Food Meets Hope by S.Pellegrino, streamed live all around the world today featuring some world class chefs, with thought-provoking talks based on Recovery, Inclusivity and Evolution. Here’s a round-up of some of highlights.
Watch the Food Meets Hope by S.Pellegrino live-stream here:
The Recovery section was a whistle-stop tour of some of the 230 restaurants that received grants thanks to the World’s 50 Best Bid for Recovery auction in partnership with S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna - from Buenos Aires to Oneroa, New Zealand; Cape Town, South Africa, to Curitiba, Brazil; a global restaurant community facing a single challenge and looking to the future together.
African-American chef, Erick Williams, from southern American restaurant Virtue in Chicago shared his vision for a more just and equitable future.
Williams told us about his experience as a black man, and how, even though his experiences in the industry have been positive, it is often contrasted starkly with the world outside.
“Interestingly enough, throughout my career I’ve never really been exposed to prejudice because of my race or my colour inside a restaurant. Most of the time, it’s been when I’ve exited the restaurant. Situations where I would provide service or great a table, and guests would be in awe when I worked on the floor, or at least be very hospitable or welcoming to me when I entered that environment. But then when my shift would end and I would happen to encounter those same people on the outside, the woman would clutch her purse, or the man would draw his mate closer to him out of fear, not knowing that I was the same black guy they were smiling and joking with an hour before.
“I think the way we change how we identify with one another is through exposure. The exposure of African-Americans running restaurants, owning restaurants, is limited. At Virtue there is an emphasis on having African-Americans in positions that are guest-facing."
If we are indeed going to make things fairer, Williams called for a change to the old guard. We live in a globalised society, so it’s time to step away from the French influence in kitchens.
“We can no longer use French cookery as the foundation for or style for multiple modules of cooking. There are seven continents around the world and each of them break down into multiple formats of cooking, a vast variety of ingredients. I think it’s time to remove the old guard. The French have been very effective at structuring kitchens, however it’s limiting our approach in how we look at ingredients and what style and technique look like."
Racial injustice is firmly in focus at the moment, and Williams is a positive person who sees solutions where others see problems.
“What Covid has taught us is that what affects one of us affects all of us. The same is for racial justice. We solve many problems by allowing people to earn, with dignity, through their own labour.
"I look at the catastrophic damage the pandemic has created. I’ve also witnessed people advocate and take a stand like I’ve never seen. That means our industry has been awakened like I’ve never seen. We are all responsible to provide an equitable space for every human that wants to be a part of this great community that we call the hospitality community."
The US-Mexican chef and restaurateur Daniela Soto-Innes, from Cosme in New York, gave a powerful testimony on the theme of inclusivity.
“The restaurant industry will not be the same, and we shouldn’t look for it to be the same,” she said.
During these times I realise how cooking and restaurants are an evolving form of art. So it becomes more important to me that people who work with me can be themselves in any way they want."
When Daniela came to Cosme she wanted to create a family atmosphere, but there was some opposition to working with a woman, and one who was so young. However, she wanted to ensure that the people she worked with had the same opportunities that Enrique Olvera had given her.
“If everything that is happening now is not changing you, then you have to open your eyes. This is an opportunity to reset and really see what you can do to be more inclusive and listen better to people. It’s a whole new perspective.”
Chef Ivan Brehm of Nouri in Singapore advocates for new perspectives on identity via his ‘crossroads cuisine’ concept, which highlights the similarities and connections we all share across cultures.
“Behind every border and cultural identification we have, we also have something much broader and is shared cross-culturally... that is humanity,” he said.
Consolidating his philosophy into a virtual and then physical space called ‘Appetite’ allows Brehm to ‘explore the ideas of the other’.
“The topic is one that needs to be discussed, or promoted, but one that needs to be realised,” he said. “And the difference between those two is screaming when we talk about inclusivity in the workplace, we are looking at how we approach questions of division, of separation, of borders – ‘you are very different than how I am’.
“We come from the standpoint that we are already very close together, in the restaurant that manifests in the staff we employ, the food we cook, but also the design and layout we employ,” he said.
Brehm reminds us that the coronavirus doesn’t recognise borders or differences, and neither should we.
Richard Ekkebus has been dealing with ongoing to business disruption due to civil unrest, compounded then by the Covid crisis.
“Everything we’ve been through has confirmed that the values that we have, sustainability as a cornerstone of our business, social inclusion, sustainability… it has confirmed that we are absolutely on the right track.”
The economic model for the future is a question we can’t avoid. Richard Ekkbus admitted taking for granted that his restaurant would always be full three months ahead, but now he is happy just to see the bookings fill up on the day.
Dominique Crenn looked for the silver lining in the crisis. “Maybe we all needed to experience this in order to come together and better the future of what we all want to be. Those seven months really helped us think about where we wanted to go.
“We have to reconnect with our own community. Our restaurant for a long time, we’ve been flying in ingredients around the world, but now we see the restaurant is in front of us. We need to seek out the local farmers. When you have a restaurant your responsibility is so much more than just feeding people.”
“It’s been incredible to see the chefs who have re-evaluated who they were and who they want to become.”