For the past two days some of the biggest names in the world of food have been in the small city of Galway, Ireland. Why? Mainly because the Irish chef Jp McMahon, seen doubling as a bus driver in the picture above, convinced them they should.
“I sent around a 200 messages out to get the group of chefs we have here today”, explained McMahon to the crowd at the first ever Food on The Edge symposium. Even as the organiser, he seemed a little surprised that the likes of Daniel Patterson, Elena Arzak, Quique Dacosta, Albert Adria (on his birthday) and David Kinch had all accepted invitations and navigated the long distances to reach a small Irish harbour city with just over 75,0000 inhabitants. A city that up until this year only boasted one Michelin star and a city that Andre Chiang seemed more than happy to travel over 20 hours to reach.
I don’t mention the remoteness to lessen the area and I don’t mention the lack of Michelin stars to knock their gastronomy, the city is dotted with great restaurants. I mention it because it shows just how much chefs have accepted their growing roles as people who can effect real change in the food industry. Their acceptance of a ‘socially responsible’ motivated future and their willingness to travel huge distances for an opportunity to deliver what they see as important messages.
Each chef took the opportunity to deliver topics that centred on the future of food as they took a 15 minute tim slot to pass on ideas, share fears, dreams, dreads and regrets.
It was impossible to avoid the main themes that resonated throughout all the presentations: that chefs are fully embracing their responsibility away from the plate. That sustainability, in every aspect of the food industry - from staff to waste - is a problem that can no longer be debated without proper change and that without innovation, and lots of it, fine dining as we know it could quickly become a doomed dinosaur.
Daniel Patterson presented further details about his new fast-casual project with fellow chef Roy Choi called loco’l. An idea with the potential to revolutionise fast food in The States and a project with the potential to impact on what Patterson says are forgotten communities. He also used his chance on stage to talk about diversity in the industry and ask why 95% of the top chefs are white males. He hopes that some of local, black staff he will employ at loco’l will go on to work in and influence the industry at the very top.
S.Pellegrino Young Chef winner Mark Moriarty spoke directly to the generation of chefs that sit not below but above him. He talked about the shortage of chefs facing the industry at the moment and said that all chefs, especially those at the top, have a responsibility to change the culture of work in the kitchen. He said many young people avoid the industry because of the long hours, unforgiving settings, stress and lack of financial gains and asked that those who employ young staff help to improve this. In return, he said that young chefs also have a responsibility to commit to restaurants with passion, hard work and ate two years minimum work time.
This idea was echoed by Mikael Jonsson from the Hedone restaurant in London who spoke about how his small kitchen has seen over 100 chefs come and go in just a few years and just how hard it’s now getting to attract great culinary talents. To tackle this problem, Jonsson will drop to running just six services a week with the idea of created a better working environment and in turn retaining better staff. The same idea that motivated Sat Bains to recently drop his restaurant to operated just four days a week.
Sasu Laukkonen spoke about his work in Helsinki at the Chef & Sommelier restaurant where he is trying to totally eradicate food waste. The self professed ‘no waste’ chef also presented a clever idea for a unique culinary education programme he would like to start that would make chefs work on farms and farmers work in kitchens.
Matt Orlando from the Amass restaurant in Copenhagen talked of a hypothetical future in which restaurants could be taxed on the amount of food they waste. He spoke of how this type of move would totally change fine dining and why he thinks more and more restaurants in the future will work harder to receive tax breaks for things like: how close to the restaurant they buy ingredients, how much green fill land they use for new developments, how much energy they consume, even how many seats they have. The idea of restaurant quotas in the future may seem radical but when you look at other industries that have a direct impact on the environment, they’re a very normal way of regulating.
Chefs Nathan Outlaw and Albert Adria both took their opportunities on stage to focus in on the sea and why if we don’t make rapid changes there will be nothing edible left in our oceans. Adria spoke about ingredients that in just 15 years he’s seen dye off - urchins, lobsters and mussels. Outlaw, who runs two specialist seafood restaurants in the UK, questioned his own future and asked if a restaurant like his is actually sustainable in the future and if so, just how much would they have to charge diners to make it viable - a brave question when your entire business is based on ocean stock. A third speaker, Roderick Sloan, a man who spends his time diving for sea urchins in Norway for the likes of the Noma and Malmo restaurants, spoke about how chefs can impact the seafood industry by connecting with the smaller guys. Dealing with 20 tonne quota boats rather than monster 200 tonne trawlers that suck up stock from the sea with no care for by-catch.
More to Come…
These points highlight just a cross section of what was discussed during Food on The Edge - there were further talks about baby food and baby feeding, chefs getting involved with medical care through the creation of specilaist meals and closer look at oral senses and how they help us percieve flavour. Over the coming weeks we will be exclusively publishing videos from some of these talks, allowing you all to see first hand what some those on the edge of food are currently considering.