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Sebastian Copien - on the one hand, a freedom-loving surfer, on the other hand, a scientific top chef/author/permaculture practitioner. In him, two worlds unite that express his philosophy “From the seed in the ground to the finished dish”. His love of nature, his home-grown plants and awareness of sustainability are noticeable in each of his dishes. In addition to his cooking school in Munich, he successfully runs his VEGAN MASTERCLASS online cooking school, with the goal of inspiring people towards plant-based cuisine.
Information and enquiries at:www.sebastian-copien.de / www.vegan-masterclass.de
A cooking school rather than a restaurant? In addition to my cooking courses and seminars, I cook at selected functions or my own fine dining events. That’s the perfect mixture for me. Regularly cooking for myself and others outside the courses is absolutely essential for me. That’s the only way I can learn and continue developing.
Do you see yourself as a cooking missionary? A cooking educator? I am anything but a missionary. (laughs) I see myself more as a coach who just loves to pass on his knowledge and enjoys seeing his students improve their culinary skills. My courses, whether live or online, aren‘t about just following a recipe but about really internalising all the key factors of excellent vegan cooking.
What do you serve that others may not find quite so edible? I enjoy fermenting. That’s a bit of a challenge for some people. Kimchi for example – either you love it or you hate it. For me, it’s the big love. (laughs) I also work with roasting aromas a lot. Not everybody likes that.
Is there a ready-meal that is at all edible in your opinion? You’d have to define readymeal first but every now and then, I eat an organic, vegan pizza with a spelt base from the freezer. I pimp it a bit
with vegetables and almond glaze, then it’s quite nice.
Can you recognise raw vegetables by their smell? Absolutely! I sniff my vegetables a lot. (laughs)
How do you prefer your vegetables: Raw or cooked? With or without skin? Preferably with a lot of roasting aromas but retaining their bite - chunky and rustic, with fine raw fruit and vegetables. They perfectly complement each other. I’m a huge fan of the skin and of processing from the root to the blossom.
Everyone is currently talking about superfood. What is the ultimate superfood for you? Fresh, locally grown vegetables, herbs and fruit - harvested and processed with a lot of attention. That’s superfood. That also includes wild herbs such as nettles or ribwort etc.
Are shoots also vegetables in your eyes? Shoots are the preliminary stage of herbs, grain or vegetables to define it precisely. (laughs) They’re also a superfood. I like using shoots. But it’s a bit of an absurdity, if you always throw a handful of shoots on every dish, even if they don’t have any impact on the taste or create harmony with the rest. Gastronomically,it’s really “in” at the moment. I find that really annoying.
Tell us your “recipe for life”. Think positively - have dreams and visions and be ready to invest a lot for them. Laugh a lot even if there isn’t anything to laugh about. Have trust - in yourself and in life. New doors open all the time, especially when some are closing. Always listen to your gut, without compromise. Enjoy life!
Back to nature - where do you get your inspiration from? I have been surfing for many years. I do that several times a year. Being by the sea and in the sea, feeling the power of the waves, is absolutely essential for me. Apart from that, I enjoy being in nature anywhere - I include my cooking school garden in that. That inspires me for my cuisine, in particular. Seeing what’s growing and discovering new parts of plants is just wonderful. It always gives me new ideas for the kitchen.
Taste your life – how does YOUR life taste? Like the 5+1 flavours that I talk about in every one of my courses. (laughs) Everything is included. Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy and umami. Sometimes light raw fruit and vegetables, sometimes stewed for a long time and hearty. Enjoyment is really important.
A cultivated and planted inner courtyard of a monastery, right in the middle of Munich’s city centre. A quiet jewel, a long way from the noise of big city chaos. This is it, Sebastian Copien’s urban garden: wild plants, huge fennel stalks and right in the middle: carefully sown vegetables. Everything is green and smells and tastes great, according to Sebastian: “Simply delicious!” With urban gardening, the chef and permaculture practitioner implements and lives his holistic motto “From the field into the saucepan”.
What’s the philosophy behind urban gardening? Cultivating plants in an urban environment - whether on a balcony, window sill or in a city garden - that can be turned into tasty dishes. The journey is just as important as the result.
Your garden garden looks quite wild in parts. Do you still have some kind of “system”? (laughs) I follow the classic crop sequence with plants having a low/medium/high nutrient uptake. I also pay attention to which plants support each vegeother and which dislike each other. Apart from that, I experiment a lot and follow my instinct. If something works or doesn’t, I’ll remember it and learn from that. Ultimately, I realise that I don’t know much about the topic. It’s a separate universe without limits.
How much space do weeds have in your garden? A lot. In permaculture, the saying goes: There are no weeds, just surrounding plants. They usually have a task or are an indication of something such as nutrient supply etc. I delight in the plants that are labelled as weeds. I include nettles etc. in my harvest and turn them into something delicious.
Are plants in a metropolis still organic? What does “organic” mean? (laughs) Is “organic” the seal? Is “organic” a philosophy? What is classed
as “organic” nowadays, is often a joke in my eyes, unfortunately. True ORGANIC produce would have 100% natural cultivation - from the seed and the earth to the fertiliser and harvest with minimum energy consumption. My plants see nothing but sky, sun and rain. I use compost or fermented compost (bokashi) as a fertiliser. That’s much more organic to me than any seal may promise, even if the garden is located in the centre of Munich.
You give human attributes to vegetables such as “sexy fennel”. Do you have a special relationship with your home-grown vegetables? Of course. If you’re taking care of particular plants for months, from sowing to the fully grown vegetable, you build a relationship quite naturally. Not in a classic human sense - I don’t give my vegetables names, for example. (laughs)
Do you treat your home-grown vegetables differently in your kitchen compared to vegetables you have bought? I have a di£erent feeling during preparation and I enjoy it more. That’s how I properly learned to try using everything. Years ago, it was probably easier for me to throw away lettuce I bought if it wilted. You don’t do that as easily with something home-grown. Then that had an impact on what I would throw away in general.
What do you think of frozen vegetables? I think only frozen peas are tasty enough to use (in creams, soups etc.). Spinach is ok, too, even though you can’t compare either of them to the freshly harvested produce. But for many people, frozen vegetables are an important part of everyday meals, and that’s great. We know by now that frozen vegetables have a lot of vitamins. For me, it’s more about texture and flavour. But it’s better to eat frozen vegetables than no vegetables at all.
How do you spend the winter without your garden? Do you bottle food? Do you ferment it? Do you preserve it? Yes, I ferment a lot. I also have a vegetable humidor in the cooking school where I can ferment as well as store vegetables at the perfect humidity and temperature. I also cultivate shoots and micro greens in cabinets and buy simply wonderful storable vegetables from my wholefood shop. I get Jerusalem artichokes and parsnips from my plot in winter, too.
Which vegetables make good desserts? The other day, I made great ice-cream from celery and white vegan chocolate. That was a perfect combination with blueberries and rice-dolce de leche. Pumpkins and sweet potatoes are great for desserts. And many more.