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Nicole Sartirani is changing the way we think about food. The Italian sustainable-eating advocate, now living and working in Berlin, is serving up inspirational cuisine with insects as the main ingredient.
Born in Bergamo, Nicole Sartirani studied acting in Rome before being drawn to Berlin’s diverse culture and settling in the German capital. Having travelled extensively, she began to take an interest in where the food we eat comes from and how it is processed.
A self-confessed animal lover, Sartirani was taught how to hunt, gut, cook and eat her food by her grandparents. Her mother introduced her to the world of plants and gardening, and, incredibly, given her subsequent career, her father owned a pest-control company.
“For me to eat a carrot, a cricket or a chicken doesn’t make any difference,” Sartirani says. “They are all living beings, like me, and I respect them. [Insects] are also a good alternative to meat.”
On trying her first insect – a grasshopper – Sartirani jokes that it was “love at first bite”. She now has a business called MikroKosmos that aims to bring Western society closer to bugs. With regular events, pop-ups and food stalls in markets, Sartirani serves up a range of insects across Berlin, limited only by German regulations on some species.
“This project would not exist in another city,” Sartirani says. “Berlin understands me.” Locals are proud of the city’s liberal values and acknowledge that the street-food scene here thrives thanks to the city’s diverse culture.
For Sartirani, it all began with a trip to Bangkok and Cambodia, a “dream” destination for insect eaters. “You learn the cultural differences and to be open-minded,” she says. “You judge food from the taste and not the idea.”
The MikroKosmos food stands are now thriving, but, in the first year, bugs were a tough sell. People were interested in the concept but wouldn’t go near her stall. Presentation was everything. “To overcome the idea of disgust connected with insects, the dishes need to look beautiful and taste delicious,” she says.
That said, she still claims to be frightened of insects (when they’re not on the plate). Nevertheless, taste and practicality easily win out over any residual fear. “Bugs are so easy to combine with other ingredients that you don’t need to be a super-chef to cook with them,” Sartirani says.
The growth of the business shows that people care about sustainability. “People care about my mission, and they help me to keep believing in what I do,” says Sartirani. “There are a thousand reasons why you should start eating insects. And not one why you shouldn’t.”