Suria Foods is the creation of Katerina Lazareva, a Russian-born trained Chef living, farming and making in Byron Bay. We had the opportunity to sit down with Katerina and chat about her journey with food and the earth.
Interview with Katerina Lazareva
Interview by Jennifer Redmond
Read Time: 5 Minutes
Hey Katerina, how are you doing today?
A very busy production day. So much produce after the rain!
What have you been up to this week? What does a typical week look like for you?
This time of the year my garden is very bountiful, the rain really helps. This week I'm processing a lot of vegetables, cabbages, chinese cabbages, fennel, beetroot.
Ha ha, there is no such a thing as normal week. Always something exciting!
A mix of garden work, kitchen production, markets, classes and new recipe developing.
This week I'm also starting a production of a unique vegetable miso range.
Can you tell us a little bit about Suria Foods? How did it all begin, and what is the inspiration behind it?
Suria Foods is a collection of my ancestral knowledge, my family history of exile and struggle, my chef’s skills and a passion to change the world. Suria Foods is a manifestation and a call for a change. I want to inspire people to be more connected to the land, understand the seasons and where their food comes from. It's about healing the earth by healing ourselves. And what's better than natural probiotics?
For those who don’t know, you were born and raised in Russia. Can I ask what brought you to Australia? Do you ever plan to go back?
In 1950s my family was exiled to a labour camp in Kazahstan. After the communist regime fell they stayed there and 35 years later I was born. We only moved back to Russia in late 90's. So I grew up in USSR, a very multicultural environment.
I lived in different countries before I settled in Australia 10 years ago. During that time I actually had nothing to do with cooking. I finished my public relations degree and ran my own media buying agency. Until one night I had a dream of me wearing a chef’s white jacket with an Australian flag on it. Three months later, I moved to Sydney and enrolled into Tafe.
I would actually love to go back, but just to visit. Last year I was invited to be a speaker at the gastronomy institute in Moscow, talking about zero waste kitchens in hospitality sector and reducing food waste through fermentation. The pandemic had different plans, but hopefully one day I can still do it. It would be amazing to connect to a new generations of Russian chefs.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced since starting up your business? What about your greatest achievements?
I create different products every week and season depending on what's available in my garden. Fermented food in Australia was introduced very poorly and limited. Kombucha and sauerkraut, that's all people know. So I guess the most challenging part is to offer something different, something people don't know. To explain thats its not about the ingredient but about the fermentation. And the same as chefs create seasonal menus, I create fermented food menus. Once people try and understand it, it becomes the most rewarding part. They buy whatever I offer. The other rewarding part of my work is to actually see how people get healthier, how my products help to battle certain conditions. And that's why I'm doing it!
Can you tell us a bit about the fermenting process?
Fermentation is an act of care. We ferment, nurture the microbes so they can take care of us later. It is the most beautiful transformation of food, the one we achieve by just mixing fresh produce and salt. The process that turns products into wholefood probiotics, enhances the nutritional value and makes it much more digestible.
If you have to pick one of your products that you couldn't live without, which one would it be and why?
That's a hard questions, there is always one each season. I think my absolute favourite is a miso, seaweed, cucumber and daikon kimchi. It's a symbiotic ferment, which means it has both pro and prebiotics. It's umami, delicious and sort of a gut solution in one jar.
What can people expect during our upcoming fermentation workshop?
Being a qualified chef I teach methods, not the recipes. So at the end of the class you will have a deeper understanding on how to apply fermentation to any ingredients, how to combine them in recipes and trouble shoot. Everyone will be creating their own unique product with the seasonal produce they choose as well as a byproduct from the offcuts and trimmings.
What does the future look like for you and for Suria? Any exciting plans?
So many plans!
Just recently I have launched the Box of Goodness project. Eco delivery of Suria Foods curated products almost anywhere in Australia. The plan is to explore this direction.
At the moment I'm setting up a small production of unique seasonal misos, made from vegetables, mushroom and nuts. Everything local, nothing imported!
And hopefully this year I will finally launch my online fermentation school.
Busy busy days ahead!