In Conversation with Claire van Vuuren
For Sydney-based restaurateur Claire van Vuuren, hospitality has been a 20-year passion. With two successful food haunts to her name, van Vuuren is now focused on Bloodwood Newtown, a community-focused restaurant with sustainability at heart — think reclaimed and upcycled furnishings, local farm-to-table produce, natural organic wines and dishes brought to life with native ingredients. Van Vuuren is also a founding member of the Women in Hospitality group, championing and sharing her guidance, expertise and support to women in all aspects of the industry. Here, EatWell chats to van Vuuren about sustainable and ethical eating, COVID revelations and paving the way for women in the industry.
Tell us about your journey into the food world. Where did it begin and how?
My food journey began after finishing a degree in Fine Arts. I kicked around for a few years trying to make a living and constantly needed to rely on my hospitality jobs to survive. After a long European trip, I realised hospitality wasn’t a side gig for me, it was what I wanted to do and so I began an apprenticeship and never looked back
You’re a founding board member of Women in Hospitality (WOHO). Tell us about your involvement in WOHO and the importance of mentorship for women in this industry.
WOHO is all about supporting and guiding women in the industry and our goal is to make sure women don’t just stay in the industry but progress as far as they can. This wasn’t around when I was a young chef, but it did happen informally.
WOHO began as a networking space and an attempt to build community between friends. Now it offers an amazing mentoring program, with two intakes per year. We are about to have our fourth round of the program! We match women from across the industry — from front of house through to brewing and winemaking — with leaders in their field. It’s been very inspiring to see how generous women and men in the industry are and to watch the program go from strength to strength.
You incorporate a lot of native ingredients into your cooking. What do you enjoy most about bringing these unique flavours to the menu?
Australia has one of the oldest living cultures, and Indigenous people have cultivated and understood the land for thousands of years. They are leaders in sustainability and have a rich knowledge about native ingredients. As a chef I feel it’s our duty to respect this, and where we can, use the unique flavours and produce Australia has to offer. We need to support this burgeoning industry of native ingredients and Indigenous business. My aim with my menu is to make these flavours and ingredients part of our everyday and familiarise our customers with them.
Your restaurant, Bloodwood, favours a sustainable, locally-sourced ethos. Tell us about your relationship with sustainable eating and cooking.
We were focused on sustainability from the beginning. We only use small producers and suppliers, we source local and we aim for minimal waste and of course send all our food waste to compost. To me, this is just common sense and the smartest way to cook good food. It’s great to see the direction the industry is going in and the innovations in this area.
Bloodwood has a strong focus on natural wines and complementary food and wine pairings. What is the secret to the perfect pairing?
For me there’s no huge secret; we always work to make sure nothing dominates too much. At Bloodwood, we love natural and low-intervention wines and enjoy introducing the doubters to this style of drinking.
What, for you, is the perfect dining experience?
Where do I start?! Always with friends and family, always generous and shared food and a warm atmosphere. My extended family meets every Sunday for a meal, and there are about 14 of us around a table. My background is Lebanese, South African and Italian so we have a pretty good time!
What is something that has inspired you lately?
The industry’s response to COVID-19 and its ability to adapt and care for its members through a really rough time was huge. The industry shows time and time again how well it can evolve and it’s great to be a part of it.
Are there any food trends you’re bringing to your cooking?
I’m not really one for following trends, but there is a big increase in people eating plant-based diets that we’ve had to cater for. It’s been fun creating menus that don’t rely on large proteins.
What are you enjoying eating at the moment?
I always love it when winter comes around, because I love cooking with winter veg. At the moment in the restaurant, we are doing a lot with celeriac, Brussels sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes and cabbages. They are such rich and earthy flavours and they suit the mood perfectly.
How do you think our food choices impact society more broadly?
There is nothing more central to life than food. COVID has shown us the importance of food security and supporting local supply chains and ensuring that we support the farmers and workers who provide our food. The more we are aware of this, and the politics of where our food comes from, the better society will be.
Do you think food can play a role in shaping a better future for the world?
Yes, for all of those reasons above. Also, because even though it’s a bit cliché, food genuinely does bring people together.