Kozeen Shiwan is on a mission to revolutionise the art of gastronomy. We spend five feverish hours with him to find out how exactly this wunderkind is planning on making it happen.
Tastes from his home country weren’t the only thing that was embedded into Shiwan’s DNA. Since an early age, he chose to push his boundaries to reach for far greater heights than most would’ve expected from him and cultivate curiosity in the footsteps of his father. He sees ambition as something innate — a natural part of him that’s impossible to shake off. “A need to strive for progress has always been present in my life. When I was a child, I simply wanted to be the best,” he reflects. A hunger for pushing the boundaries was first visible in young Shiwan’s self-made clothes that adhered to the rules of the hip hop wave of the 1990s as perfectly as possible and, later, a tireless pursuit of perfection in the form of not only creativity, but also money. “It’s not just about the money, but it has had a big role,” admits Shiwan. Working his way up from poverty while seeing relatives in Iraq carry enough cash in their pockets to buy a house on the spot, he grew up to idealise the perks of money, although not just for selfish reasons. “I’ve always strived for things I’ve never had,” says Shiwan and quickly continues, “but when I gain something, the people around me gain, too.”
Shiwan squints and draws a sliver of parsnip from a plastic box. He plays around with it, pretending it’s his left eye. Next, he picks up a bunch of edible flowers and sticks it behind his ear, posing for an invisible camera. Like an uncontainable boy genius or an excited teenager, he bounces around, mouthing along to the lyrics of his favourite rap songs. Speaking at a dizzyingly fast pace and with seemingly endless confidence, he is a force to be reckoned with. The more difficult the question, the more delighted he is. To him, the world is a challenge that drives him. A self-confessed perfectionist, Shiwan admits that he loves to do things the hard way and is never satisfied. It’s not like that bothers him, though. “I see stress and anxiety as a sign of progress,” he says, “a sign that I’m driven.” When he gets home to his apartment in Kruununhaka, a mere stone’s throw from the kitchen of Ask, he hangs up his jacket and gets to work — just in a different way than what you’d expect a chef to. When nobody’s watching, he tries to materialise the things he envisions. Thinking about ongoing projects fills his every waking moment — it’s a part of him that never sleeps. Visions of work fill his nights, too. “I got the inspiration for my famous potato in a salt jacket from a vision I had of myself walking across a burnt potato field. I saw a close-up of a scorched field shrouded by black smoke – I was walking alone, stepping on charred straws and grains.” Although his rhythm seems intense to many, to him, work feels like child’s play, with endless possibilities and challenges. “Rather than work, it feels like a beautiful process,” Shiwan states.
Shiwan quietens down. He examines his creation like a doctor inspects a patient inflicted with a rare tropical disease.