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The fourth edition of Parabere Forum took place in Malmo on the 4th-5th March 2018 was dedicated to Edible Cities and exploring the tensions between urbanization and food security and inspiring solutions.
Inevitably with world attention on #metoo issues, the Forum addressed equality and how best to improve gender balance in the culinary workspace. The conference was set up by journalist/author Maria Canabal to provide a different kind of meeting of women working in food in the widest sense: chefs, mixologists, hoteliers, bakers, producers, activists, culinary centric press and marketing specialists. This year, there were 400 delegates from Scandinavia to Alaska, Australia to Italy.
Though there are some male delegates, Rene Redzepi was the only man invited to speak. He raised a standing ovation after explaining how Noma is developing a company culture focused on inclusion as the key driver of creativity and a happier restaurant culture for both chefs and guests.
Looking ahead to the fifth Parabere Forum in Oslo, Maria Canabal said: “Our community has grown considerably since the first edition 4 years ago. We believe our industry must be inclusive and not treat women as a category, hence are a campaign against gender awards and preference to call female chefs.”
Here are some of the top talking points from this year's event.
A positive female network - Anne-Sophie Pic
Anne-Sophie Pic flew to Parabere Forum directly from Paris, fresh from winning the creativity prize at Omnivore. Pic spoke candidly about her struggle to win over the male-dominated kitchen at her late father’s Maison Pic 3 Michelin star restaurant, how she switched to front-of-house before realizing her real passion was for the kitchen which made her even more determined to succeed.
“We need to change history and make a long-term women’s inclusive vision” said Pic. “This is why Parabere Forum is so important, we need to bring experts and mentors together and create a positive female network.” Pic finished her conversation saying: “I want to live, what I believe.”
Restaurants for social change – Lara Gilmore
As if running Food for Soul opening worldwide (the latest Refettorio Paris opened just last week) and Osteria Francescana wasn’t enough, Lara Gilmore has a new project with his husband Massimo Bottura.
The Tortellante started small as many of the best ideas do. They were initially looking for an after school project for their son Charlie and some of his fellow special needs school friends. They hit on tortellini, fundamental to the DNA of Modena and a food Charlie enjoyed. Gilmore asked herself who were the best egg pasta or tortellini makers? The older generation, like Lidia Cristoni who so greatly inspired Massimo Bottura when he was starting out and still makes tortellini for him. The project pairs retired women with the young adults to teach them tortellini skills. Participants take home what they’ve made to provide supper for the family, giving a real sense of achievement.
At Parabere, Gilmore announced excitedly that the Mayor of Modena has just given them a new site for the Tortellante “school” in the centre of Modena, which will open Autumn 2018 with a proper shop. Restaurateurs contributing meaningful social change is a welcome future trend likely to build momentum.
Urbanisation & food waste – Ronni Kahn
The critical relationship between urbanization and food security was the key subject of Parabere. Most powerful was Australian waste activist and creator of Oz Harvest Ronni Kahn, who had the forum entranced and in tears. After a long career as a private caterer, South African born Kahn returned to visit Soweto with a friend involved in education charities there. This visit was a life-changing moment. On her return, Kahn set up the modest beginnings of a food waste redistribution network with one van collecting otherwise disposed of foods from supermarkets and delivering it to the disadvantaged.
The reach of Oz Harvest is now phenomenal. Kahn explained: “I believe starting in a low-key way and looking forward within one’s own workspace and familiar networks is the way to start change”. Kahn emphasizes that beyond the practical, she seeks a fundamental change of mentality in work practices and responsibilities.
Making wasted urban space a food source – Indira Naidoo
Fellow Australian community change-maker and broadcaster Indira Naidoo explained how she started to grow herbs on her city balcony as a non-gardener and food-loving occasional cook. She decided to make it her mission to convert wasted urban space into growing spaces. “I realized I was part of the urban problem,” admits Naidoo, “just by shopping mindlessly in supermarkets, and I wanted to become part of the solution.”
From creating her own edible balcony and writing a book on the process, Naidoo has rapidly become more pro-active. She set up a gardening project for the homeless using otherwise wasted roof space, another similar space became a fertile site to grow food to teach schoolchildren who came to class malnourished, and inspire their parents to use fresh produce. Working with asylum families who often have farming skills yet no growing space of their own has become a solution Naidoo is particularly committed to. “The garden becomes a common language and promotes greater positivity”.
There is surely an opportunity for chefs, many of whom now have their own farms/significant kitchen gardens, to work with asylum communities too. Where they already are growing, they could supply restaurants. Asma Khan of London’s Darjeeling Express has such a project with a group of retired Ghurka community gardeners who supply her Soho restaurant.
Is Bread Tomorrow’s Ingredient - Apollonia Poilâne
Daughter of the founders of Poilâne, Apollonia Poilâne now runs Maison Poilâne in Paris and explained how she believes the future is in bread and served way beyond the side plate. She talked about creating recipes where bread, even stale “repurposed” breadcrumbs could become essential to dishes in new and creative ways as part of taking a no waste policy into the kitchen. Maybe bread really is the under-rated ingredient of the future.