Silence has fallen over Mundekulla. The last guests left a couple of days ago, and the retreat centre is in repose after the last event, a giant Acro Yoga Festival. For four days, I have been running between the kitchen, the café and my translations, weaving between swaying towers of colourful yogis. With two hundred participants, the facilities have been pushed to their limit. We have run out of water, fuses have broken and Gunilla Blom, the head chef, has been working from dawn to dusk to keep everyone fed and happy.
A Chance to Recover
In the aftermath, we meet in the Sanctuary, a tiny straw bale roundhouse at the edge of the meadow. Gunilla is in the middle of four weeks of summer chefing in the Mundekulla kitchen, filling the buffet table with delicious vegetarian food that makes avid carnivores raise an eyebrow in appreciation. Today, she is battling a throat infection. I ask if she wants to postpone the interview, but she tells me it will help her process the last few stressful days and recharge before the next the group arrives tomorrow.
‘When I take on jobs like these, I have to enter the fog. I step into the flow to deliver something, and in this flow, I, Gunilla, must step out of the way completely. This can be a very high threshold to overcome. When I think about tomorrow, I feel like: “Oh, no, I can’t do this. What am I supposed to cook?” But I know the other part of me, the guide, will step in and somehow know exactly what to do. If I just stop pushing and worrying and stay completely calm, this process will begin in the background while I’m giving my body and soul and spirit a chance to recover.’
Gunilla has a batch of strategies to help her through the stress, and refuses to let her health stand in the way for the work she loves. She often gets a massage at the end of an intense event, spends time in nature and even drives into Emmaboda for a pizza once in a while.
‘I make sure to take care of myself first. That way I will have more to give once I step into the kitchen.’
Leading with Clarity
Ever since I first stepped into Mundekulla’s kitchen at the Jazz Festival at the beginning of the summer, I have admired Gunilla’s ability to stay calm in the middle of the chaos, handing out patient instructions and keeping everyone’s spirit high while the assistant chefs and confused volunteers run all over the tiny kitchen.
‘The secret is to know what you’re doing and be completely focused on your goal. I depend on the other players to get to where I want, which means I have to set my whole ego aside and let them flourish. I can’t go around patting their shoulders, telling them to do something this way or that way. If I am crystal clear from the beginning, I can let them do it their own way.’
Not taking things too seriously also helps Gunilla to stay positive through the mishaps and mayhem.
‘I can see the little joys in life, and that helps a lot. We have been laughing so much all the way through this hard work. Friday was completely hysterical. When the tension breaks, everything is just insanely funny.’
The Joy of Cooking
Gunilla began her line of work in healthcare as a fourteen-year-old. She has worked with social justice issues as a union representative and spent thirty years in the legal sector before she switched her focus to food. Her interest in cooking sprouted early; her dad had a knack for traditional Swedish dishes and her mother brought sauerkraut and other healthy ingredients from her home country.
‘My life has been quite wild. I have been hitchhiking and used to live in England and France. Then I got lots of infections. I had a lousy immune system because my body was so worn out. So, I went to a wellness clinic, where someone put a book about macrobiotics in my hands. It changed my whole life. Over a night, I made up my mind to get disciplined and structured.’
Over the years, she has kept travelling and spent many nights cooking with friends in Italy.
‘In Italy, cooking together is an important part of everyday life. I learned a great deal from this creative way of spending time together and all these fantastic ingredients. That’s where I discovered the joy of cooking, and I realized I was quite good at it too.’
Beyond the Limits
In 2012, Gunilla launched her own business, Blommans kök (‘the flower’s kitchen’), and today, she travels all over Sweden as a freelance chef, cooking at different retreat centres and events. While Gunilla loves cooking, she points out that there is so much more to it than what goes on in the kitchen.
‘I am even more interested in what the food can do for us, and what it means for our bodies and souls. Food is medicine. Food is joy. Food is pleasure. And most importantly, while food is wonderful, it also does wonders. And I hope I can help people see that.’
This is also the theme of a book that Gunilla started writing this year. It will be more than just a cookbook – a tribute to food and to life. The idea emerged from a chance meeting at another retreat centre in the middle of Sweden, where Gunilla was going to cook together with a woman she had never met before. The woman turned out to be an author, and when she heard about Gunilla’s plans for 2016, she encouraged Gunilla to write about her adventures.
‘When she had left and I kept working, my cooking seemed to have gained another dimension – a new meaning. There was so much energy in this idea, and suddenly, I could picture the whole book. It was magical.’
Gunilla has previously written the skeleton for a book entirely about porridge and has an idea for a children’s book inspired by her granddaughter. She thinks her creativity is one of the things that help her get through challenging situations in life.
‘Shadow creates clarity. That’s a really important mantra to me. I even have it tattooed on my shoulder. Sometimes you have to do things you really don’t want to do, but when you commit to the challenge and understand that somewhere, there is a bloody reason for all of this – that’s when you really have a chance to be creative. To me, creativity is about going beyond the limits. Not being limitless, but being able to look beyond the way things ought to be. That’s an important skill to have in life, no matter if you invent a product or decorate a home or paint huge paintings or write or cook.’