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If the first Asia's 50 Best Restaurants forum of 2014 proved anything, it's that the humble vegetable still has the power to evoke a passionate and emotional response.
Chefs, industry professionals and food lovers gathered at Singapore's famous Raffles hotel to discuss 'The Future of Food', with the perhaps inevitable conclusion that the restaurant industry will have to go back to its roots to achieve sustainability.
In an emotional talk, chef Ben Shewry of Melbourne’s Attica restaurant highlighted the importance of biodiversity, and explained how foraging has played a key role in his life, ever since growing up on the family farm in North Taranaki, New Zealand. By passing an appreciation of where food comes from onto his own children, he's hoping to lead by example when it comes to educating people about the provenance of ingredients.
Björn Frantzèn of Stockholm's Restaurant Frantzèn echoed Shewry's commitment to high quality, sustainable ingredients, and lauded the 'freaks' - or local farmers - whose rare passion is helping to revive such endangered local ingredients as the Linderöd pig in Sweden.
Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa, whose Narisawa restaurant was named Asia’s best in 2013, spoke about the difficulties involved in maintaining a 'green' restaurant in the centre of Tokyo, advocating a strong relationship of mutual trust and understanding with local food producers. "Japanese food is delicious because of 'umami',” he told the audience. “But this umami flavour comes from natural ingredients."
Bounding onto the stage with infectious enthusiasm - not to mention a basket full of fragrant Thai produce - was Bangkok restaurant Bo.lan's Duangporn Songvisava (Bo for short), the recipient of the Veuve Cliquot Asia's Best Female Chef award in 2013. She agreed that chefs must strive to source high-quality, locally grown organic produce, but stressed that consumers are also responsible for what they put in their mouths.
Songvisava's proactive approach was epitomised by Jack Yoss of the Sheraton Pattaya Resort in Thailand, who told of his experiences sourcing western ingredients for a 200-plus room hotel in Bali. His promise to a local farmer to buy everything that he could grow from packets of imported seeds changed a hotel menu - and a farmer's life.
"All I did was support a local farmer with a dream," said Yoss. "He's now selling to 60 hotels, employs 18 people and grows over 60 varieties."