Life With: Zana and Naiara (Oficina)
In Amsterdam, an unassuming food revolution is cooking. Family, friendship, local produce and an eclectic mix of influences guide Zana Josipovic and Naiara Sabandar as they play by ear to shape their food and design concept Oficina. ‘It just happens to fit’, they tell ANOTHER READ.
Every address on Jan van Galenstraat has a commercial enterprise of sorts on the ground floor. Like a set of identical canvasses, each comes with one window and one sign, allowing passers-by an equally dimensioned sift through options.
Bicycle mechanics. Nail salons. Skater clothes. A laundry service. Here is both everything and nothing you would expect from this residential area some 4 kilometres to the west of Amsterdam’s central station and quintessential bicyles, canals and red lights.
Long considered drab and dull, yet increasingly modish for those in the know, the five-story 1920s-style architecture offers few clues as to why a patchwork of shops has sprung up exactly here.
Maybe the pieces do not always combine to form a logical, bigger picture. Perhaps it is possible, preferable even, to simply own a shop and care deeply about it without orchestrating a narrative to the point of overthinking.
Number 147 appears closed. I double check the sign that says ‘Oficina’ and shake the door handle in vain. Then I notice the silhouettes of two people inside. At first puzzled, they recognize me and the penny drops - we had an appointment, now we have faces to names.
Besides talking to me, Zana Josipovic and Naiara Sabandar, founders and owners of food and design phenomenon Oficina, are making the most of a closed weekday to get some admin done.
We sit down down, a small cup of Taiwanese Green Oolong in hand, where guests five days a week indulge in a weekly changing menu offering a diverse mix of locally sourced seasonal ingredients in fascinating combinations.
Broad beans and peas on sourdough toast with ricotta, gremolata and anchovies. Juicy strawberries on pancakes with caramel, whipped mascarpone and genmai. Just to give a glimpse of what is on offer at the time of my visit in May.
Three tables each fit three Artek chairs from Finland on either side. Chances are you will literally rub shoulders with strangers, the mission being to bring generations together through an open space for everyone.
The staff don handmade aprons in linen gabardine by Berlin-based tailor Joseph Walia. The kitchen, shelves and fridge are visible. The decor bright. Just simple, just zen. Think your workplace’s canteen shrunk about ten times and turned ubercool Japanese living room.
Outside at the back, Zana Josipovic shows me around the small herb garden. It is the pair’s pride and joy. The essence of slow food and minimal impact. Ask if it is local, and they will tell you it comes from right here (in some cases, anyway, as the backyard only produces ‘limited quantities’).
Stepping back inside, we crouch under scaffolding on which a handful of hard-hatted workers are going about a spot of maintenance. The sight of kohlrabi, leek, rhubarb, pointed cabbage and radish, however, somehow gives an antidote to the noise.
You describe yourself as a blend of food, culture and design. Where did the mix come from?
Naiara: It’s basically both of our backgrounds melted together. We met in a fashion school, where Zana studied branding and fashion, and I studied management. That's where we got to know each other and became friends. After we graduated, at first we both went our separate ways.
Zana: I worked six years at an interior and architectural office, doing all the 2D design and concept development. We had a lot of clients in the hospitality and food and beverage industry. I love to eat. I'm Serbian and come from a background where food is like the common denominator, that shared something.
Naiara: For me, working with really nice ingredients has always been kind of an escape. My mother is from Spain, from San Sebastian, and my family from that side always had a restaurant. So I grew up eating a lot of food. My dad's side is Indonesian. I was raised on many different types of food and cultures. Having Spanish food with Indonesian food was really normal for me. But I never really thought I would do anything like that as a job.
Zana: Naiara and I hadn’t seen each other for a while but met again and started talking a lot about food, restaurants and places. We traveled to places like Taiwan, Mexico, Japan, Los Angeles.
Naiara: I quit my fashion job and started cooking in Amsterdam in a little kitchen that I had where I could make breakfast and lunch. Once I started getting catering requests, Zana began helping me more and more with graphical identity. Our first clients were in fashion.
Naiara wears ANOTHER Jeans 1.0, Raw Indigo (see more)
Was changing paths and finding new ways as straightforward as it sounds or did you have to build courage to go through with it?
Naiara: For me, it was just pure intuition. I didn't like what I was doing. On the contrary, I knew what made me happy and sort of said, okay, I want to cook properly.
Zana: Sometimes you're lucky to meet someone who can both be a business partner and a friend. Someone with the same philosophy and work ethos.
Two years later, Oficina has grown and you two still run the shop. How do you manage that?
Zana: There is no book for it. I think it's really down to gut and intuition. We know what we like but are still eager and open to new kinds of input. If someone has a good idea in the kitchen, we will follow that.
So it's not like big business, where you plan the fourth quarter one year in advance?
Zana: No, we're really open. We do what we feel we need to do. Yes, we're working on our website and web shop. There is a cookbook coming. We are looking at what's going to be launched soon. But if we feel like having an extra product, we design it. If Naiara feels like doing a new menu, we do it. There are no rules. We naturally go with the flow because we work with the seasons. We slow down when we want and move forward when we feel like it. That's who we are as people.
Naiara: We have certain principles. But we function more as a reaction to the people we work with. We are fluid, which keeps things fresh and exciting.
Your approach might seem as a reaction against consumerism, individualism and fast-paced modern living. Is that something you are conscious of?
Zana: It's funny because we would never use any of those words. We never thought like that. But thinking about it now, yes we really want people to slow down.
Naiara: We didn't come into this out of a big ideological reason. The thing is more that it makes sense on a personal level. Our personal motivation just happens to fit with that.
Zana: Yeah. I think that's who we are. That's how we think. We get shaped by our environment and what we strive for. In the end that becomes part of you and what you want to execute.
What tips would you pass on to people who would like to make better, more balanced and more sustainable choices?
Naiara: Be aware of what you buy and where it's coming from. If it's grown really well and you consume it, it will affect you positively as opposed to something produced in a less nice way.
Zana: Support the small and local scale where you know the loop. And question yourself. For instance, ask yourself how a product ended up in the shop or if it’s in season. Lastly, ask yourself if you really need it.
So when I see a pineapple in a supermarket in January, I should think twice?
Yes. Maybe that is when you should consider buying an apple from the neighbour.