Famed for its oysters, its aromatic smokehouses, and its warm hospitality, the city of Galway once again became the setting for one of the most exciting symposiums on the future of gastronomy: Food On The Edge.
Now in its second year, the annual meeting of some of the sharpest minds in world cuisine drew heavyweights such as Virgilio Martinez, Claude Bosi, Massimo Bottura and Christian Puglisi to this vibrant city on the rugged west coast of Ireland. Its aim is to bring the debate out from the kitchens and into the public realm, and to challenge our perspectives on food, its production and the culture that surrounds it.
The brainchild of local food hero chef JP McMahon, the two-day symposium is quickly winning a reputation as one of the most fascinating platforms for discussion, ideas and networking in the culinary calendar, and this year was no exception. "It's a time for the best of food and for the worst of food," said McMahon in his opening address, adding: "we're here to create the future of food." Some 36 speakers each took 15 minutes on the stage, and there were four panel discussions on topics as diverse as building global networks and the future of Canadian food.
The past as signpost for the future
Virgilio Martinez got things started by looking into his own past as a chef, in order to predict the future. He started out some 20 years ago, perhaps not quite so proud of his Peruvian identity as he is today. Since then he travelled the length and breadth of his home country, discovering a wealth of information of which he had been blissfully unaware. "It was totally the opposite of what I expected," he said. "I found a richness of food and a new way to see Peruvian cuisine. People in the Andes respect Mother Earth. My research showed me how people are connected to plants. This is the future."
Jock Zonfrillo also reached back into the past as a way of shaping the future of Australian food. The colourful Scottish chef, now resident down under, learned about the culture of his adopted homeland through Aboriginal people and their connection with the land. "I didn't realise how sophisticated their food culture was," said Zonfrillo. "To take something inedible and make it edible; the key to that lies in the culture. It hurts to have so much knowledge passed on and on, then to have it broken." As a measure of preserving this ancient culinary culture, Zonfrillo has set up the Orana Foundation, and aims to build an extensive database of indigenous Australian ingredients. "I want to identify the ingredients, work out their market value and indentify their place in the community," he said.
Environment and community
Christian Puglisi of Relae restaurant in Copenhagen spoke about his work setting up a new farm for his latest restaurant, Baest. His engagement with the land would, he hoped, remove the boundaries between agriculture and restaurant culture. "We want the chefs to become farmers and the farmers to become chefs," he said.
British chef Douglas McMaster outlined his 'zero waste' philosophy at Silo restaurant in Brighton. "If sustainability was a tree, zero waste would be a branch," he said. Although he said it wasn't possible to have total zero waste in an industrial world, almost everything that comes into Silo is either eaten or it goes into a compost machine called 'Bertha'. "We don't have a bin," he said. As well as growing mushrooms from coffee grounds, and an attempt at brewing beer with wheatgrass, McMaster has made plates from melted plastic bags. "Waste is a failure of the imagination," he proclaimed.
Meanwhile, founders of Fool Magazine Per Anders & Lotta Jorgensen focused on the wider gastronomic community, as they examined the future of food writing. "We must take out the worst of food journalism because few people do actual journalism. Many do Public Relations," said Per Anders, adding: "Journalists can follow chefs out of the kitchen to become food personalities."
Food as a tool for social change
Kamal Mouzawak of Tawlet, a community food project in Beirut, Lebanon, told of his efforts to persuade people from diverse communities to put aside sectarian differences and celebrate their similarities through food. In a speech entitled 'Make Food Not War', he said: "Nothing speaks of an identity more than cuisine itself." His thoughts were echoed by chef Antonia Klugmann, who said: "Maybe traditions and customs in cuisine are too strong for wars?"
The importance of travel
There was much excitement surrounding Massimo Bottura's appearance here in Galway, and the audience wasn't disappointed when he finally took to the stage. In an inspirational speech, he told of the challenges and rewards involved in setting up a Soup Kitchen project in the deprived neighbourhood of Lapa in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. "You could see, hear and breathe the violence," said Bottura, as he recalled the sight of teenagers carrying guns in the streets. In his efforts to make a classic carbonara, a lack of pork led Bottura to an exciting discovery: he could make his own 'bacon' with dry roasted banana skins: "The work of a chef is to make the invisible visible," he explained. But the task proved a positive one, as his soup kitchen captured the hearts of local people. "It was maybe the most difficult thing I did in my life. But none of us would be the same after this experience," he said.
Like many other speakers, including Claude Bosi, Virgilio Martinez and Antonia Klugmann, Bottura's words highlighted the importance of travel and diversity in order to open our eyes to new experiences and and new ways of seeing. And as the two-day exchange of ideas and opinions came to a close, JP McMahon reflected that this was only just the start. "Food On The Edge is about more than talk," he said. "It's a call to action." Check back soon for videos of the event to see how you can get involved and make a difference in the future of food.