For the sixth time in its history, MAD Symposium, the famous food conference created by the acclaimed Danish chef Rene Redzepi, once again turned the eyes of the food world to the iconic red tent that gathers the industry elite in Copenhagen.
With the expression “Mind the Gap” as the main theme, this year’s edition, that counted with 600 attendees from 58 different nations (among chefs, students and industry professionals), aimed to “confront some ugly truths from the food industry”, as MAD’s executive director, Melina Shannon-Di Pietro, said during the welcome presentation, accompanied by Redzepi. Their goal was to create a positive discussion on creating a better environment for everyone in the industry.
Influenced by the #metoo movement that took the food scene this year, the tent was staged for many inspiring and emotional talks about creating supportive spaces for all the kitchen professionals, diminishing the differences that still prevail. “Recognizing these different opportunities and the gaps we still live with is the best way to start something new and to plant the seeds for a better future”, she concluded.
Here are 5 highlights from the symposium that you should know.
Food to reverse global warming
Chad Frischmann, vice president and research director at Project Drawdown, works to reverse global warming and build a new, regenerative future for the planet. And he explained that among the Top 20 solutions to reverse the global warming, 8 of them are in our food systems, such as reduce food waste, the regenerative agriculture, tree intercropping, and more.
“The decisions we make every day in choosing how we produce, buy or cook our food is the best way that us, as individuals, can actually stop the climate change. Food is the most effective way”, he said. Frischmann also listed some examples of how we can do this, such as adopting a plant-rich diet, reducing food waste, and being more aware not only of what we consume but how we consume it.
Keeping the Attention
Vincent Hendricks, professor of Formal Philosophy at the University of Copenhagen, and director of the Center for Information and Bubble Studies reminded how attention is becoming more and more important – and rare – in our current society. According to him, restaurants serve more than food, so they have to conquer the attention of their customers since they are more and more looking for meaningful experiences to put their attention to. “The new generations don’t want to buy a dish, they are willing to buy identity, group belonging”, he explained. “I urge you to become thoughtful leaders. We need to be alert to act proactively, to inspire. Take your responsibilities to the kitchen, that's the change we need to do”, he provoked.
On the other hand, Michael Miller, co-founder of Meditation Center in New York and London, made a meditative exercise with the present audience for them to notice the importance of looking inside and finding out the reasons that make them feel stressed, or anxious, for example. “Peace is always inside us and we have to embrace it. The balance of a chef’s mind must be as important as the balance of the flavours in the recipes he creates”, he said.
The worldwide movement against sexual harassment dominated the discussions over the two days. About 5 panels and keynotes discussed the theme. The most emotional one was Trish Nelson’s, a former server at the New York City food scene who became one of the most important characters in the series of articles about it made by The New York Times (which gave the newspaper a Pullitzer prize for public services), who took the stage to share her story, saying that abuse has been allowed for decades in the restaurants. “We have to understand that sexism and sexual harassment are not alone issues. They carry many other toxic issues associated with the kitchen culture, and that must stop”, she exclaimed. “We need to stop this repetition. If you can’t get the heat and understand how things must work in the restaurant industry, so you get out of the kitchen”, she said, in tears.
Other women took the stage to approach the same subject, among them Danish psychologist and author Jytte Vikkelsoe – whose work focuses on conflict resolution – and film producer Lynda Obst, who talked about her play in a market dominated by men. “I hope and pray that women everywhere are safe at last”, Obst finished her speech.
Straight from Bangkok to the MAD stage, Jai Fai, the first-ever street food vendor awarded with a Michelin star in Thailand, opened the program by doing what she knows best: her signature khai jeaw poo (crab omelette). The 72-year-old chef stood in the middle of the tent to cook for the present audience. As she tried not to lose her concentration from the pan of hot oil above the charcoal-fed flames, where she dips the beaten eggs with crab meat, she told how she reacted upon learning that she had gained her star. “When they called, I did not understand anything. For me, Michelin has always been just a tire company”, she said, causing laughter in the audience.
Despite the fact that her restaurant has now received more visitors than ever, she says she keeps doing her job the same way. “Nothing has changed. I keep cooking my food with the same good ingredients and with the same techniques”, she added, using two skimmers to roll it. And taking her time, of course: even after she finished frying the omelette, Fai wanted to put it back into the pan. “It’s not ready yet”, and patiently waited a few more minutes - exceeding her lecture time - to get it golden and crispy. “Now it is”, she said, cheered by the crowd.
Find a purpose
What is a purpose and how can it change lives? Dan Giusti, former head chef at Noma, shared his experience on leaving a leading role as a chef to embrace his keenness to create Brigaid, a company built to improve the quality of food in public schools in New York City and New London. “I quit the best job I could have to have the best job I could dream of. When you transform things through food, this is the way to show how it really matters in our society”, he said. Giusti promotes food education by serving the kids delicious meals from scratch. “We need to get out of our comfort zones to change ourselves”, he added.
Arthur Karuletwa, global director of traceability at Starbucks Coffee, was in front of the audience to share his touching story of living in Africa. Instead of forgetting this sad past at age 11, he has chosen to return to his native continent and try to give a new meaning to the lives of hundreds of African families through coffee - one of the most important crops in African agriculture.
“Commodity products lack intimacy. Generally, people have very little regard for who's growing rice or beans, for example. That’s something we wanted to change”, he said. During the last years, he got busy certifying regions in Rwanda and other African countries. “Traceability is a way to create a fair business, to know who are and the life story of people who leave their fingerprints on the fruits of coffee we buy. Coffee saved my sanity, it saved my life”, he said. And now he's trying to save many people's lives through coffee.