EMPOWERING FOOD CRUSADERS

From leftovers to delicious dishes

Ms Regina Tchelly with her pumpkin peel buns and other culinary delights made from leftovers. She tries to create food that is beautiful and also has a lot of heartfelt memory.
Ms Regina Tchelly with her pumpkin peel buns and other culinary delights made from leftovers. She tries to create food that is beautiful and also has a lot of heartfelt memory.PHOTO: ALAN MIGUEL GONÇALVES

BRAZIL • "I used to be horribly fussy about food," admitted Ms Regina Tchelly, a 35-year-old cook and entrepreneur from Morro da Babilonia, Rio de Janeiro. "I wouldn't go near anything that was wholegrain."

For the past six years, though, she has been doing precisely that - and more. As head of the Favela Organica project, Ms Tchelly has taught over 30,000 people how to grow their own vegetables in tiny spaces, to transform banana peels, broccoli stems, pumpkin shells and other improbable raw material into delicacies and to turn what they cannot use in the kitchen into compost for their home gardens.

The founder of Favela Organica came to Rio as a teenager and worked as a housemaid for many years before deciding to apply for seed funding from the Agencia de Redes Para Juventude (Youth Network Agency), a government programme for small-scale social entrepreneurship. That was in 2011, when Ms Tchelly set up her first workshop - in her own home.

"My main concern is to create a kind of gastronomy that is not elitist. My recipes try to create food that is beautiful and also has a lot of heartfelt memory - something that your grandmother could cook for you," she said.

Ms Anita de Oliveira Santos, a 42-year-old assistant nurse from Morro da Babilonia, says taking part in Ms Tchelly's workshops was a huge eye-opener. Recipes that immediately caught her attention were the banana peel brigadeiro (a traditional Brazilian sweet, usually made with condensed milk and powdered chocolate) and the watermelon rind risotto. "We call it natural Viagra," she laughed.

Ms Tchelly is about to bring her recipes and advice to a wider audience - her debut as the host of her own TV show at Futura, an educational channel that could be described as a kind of Brazilian PBS, is scheduled for August.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'From leftovers to delicious dishes'. Print Edition | Subscribe