Contributing Writer TOM EWER aka The Gypsy Chef, is an acclaimed British chef and a Rom and is working on a cookbook that explores his Romani heritage through food.
ABOUT GATLIF: Tony Gatlif, birth name Michel Dahmani, is an award winning filmmaker and a Rom. Born in Algeria in 1948 to a Kabyle father and Romani mother, the family was poor, and like many Algerians, Gatlif found the draw of France too strong to resist – and so with nothing but the clothes on his back he found himself in Paris, alone and only 14 years old. Sleeping rough, he started to sneak into cinemas during the day in order to get warm – but also to indulge his one true passion: Film. Using his natural Romany talent for acting he soon secured a place at theatre school and for many years he earned a living on the stage, but somehow this did not feel enough. He began to make films about his experience of being part of a hidden people. The Romany people. His early work eventually reached the right audience and in 1992 he embarked on a project that would propel him into the world of award ceremonies, glamour and ultimately recognition of the issues surrounding the Romany of Europe. This film is called Latcho Drom. Described by The New York Times as “an intensely lyrical portrait of Gypsy culture” Latcho Drom traces the journey of the Romany people through music. The success of Latcho Drom led to worldwide recognition and in 2004 his film Exiles won the best director at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.
TONY GATLIF INTERVIEW with TOM EWER THE GYPSY CHEF
Contributing Writer TOM EWER is an acclaimed British chef and a Rom. Also known as THE GYPSY CHEF, Ewer is working on a cookbook that explores his Romani heritage through food.
TOM EWER: How would you describe your heritage and how has it shaped your life and ultimately, your career as a filmmaker?
TONY GATLIF : It’s freedom, pain, humiliation but also pride, the way of living fast from one day to another. Yesterday doesn’t exist, tomorrow neither. As a filmmaker all those aspects are very important in my movies.
TOM EWER : With your extensive knowledge of Romani life all over the world what would you say are the most important values and traditions now in modern Romani communities?
TONY GATLIF : After traveling in Romania, Greece, Turkey, Spain … it’s survival now.
TOM EWER : In English speaking countries, there is much misunderstanding around the word ‘Gypsy’ and what it means. How do you understand the current usage of the word Gypsy and its origins?
TONY GATLIF : Today the word ‘Gypsy’ is used as a political stake. In many countries it’s also a little bit romantic… Gypsies come from Rajasthan, in the north of India. During the journey (of the Romani) there has been many mixes of language, food and music. A large part of the language and oral traditions, roots come from India.
TOM EWER : In your view, what part does food play in Romani culture?
TONY GATLIF : Firstly food is precious. In the past it was precious because it was rare. The word ‘eat’ in the Gypsy language is very important. To this day, food is very important for poor or wealthy Gypsies, it is a sign of plenty because there has been too much poverty in the past.
TOM EWER : And what is your first memory of food?
TONY GATLIF : Food was simple when I was a child. Lots of quarry. My mother was fully aware of plants, she was so careful to prevent any diseases.
TOM EWER : Having traveled extensively with Romani and Sinti whilst filming Latcho Drom, are there any interesting foods and eating habits that you remember on set?
TONY GATLIF : Indians from Rajasthan invited us in the desert. The crew that was with me did not know the Gypsies. I didn’t want them to see how they were cooking the meatballs. One of the technicians saw the Gypsy women knead the meat as she was chasing the flies away. He refused to eat…of course I ate and it was excellent.
TOM EWER : When traveling on the road, are there any particular foodstuffs that you crave?
TONY GATLIF : Generally it’s very simple food. On the edge of a road or in a small restaurant. I like roast meat and the Gypsy’s caldron – a sort of boiler where all foods are mixed. (bread, meat, vegetables…)
EWER : Is there a recipe that you feel best represents Romani culture?
GATLIF : The excellent Gypsy’s caldron. What is amazing is that even in the most poor houses, cooking is made in great cleanness because, like I said, Gypsies are really afraid of diseases.
EWER : Your films celebrate the richness of Romany culture but also portray the injustice toward Romani communities across the world. In the future, how do you see Romani culture existing, changing and being represented in the media?
GATLIF : Gypsies did not obtain access to modernity. In all European countries they haven’t been allowed to enter the twenty first century. Today they are victims of racial prejudices which take us back to the middle ages. Gypsies don’t talk about the past or the future they talk about the present. Now the younger generation needs to think about its future and this future has to be thought about by Gypsies, and friends who talk their language. Their destiny should not be ruled by people who don’t understand who they are.
Contributing Writer TOM EWER is an acclaimed British chef and a Rom. Also known as THE GYPSY CHEF, Ewer is working on a cookbook that explores his Romani heritage through food. He runs the kitchen at the Seven Dials Club in the heart of London and was recently appointed trustee of The Gypsy Council in the UK working with the travelling community on social and civil rights issues. Tom Ewer: “I am honored to have been able to talk with Mr Tony Gatlif about childhood, travel and, of course, food. I hope you enjoy this little insight into the life of one of our most renowned brothers.”