. The locality has a primordial role in my project as well as the unprocessed ingredients. I started cooking, thinking, and working on this project and movement now called Cuisine Libre® in 2015".
Can you explain what Cuisine Libre® is?
"It is a movement promoting a cuisine free of all dictates, free of allergens, and free of thoughts.
I explain to my team and the people around me the importance of zero waste, the use of ingredients in their entirety, and the importance of creating the sauce bases yourself. I only work with ingredients that are biodynamic and organically produced. Vegetables are picked just before serving. I try to be as close to nature as possible and to explain it in a permanent way. »
Formation is at the heart of your mission. Can you tell us more about how you educate professionals and individuals?
"Six years ago, I opened the Cuisine Libre Institute which does research and training for individuals and professionals. We also train the medical profession on the importance of positive patient nutrition. We accompany the patient towards pleasure not a restrictive diet.
I own an 18 acres property that I am transforming into a place of regeneration for the heart, mind, and earth. My culinary work around conscious cooking is supported by my research laboratory with farmers, doctors, scientists, neuroscience experts, etc.”
What do your Michelin star and the green clover of sustainable gastronomy, mean to you?
"In France, Haute gastronomy often compartmentalizes the ideal of recipes and transmission; which is understandable since it is an heritage, moreover classified as a UNESCO World Heritage. But I think that all the ingredients that I use can also be part of a heritage and recipes that are also transmissible. Auberge La Fenière is the first gluten-free starred restaurant in the world. This is a sign that gastronomy is opening up to this inclusive vision and that it is questioning itself on the evolution of society. The sustainable green clover shines light on our commitments, and it allows people to recognize them.”
“It is more than a recognition; it’s proving the rest of the world that there are no stigmas.”
What is your dream?
"That Kom&Sal’s business and agricultural model expands all over the world. Each country can have its own model that values agriculture and creates positive opportunities. I aim to make an impact for humanity through this foundation and the sanctuary that I am building.”
Learn more about