Over the course of two days in March 2017, a small group of chefs, writers, philosophers and entrepreneurs descended on San Sebastian for Diálogos de Cocina (Kitchen Dialogues), the food symposium organised by the Mugaritz restaurant and the Basque Culinary Center. The biennial event, now in its 10th year, took ‘open source’ as its topic this time around, examining the effect of such technologies and of knowledge sharing on the world of gastronomy, while delving into ideas about a post-truth society and also considering what the very foundations of gastronomy mean.
In fact, as some of the world’s best chefs and food thinkers debated the issues, the whole event had the feel of one huge open source for anyone interested in the future of gastronomy. Here are 10 highlights from what was an intimate and relentlessly interesting couple of days:
Back to Basics
Though some of the best chefs in the world, who elevate gastronomy to new and complex levels every day, including Joan Roca, Juan Mari Arzak and Dominique Crenn, had gathered at the Basque Culinary Center, this edition of Kitchen Dialogues was all about going back to basics, posing fundamental questions: what is a chef, a restaurant and even food? As chef and co-organiser Andoni Luis Aduriz said: “These are simple questions, but with very complicated answers.”
We learnt a new word thanks to writer Steven Poole, who, along with Bee Wilson, ripped into the clean eating fad: ‘Orthorexia’ is a fixation on righteous eating, we were told.
Writer and chef Ruth Reichl, former editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, examined gastronomy in a post-truth world and urged all of us to stop condescending to “people who eat differently to us.”
The Chef’s Table Effect
An emotional Dominique Crenn (in lighter mood below) revealed that as well as securing her business, the real overwhelming effect of her appearance on season two of Netflix’s Chef’s Table was the multitude of emails she received from “people who were struggling” and were inspired by her story, including those with terminal illnesses.
Topa is Just the Start
Topa, Andoni Luis Aduriz’s new party-centric Basque meets Latin America restaurant (definitely not fusion) in San Sebastian is just the beginning: if successful the chef plans to roll the concept out worldwide, with this first restaurant acting as something of a testing ground.
Story as the Sixth Flavour
Chefs touched time and again on the importance of storytelling in cuisine, with Andoni Luis Aduriz, as recounted by Ruth Reichl, going so far as to say “Story is the sixth flavour.”
The Tyranny of Taste
Mugaritz’s Dani Lasa made a passionate and controversial call for an end to what he called the “dictatorship of pleasure, flavour and taste.” He continued: “I don’t really care whether people like what we serve them. It doesn’t have to taste nice, it has to make sense ... that’s my opinion.”
What is a chef?
Is a chef someone who feeds people, an artist, a brand, or all three? “The term chef is a like a jacket, it can fit anybody,” said Andoni Luis Aduriz, while according to Juan Mari Arzak (above), “Not every chef is an artist, it’s up for others to decide.” ChefJair Tellez of Mexico City’s Merotoro restaurant sees no problem with chefs becoming brands: “It makes it simpler to make decisions. The issue is what you do with the brand, not whether you are or not.”
Not everyone is enamoured with food waste projects from top chefs that set out to feed the needy with leftovers – Argentine writer Martín Caparrós claimed such ideas are “sinister” and are a way for successful chefs to compensate for their own ethical dilemmas.
And Finally ... Marshmallow Floors
Visitors to Mugaritz’s pre-symposium performance at the Tabakalera (International Center for Contemporary Culture) of Kiss my Kiss, a confection-themed video installation, could smell the floor before they stepped onto it – a large area of it was bedecked with striking pink marshmallows. By the end, the floor had seen better days, as had many people’s socks.