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Chef María Fernanda Di Giacobbe from Venezuela has been named as the recipient of the first ever Basque World Culinary Prize – an award dedicated to chefs who have “improved society through gastronomy.”
Giacobbe was picked for her work centred around Venezuelan cacao, with two particular projects called Kakao and Cacao de Origen, in which she helps support local producers improve their products and create their own successful businesses using Venezuelan cacao. The organisation said: "She has built an ecosystem of education, entrepreneurship, research and development around the Criollo cacao bean, making it a source of identity, culture and economic wealth. Amid the complex political situation in Venezuela, María Fernanda Di Giacobbe has provided opportunities for women in economically vulnerable conditions."
Giacobbe – who will receive a cash prize of €100,000 to devote to a project or institution of her choice, including her own – was chosen from a shortlist of 20 finalists nominated by people working in the gastronomy industry. The shortlist was then debated by an international jury of chefs and leading food experts including the likes of Joan Roca, Ferran Adrià, Yoshihiro Narisawa, Massimo Bottura, and US food scientist and writer Harold McGee.
Speaking just after hearing the news, Giacobbe said: "This award makes possible and tangible many goals and dreams that we hoped to achieve in a long time. It gives us the joy of seeing the result of all these years in which we told our chocolate entrepreneurs that if they do honest work, with passion, love and faith, your work can be recognized. No matter where you are, people find you."
Speaking about the announcement, the head of the prize jury, Joan Roca, said: “Today's recipient of the Basque Culinary World Prize reflects how gastronomy can take a leap from craft to consciousness. Maria Fernanda uses Cacao as a gastronomic symbol that has a positive impact on the entire food chain. This is an inspiring project that exemplifies the great reach of gastronomy. Chefs can make a difference.
Launched in 2016, the Basque World Culinary Prize is the first of its kind in the world and has been labelled by many, including the BBC, as the Nobel Prize of Gastronomy. 110 different chefs were nominated from 30 different countries with projects covering everything from education to rehabilitation, health to preservation. We’ll be bringing you an interview with the winner tomorrow, but for now here’s a look at the 20 shortlisted projects.