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In the kitchen with Otark

Finger licking people undoubtedly have heard about Otark. The Antwerp-based food collective always sure know how to surprise our taste buds. 

Otark Production is Hadas Cna'ani and Charlotte Koopman. What started out 4 years ago turned out to be a travel agency for great taste. On Sundays you can find them at In the Roscam, where they organize The Breakfast Club. 

 

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How did you meet?

Hadas: I’m from Israel and when I was visiting a friend, she told me she knows someone who has a friend living in Antwerp and that someone turned out to be Charlotte. I was given a present and told to pass it on. But it took me quite a while to deliver it to Charlotte. 

Charlotte: But you did, just before it expired. Hadas brought me some amazing organic dates from Israel.  

 
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Since you Hadas are from Israel and Charlotte is Dutch, how did you end up in Antwerp?

Hadas: When I came here, I wanted a break from working as a cook, which I did in Israel and New York. I was also making film costumes, heard about the Royal Academy of Antwerp and I really wanted to try out fashion. So I came to Antwerp to study and I never left. I didn’t finish my degree. I quit after two years for it wasn’t what I wanted.

Charlotte: People always have a good reason to move to another city, but I didn’t know Antwerp at all. I just visited the city once. I think you only get to know a place when you have lived there for a while. I went to art school in Holland and I wanted to move to Antwerp. And that was it. 

 

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How did your partnership come about?

Hadas: When I studied fashion, I really missed cooking. I met Charlotte, but we didn’t come up with the idea to start cooking together immediately. First we exchanged ideas and slowly this talking developed into a project together. We asked ourselves what would be a nice thing to do, involving food. 

Charlotte: And then we came up with 10 new ideas per minute. 

Hadas: We used to call ourselves a travel agency for taste. Our first idea was to look for nice ingredients and to bring them here. We sold things like honey wine from France, Tjechian cake, candy made from quince, chocolate with spices. We provided a nice packaging and sold them at the Christmas market at Ra. It was nice, but people coming to Ra were more interested in fashion than they were in food. They didn’t want to taste anything, but for us it was a good experience.

Charlotte: I prefer creating to organizing. Don’t get me wrong. Everything takes organization, but I don’t want to end up just organizing.

 

 

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Then you decided to focus more on the process of cooking?

Hadas: Yes, it was a natural thing to do. Before we came up with The Breakfast Club, we organized dinners at In de Roscam. These were our first try-outs to bring people together, to make them enjoy a really good meal and to offer it for little money. The concept worked out really well.

Charlotte: Dinners developed into breakfasts. The Club is nice, because we do it once a week. It’s never a routine and it was interesting for me to see what happens when you do things exactly the way you want it. The Breakfast Club is perfect and people eat the most curious things for breakfast. They have come to trust us and they love to try new things every week. 

 
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Where do you get your inspiration from? How do you keep on surprising people? 

Hadas: We do a lot of research and there is so much you can do when it comes to preparing breakfast. It’s so nice to dedicate yourself to something which is very specific and look for unlimited possibilities. 

Charlotte: Take eggs for example. We found so many ways to work with eggs. Every week we look for different ways to serve them. Last summer, I was obsessed with fig leaves. Many people grow fig trees in their garden and these leaves have a really great taste. I didn’t know about it, until I started experimenting and used them to flavor ice cream and cocktails,... They taste like coconut, quite extraordinary! 

Hadas: Charlotte also tried to get taste out of geraniums, but that experiment didn’t turn out that great (laughs). 

Charlotte: Some geraniums taste like a bad aftershave, rough and unsubtle, but some of them smell really good, like cinnamon, lemon and chocolate. I wanted to use them to flavor ice cream, but they wouldn’t leave any smell. In the end I put it in alcohol and used it to create a botanical cocktail, which worked out great.

 

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So the most special ingredients you find by coincidence. Guess you have to be open-minded enough to experiment with it. 

Hadas: We find special ingredients everywhere all of the time. 

Charlotte: There are so many nice shops and markets in Antwerp. We’re always on the lookout for interesting ingredients. The products we use aren’t always organic, nor local.

Hadas: Sometimes we find amazing curiosities, like sugared walnuts, pickled vegetables or a spice that we have never tried out before. People tell us to check something out and it’s often the least attractive places, that are the most interesting. It’s nice to play the detective and look for treasures in the neighbourhood.  

Charlotte: A very important product we offer on Sundays is the Georgian bread. It’s made by a Georgian Monastery. The bread is very tasty and it’s baked in a traditional Georgian oven, igloo-shaped. 

Hadas: We love traditional products and home cooking and we’re not a fan of trends, nor new techniques. We like the idea of food sharing, when it is placed in the middle of the table and people can take what they like. 

  

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Text: Magali Elali
Photos: Bart Kiggen

www.otarkproductions.blogspot.be

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