Graduate from CESI (Center of Excellence in Image Studies) and SNSPA, but also from the Institute Paul Bocuse (cuisine & culture), Madalina Santa has been working in advertising since 2011, being a co-owner and creative director of Tres Bon, situated in Brasov county, since 2014, and a co-owner of Comparty Adv in Sfantu Gheorghe since the beginning of 2012. Passionate by high-class cooking, she invested in her talent and has become of the freshest talents in Brasov, her visual expertise proving to be of great value in the plates and recipes she creates for the restaurant Sub Tampa. AdHugger met with Madalina and had a very relaxing and inspiring talk about her career and what is next.
AdH: How and when did you discover your passion for cooking?
Madalina Santa: I come from a very ”gourmand” family. Everybody loves food and everybody cooks. I learned great stuff from my grandmother and both my mother and father. I think the passion for food is in the DNA. I discovered it after high school, but it really burst out in a whole new dimension after I stared travelling and tasting the cuisine of the world. My travels were the catalyst and my curiosity was the amplifier. It all became a passion after an immense volume of lecture brought me in a Universe that was so much more complex and diverse than I ever imagined. After following the classes of the Institute Paul Bocuse in Lyon, I understood that cuisine will become a fundamental part of my life.
AdH: How are cooking and advertising working together? What are the challenges?
M.S.: In advertising, especially in graphic design, you learn to work with space, with proportions and volumes. You understand that there are things that need to respect the rules and areas where you can be unlimited in creativity. You work with colors, textures, backgrounds, elements and you try to give both balance and personality to each design. When you approach food the same way, you add the taste dimensions, but almost all the other ”rules” are the same.
The biggest challenge is to create a ”perfect” product. One that ”sells” itself, one that says its own story. Food needs to be enough, but not too much, the balance between ingredients, textures, tastes and aromas has to be exquisite. This is what makes the difference between a good plate and a fabulous one. The consumers rarely understands it, but he feels it!
AdH: Was it anything from advertising that helped you in the new career? If so, what and why?
M.S.: Well, of course. As I said before, most of the principles and knowledge in arts and visual culture, can be applied also to food. Coming from advertising, where you can be successful only with a proper research and great attention to details, gave me a competitive advantage.
AdH: What can you tell us about your collaboration with Sub Tampa? How you change the owners’ perspectives on the restaurant’s approach?
M.S.: Sub Tampa wanted to be something more than a traditional Romanian restaurant. The main ideas of the owners were good, but that ”something” was missing. This is where I came in, with my concept, my research and my approach. But I was really lucky. The owners were really open-minded, cooperative, supportive and their know-how on food helped us work together without problems.
AdH: How are you creating the menus? What are its main traits?
M.S.: There are a few things that must be mentioned. First of all, I made a lot of research for the recipes. I found combinations or dishes that were served even 300 years ago. For all these, I did not have a clear recipe, but mainly descriptions from very old books and archives. So I had to recreate them, to experiment in order to find the best ways to bring them back to life. Tastes have changed, culinary culture has changed, so it was not easy to do this. We use a lot of offals like brain, kidney, liver, sweetbreads and even testicles. Many forgot how delicious are this parts of an animal, but I hope they will give this dishes a chance, try them and discover the amazing taste. Second of all, we tried to use mostly the ingredients that I identified in the old books, and mostly local. From meat to bread and now we are also trying to find a good local supplier for vegetables and fruits. Because it has to be 100% authentic. Also we worked a lot on food waste, in order to be as efficient as possible. For the owners as for me, it was not only about creating a menu, but also about a philosophy and about a business model.
AdH: How is the restaurant positioning on the market?
M.S.: I think the restaurant has the most beautiful design in Brasov, the position is fantastic and the natural surroundings are incredible. The menu is always developing, while the prices are not exclusive. I think is top, but the prices are medium. So almost anyone can afford this experience, at least once a month.
AdH: What is its main competitor?
M.S.: It is hard to say that it has a clear competitor, because even if there are some very good restaurants in Brasov, most of them are much more expensive. Also in terms of position, design and landscapes, Sub Tampa is unique!
AdH: What are your goals for Sub Tampa in 2018?
M.S.: This partnership is not only interesting because of the recipes, but also because we worked a lot, together with the owners on the methods and the production flows that can ensure constant quality and taste to the dishes. In the coming months we will work on seasonal menus and develop some re-interpreted traditional deserts. I think that Sub Tampa can easily impose itself as the place to be for any tourist that wants to taste authentic Romanian food, but also the best option for the locals who want to re-discover the authentic Romanian taste.
AdH: Where do you find inspiration?
M.S.: I read a lot, I explore a lot and I experiment a lot. I like just as much to discover the roots of tastes, of ingredients and their use, but also to innovate, to transform, to find new combinations and new methods. I also listen to music a lot, It gives me energy and joy, as this is what I want to give to the food I prepare – positive energy and joy of well-eating.
AdH: What are your favorite recipes so far and why?
M.S.: It is hard to say I have a favorite recipe, because I experiment a lot, today I can say that X is may favorite and tomorrow another one. But I think I could say that my favorite ones are written down in a notebook, not on a piece of napkin or a torn paper.
AdH: You took part in Design Party 2.1. FOOD Design at Romanian Design Week 2017. Please tell us more about your part there.
M.S.: It was a small nice-event in my home town, that I hope to recreate and develop this year. Cuisine in that area is pretty conservative and traditional, but I feel there is a lot of curiosity and interest to new approaches of food. This is why we tried to offer to those interested a glimpse of how food could look and taste if you open your mind a little bit. And it worked just great. It was a sold out event.
AdH: How important is the plate’s design in the overall experience for you and why?
M.S.: It is fundamental. In my world, each plate has a story and needs to tell you something, to give you more than just stop you from being hungry. Colors, textures, volumes, all have a great contribution to your culinary experience. I will take the same ingredients and give you a totally different perspective on the plate, with a creative and inspired design.
AdH: What can you tell us about your other project? (the company Comparty ADV) -positioning on the market,services, goals,etc.
M.S.: Advertising was my initial work domain, Comparty it’s a company that I share with my husband. We started small, but actually today it is our most important business, as the agency has migrated towards offering marketing outsourcing services to many multinational companies in the area and also we organize cultural events. Not only we had projects with the most important companies in Covasna, but now the company is much more present in the market of Brasov and has also developed some international corporations. For example (because this is one of my favorite projects), we have created photographs and social-media visual content for the Austrian company Julius Meinl. It is always great to work with a global brand and to see your work all around the world.
AdH: How would you characterize Sfantu Gheorghe’s advertising market?
M.S.: Well, developing as almost everywhere in Romania. We still need to learn and implement a culture. People need to give more attention to how they develop and communicate their brands. I think we still need to understand how important is the visual identity for every company. But development has to go both ways, the consumer needs to become more aware and selective with the brands he interacts with, also the brands, especially the local ones, the small and medium-sized, need to invest more in their image.
AdH: If one day you will be forced to choose between advertising and being a chef what would you choose and why?
M.S.: I think that I already made important steps towards cuisine. This is somehow a priority for me as I have great projects. Even if business wise I think the advertising company will always be more productive, I think my husband and our team are doing a great job, meanwhile here, there are lots of emotional satisfactions that I could get. The Romanian culinary world needs to change a lot, needs to learn a lot, to improve and to grow. I think I can have a contribution to that!