Interview with Iris Zajac

Right after filming the class, we filmed this interview, where I answer some questions about my life, how I ended up creating this course, and what is most important and inspiring to me when it comes to working in the kitchen, or any other creative field.


What is your Name, Where are you from?

My name is Iris. I come from Austria, born and raised. My father is from Poland but has spent a lot of time in America. So, from early childhood on, I started traveling a lot. These travels led me to get to know many types of cuisine and many types of traditional foods. 

It was when I first went to Thailand that I started to get interested in raw foods.


How was it to start eating raw foods?

It was very easy for me to make the change. Within a week after being in Thailand, where I loved all the fruit, I decided I am going to try it and see what it is like. I could feel the difference in my health instantly. I always had a constant cold, which went away, and I had stomach pain that went away. So yes, at that time it was very helpful for me and I kept it up for almost two years - almost completely raw.

As I continued traveling as well as having an active social life, I started to learn to adjust and become more flexible again. 


Did you continue travelling?

Yes, so it started with Thailand, and then I went to many places from Austria to India, England, and Bali, more places than I remember. It was a powerful time and very creative. 

And this is what was always most inspiring in raw foods for me - the creative aspect of it:

Making everything new, reinventing the way we are making food. I think there are some of the most beautiful aspects to raw foods. And the one that I probably enjoyed the most.

I loved the decoration, the color, and the vibrancy of the food.  You just look at it and already you think: beauty, right? Especially when it comes to desserts, I feel, there's so much potential in using the colors of raw foods that are innately present, that we don't need to manipulate them too much.

I think raw foods are just very beautiful when it comes to just bringing out the colors and the flavors of course, of foods.


How did you start learning about and working in raw foods?

Well, it happened pretty quickly. I have to say it,  I'm always all in, whatever I do. So I think after I ate raw for maybe, I don't know, two weeks or something like this a friend told me to check out a stall on a Christmas market, that they were selling raw desserts and that I would really love it. 

So I went there and I started talking to them and they told me about a vegan culinary academy and that I should start learning there.

I looked up their website and I thought, wow, this is so beautiful. I'm going to take the class. I was lucky because they had just launched an online class at that time. Otherwise, it would have been way too expensive for me to go there to California - the travel, the tuition - all of it would have just been too much. So I was very lucky, very fortunate because they just opened the online school right then. I was one of the first people to take the online class, and took multiple levels and classes immediately and enjoyed it so much. And there it started.


What came then?

I started a blog and very quickly started to get to know more people who were working in that kind of industry. I really had a focus in my blog of going to places that offer raw foods and also combining it with travel, which meant that I just met a lot of nice and inspiring people along the way. So that was one of the main things. 

And then I went to Goa and was a yoga teacher, and that yoga school also had a focus on raw food focus. I had a lot of time for experimentation preparing raw meals. It was then, that I started to think about raw cakes since then I was still completely raw. I had to find solutions being in India because there was not much going on at that time.


How do you create your recipes?

Trial and error. I would say trial and error. I feel with creativity, whether it's cooking, whether it is something else, whether it's singing, whether it's even business, whatever it is always, there is an aspect of creativity to it. And interestingly enough, before I took the raw desserts or not raw desserts, the raw chef class that I had taken there online, I never thought of myself as being creative. 

I thought I was working in the corporate world as an administrative, that I was a very analytical, a numbers kind of person. I didn't think I would have it in me to do anything creatively really. When I understood that I could create recipes and how easy it is - really, I started to understand, wow, I can create things. I can create recipes. I can create something so beautiful. And that really quickly translated to all areas of my life.

I started to become very creative in many things, whether it was painting, s singing, or whatever it is, the same principles just apply everywhere. So,  the most important approach for me is also, of course, for raw desserts: Trial and error. Just going for it, allowing that initial spark of creativity of something new -  that we can't even imagine or plan out - just to take place.

And then see what comes from there. Of course, it doesn't end there. There is a lot of work that follows that initial creative spark, but that's always what I go for. And that's always what I trust in. And that I like to, you know, also inspire people to have trust in. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. That it doesn't need to look perfect if it doesn't work the first time, you will have so many more opportunities to work on it and refine it. To know we will arrive at that result at some point, and we just need to keep going - basically.


What is the most difficult part of raw desserts?

The tough bit about the raw desserts is that everything has to be very exact. if you want the right textures to be there in the end, if you want it to stay set, not be too solid, not be melting away - then everything needs to be very exact. 

There are so many factors that have to be considered - all of which we are going through in class. But yes,  there's just so much that needs to be considered. 

When it comes to being just spontaneous as I like to be in the kitchen, that doesn't always work, it doesn't quite apply to the best results. But we can operate in this way for the initial creative spark. 


What is your process for Recipe Creation?

So there are lots of different techniques and reference points that I use when creating recipes. 

First, it's about finding the perfect flavors. That is the first thing I think about: What are the flavors that I want to create, that I have available? What local produce is available? Just going to the market and seeing what is there can be a good starting point and then seeing what other flavors can go with it. What do I have at home? 

Restriction, I think is something very beautiful in the creative process. Of course, raw foods or any diet, of course, is extremely restricted in terms of ingredients, in terms of techniques that we can apply. And the constraint is real. We can feel it, but that's when creativity really comes about. 

When we need to find solutions and we need to think of what we can do differently to achieve something new. I really appreciate that with raw foods.

So just see what you have at home, and what is at the market, choose your favorite flavors, and find the techniques to work what is available.


What has been your greatest learning?

A big part of being in the kitchen for me is seeing everything that can go wrong. Really experiencing everything that can go wrong. And not just in one kitchen, but in many different kitchens because I'm traveling so much and I'm all over the world from Asia to the US, Europe - all over the world. And in all kinds of different kitchens, from very professional with high standard professional setups to the smallest most basic home kitchen, with no setup at all. You can know I made the desserts there. I cooked in there and in this way, I learned what helps to make the process easier, for any of those circumstances. Yes, that was a Learning curve that I am also sharing here in my classes now as well.


What is your favorite part of raw and vegan desserts?

When it comes to desserts, I'm all about raw foods. For sure. I really don't like, honestly, don't like the textures or the flavors when it comes to baked desserts and of course not the refined ones, which are just pure sugar, even though I had a phase in lockdown and I'm totally guilty and I am confessing here. 

Of course when the whole COVID situation was starting, of course, you go for whatever is available. When there is stress, I can completely relate to those cravings, to eating something sweet because of frustration or whatever it is. I can relate to all of it and I've done it.

But then I see time and time again, as soon as I go back to raw desserts, that the whole thing feels different. There is just a whole different feeling in the mouth and a whole different feeling in the stomach. Even mentally it's just so energizing. Mentally, there is less guilt and sometimes you can almost feel, I don't know, the nutrients coming to your body. It just feels more nourishing in a way. 


What are your favorite desserts?

I guess you're asking what is my favorite raw dessert. It's a good question. I love chocolate things. Chocolate truffles. Oh my God. Yes. The truffles are for sure the best. They are also small size, right? When we have raw desserts, they can be quite rich and quite filling. So we can really make a truffle out of any of the creams that we are preparing cake fillings from. We can just enrobe them with some chocolate and then we have bite-size, little treats that we can just pop in - from time to time. It's exactly what one needs. 

One doesn't have to have a whole cake every day. Right. It's a bit much, but with the truffles, we can just use all the creams, and all the things that we learn in class and just have a little treat from time to time and - no guilt.


What do you want students to know who begin making raw and vegan desserts?

Literally, anything that can go wrong does go wrong in this place. Literally. Which I also enjoy because I feel especially when you are teaching something, you need to know what goes wrong. It can be quite frustrating from time to time, especially in the beginning, but like with anything - if you just keep with solutions, all your focus becomes solution orientation. And,  there is a solution to everything - that is also true. 

I feel this is something that one learns when one is in the kitchen and allows for these mistakes to happen. And again, once we learned that, this then not just applies to the attitude one brings into cooking,  but also everywhere else. So in the beginning, when I was preparing cakes, I didn't have, for example, this cake lifting tool, right? It's like this little lifter thing, and you can just lift your whole cake and transfer it from the cake mold, that's the bottom part to, let's say, the cake turner or a serving plate, something like that.

I didn't have that. In addition, I  also was always extremely impatient. Too impatient. Especially when I'm filming. Or I just had so many things going on, to organize, places to be in all at once and yeah, I was just completely impatient. 

So, often I wouldn't wait overnight for cakes to set - as is definitely the best recommendation: for the cake to set overnight. For example, I would think, oh but I need to film this now. And I didn’t have the cake lifter. So what I did is, I just took the whole cake on parchment paper, picked it up - and of course: It breaks. Right. So that happened a couple of times in some shape or form during the first filming - for sure. 

But, the solution is right there. And I think it's also inspiring. So for example, when we think of deconstructed cakes that is a way of plating desserts and cakes in a more artistic way, one that we can see in restaurants very often.

It became so obvious in that moment when the cake broke, so clear: this is how this came about - this way of plating. It came about through mistakes. 

I think, there are no mistakes. It's always just more information, that leads up to more innovation.

I saw that so very clearly with that cake, uh falling - luckily not on the floor, that there are ways to deal with it. 

I can just plate it more artistically. I can add some ganache or some buttercream and hide the cracks and still serve it as a whole cake even. 

So yeah, many mistakes, many, many, many, many, many, many, many mistakes. 

But just always keep on going and always keep on learning and innovating.


What do you think about Learning?

I like to learn. I think that's most important. I love to learn. I love to expand. I think life is way too short to just be focused on one thing at all time. There's just so much to live. Right. And so I love to learn. You know, I work in marketing, and I study law. I love to paint when I have time. I love to sing sometimes and be with musicians. And, I think primarily, what is most important about all these creative things, what I love the most is, being with people, I think that is most important. 

To learn things so we can spend more time with people, understand how people who are passionate about something thing, and be able to connect. In a way, I think all that I'm doing is kind of circling around that. It's always a means to connect


Any last words?

Well, first of all, you can do it. Even if we start from zero and even if we don't have a clue, and even if we feel like we have no artistic eye or we don't know what we're doing, and even if there are mistakes, there is nothing that can stop us. There is literally nothing that can stop us. 

If we put our mind to something and it's something that we really feel passionate about, if it's something that we want to do, then we can do that. 

It's just about connecting with the right people that can teach you, that share the same interests that can inspire you, and who you can learn from. And that ultimately, also always will learn from you because it's always a two-way street. Even between teacher and student, there is always, is equal opportunity to learn.

Otherwise - yes just keep going, keep learning. There's so much online. There are so many classes available now that you can dive into and follow your passion, and follow that inspiration. So often we do things just for money. We do things just because we have to, but often it feels like a trap maybe. And, I think as soon as we trust that instinct that we all have - to know what is of most benefit and to know what is the next best step and to just follow that - then immediately everything starts to blossom and flower, and you see there is so much more to see in the world than we ever thought.


What are your plans for the coming years?

Coming years. I'm happy to know what's coming next week. Well next week,  I'm going home, first of all. And then I'll be traveling - to Europe, to Canada, to Asia. Who knows. That is as much as I can say. There will be some exams for law - for sure. Work for sure -  client work. 

But apart from that, the world is open, and I am excited to expand into it. 

And I am super excited to see what comes in the whole course and to meet all of you and get to know all of you.