With August being Woman’s Month I thought it would be fitting to find out more about a very dynamic, talented and versatile woman who I have “known” since we were teenagers in Bulawayo (we went to rival high schools and she was this intriguing, foreign-looking girl who caught the same bus home as I did), and who you all know of as the creator of the delicious vegetarian recipes in our hugely popular “That Wild Green Kitchen” article every month. I asked Gisele Turner to share some insights into her life’s passions and her journey to where she is today.
What is your background growing up and what/who were your influences?
I was brought up by my French mother and Polish stepfather and they both loved food. I grew up on a barren small holding outside Bulawayo and within a few years, my industrious parents had transformed it into an extended kitchen garden with a small orchard of deciduous fruits, a citrus grove, all the veggies that you can think of plus a number of more unusual ones that they missed from their European upbringing - Kohlrabi, dill and horseradish for my dad; tarragon, frilly lettuces and okra for my mom. So, as a child, most of what I ate came from our garden and that had a huge influence on my taste buds. My mom was a dedicated housewife, and particularly interested in the kitchen. She was bold in that she tried lots of new things, but she was very bound to her recipe books and her meals were made from carefully weighed and measured ingredients. She was a kitchen queen and I was only allowed to do such lowly things as mash potatoes and chop the parsley. I was HOPELESS when I first started cooking for myself! But I knew how things should taste and my palate had been well-trained with delicious and beautiful homemade healthy food every day and I had already developed quite a broad taste. This definitely helped when I had my own kitchen and was learning to prepare food for my family.
How did you get into the Vegetarian way of life?
In the early 70’s I started following a Spiritual Philosophy that required vegetarianism as a way of life. As a young mother, I was concerned that my choice would affect my family if I didn’t know what I was doing, so I read a lot of books and spoke to many seasoned vegetarians. Using what I already knew about Mediterranean and Slavic styles of cooking, I adapted familiar recipes and made them vegetarian friendly - that’s how I discovered I had a lot of passion and a bit of a flair for playing around with different combinations and creating interesting cuisine. That journey has never ended, and travel to South East Asia, China and India has inspired me and changed the way I look at food.
Tell us about your fresh journey into Veganism.
Veganism is a giant leap as it solves so many aspects of the major environmental issues in one fell swoop. As soon as you stop participating in the use of animal products, you withdraw from an industry that is responsible for so much damage to our planet. I am not interested in evangelising as I do believe that everyone should have the opportunity to exercise their freedom of choice, but I also believe in supporting this phenomenal movement. As I transition to veganism I am being led to an extraordinary new place in cooking where the kitchen also becomes a laboratory, and food is defined by taste, texture and colour.
Many of our readers will not know that you are very active in, and passionate about the performing arts. Can you describe your involvement and achievements.
My primary work for more than 45 years has been in the field of education and culture. I have been fortunate enough to be self-employed most of my working life. I ran a creative arts studio; worked in schools with children who presented challenges; was involved in a thriving theatre company that toured schools, both in suburbs and townships; I have written and co-written many plays, poems, songs and stories; was part of Durban’s art and entertainment media review team and worked for both my own NPO and other NGOs in many different capacities. It has been a fruitful and extraordinarily creative journey and I am deeply grateful that I was able to earn my living doing what I loved so much.
What are your favourite things to do?
I totally love walking on Brighton Beach at low tide; hanging out with good friends and having interesting conversations; spending time with my beautiful grandchildren; reading well-written non-fiction; sipping excellent coffee; and yes… cooking up a storm in the Wild Green Kitchen!