Chef Xanty Elías has been named as the recipient of the sixth Basque World Culinary Prize, an award dedicated to chefs who have created positive change through gastronomy.
The Spanish chef was picked for his work tackling childhood obesity and teaching healthy eating in schools in southern Spain, in a country where 40% of children are overweight or obese, and which has the second-highest obesity rate in Europe.
Elías' former restaurant, Acánthum, became the first restaurant in the in the Andalusian province of Huelva to earn a Michelin star. His latest project, Finca Alfoliz, a restaurant entirely focused on sustainability, will soon open its doors in Aljaraque.
In addition to his restaurants, Elías has immersed himself in social projects for the benefit of Huelva, including launching Fundación Prenauta in 2018. His 'Los Niños se Comen El Future' (children eat the future) initiative aims to teach students how to cook traditional Andalusian recipes, how to eat healthily and how to apply academic subjects such as maths and chemistry to cooking. As Elías said in his acceptance speech, "eating well is not about money, but about knowledge."
As part of the programme, chefs visit schools to perform kitchen demonstrations. In the 2019/20 school year, the initiative reached more than 6,000 schoolchildren in more than 100 schools in Andalusia. In the future, Elías hopes to roll out 'Los Niños se Comen El Futuro' to the whole of Spain.
Elías will receive a cash prize of 100,000 euros with which he said he plans to train more children, across all social classes and levels. He was chosen from a shortlist of nearly 1,000 nominations and 600 candidates picked by people working in the industry. The shortlist was then decided by an international panel of chefs and leading food experts, including Joan Roca, Ferran Adrià, Yoshihiro Narisawa, Gastón Acurio, Manu Buffara, Dan Barber, Dominique Crenn, Enrique Olvera and Trine Hahnemann.
Speaking of his win, a delighted Elías said: "I am happy and very grateful to BCWP. It is a wonder to show that gastronomy and chefs can evolve society towards a better future... Allowing children to make informed decisions about the food they eat while they are still young is their basis for a healthier and more sustainable future."
President of the jury, Joan Roca, said: "Xanty's work reflects the interest that chefs from so many countries around the world have in making gastronomy finally part of the education that our society requires, sowing values in those who tomorrow will be the future. All children deserve to have the tools they need to learn the true value of food, as an indispensable source for life but also as a catalyst for preserving cultures, heritage and identity."
The BCWP jury also awarded special recognition to two other inspirational figures in food:
1. Kia Damon (US) - a rising star of the American culinary scene, and a strong advocate of diversity in gastronomy.
2. Ana Estrela (Brazil/Italy) - a former dancer and assistant choreographer for several Afro-Brazilian dance groups, who set up the Origins cultural association in Bari for the purpose of promoting Brazilian culture through the organisation of artistic and gastronomic events.
Previous winners of the Basque Culinary Prize include:
Last year's winner was José Andrés for his inspirational work with World Central Kitchen (WCK); US chef Anthony Myint won in 2019, for his work addressing climate change through gastronomy; Scottish/Australian chef Jock Zonfrillo won in 2018, for his pioneering work with the Orana Foundation, Leonor Espinosa was recognised for her work reviving Columbian culinary traditions in 2017; and María Fernanda Di Giacobbe, from Venezuela, won the inaugural edition in 2016 for her contribution to the local cacao industry.