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It started inauspiciously with a power cut and ended on a bed of edible roses. The #50BestTalks Barcelona sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna featuring five of the world’s best chefs, all previous World’s 50 Best Restaurants winners, was always going to be a emotional rollercoaster, given the cast of characters. But, if said power cut during Bottura’s opening gambit couldn’t dampen the energy in the room, then nothing could.
The theme, was Food Forward: Visions of Gastronomy and the event, on a muggy early Barcelona afternoon had the air of a baton passing ceremony, or at least a waiving of it, not only to future generations of cooks and diners, but to the new boys too, that is Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, winners of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017. They will have left with a profound understanding, if they didn't have already, of the responsibilities of heading the best restaurant in the world: not only to the people they employ and serve, but also to future generations.
There was a sombre tone, given the news of the passing of culinary legend Alain Senderens, one of the stars of French nouvelle cuisine, but the event was all about looking forward, to how to pass on better knowledge, values and ultimately, a better planet through food to the people of tomorrow.
Massimo Bottura: the Potato Revolution
Bottura has honed his public speaking to a series of razor-sharp soundbites, delivered with characteristic jack-in-the box energy. He started with an anecdote about potatoes from Bologna and my word did he make you believe in those potatoes. In the future, he said, “there will be chefs who know more about soil and farmers who know more about taste” – and there will be universities dedicated to it. But where were the farmers at the event, he queried?
Speaking of his Food for Soul project, he drew attention to the “heroes,” the volunteers that have helped bring his initiative to feed the hungry and fight food waste to life. “We are the revolution,” he said, and, coming back to his potato analogy: “Not all of us can be a truffle, most of us are potatoes, but a potato is a good thing to be” – meaning we all have a part to play.
Ferran Adrià: the Legacy of Knowledge
Adrià sees the legacy of elBulli as the passing on of culinary knowledge to future generations. “ElBulli changed the way we look at gastronomy ... we are all elBulli,” he said, addressing the chefs to his left and the room at large. But, “There isn’t one book that that explains cooking techniques correctly,” he said, revealing that he and the elBulli Foundation were currently working on 25 definitive, 500-page books on the subject. The next generation of cooks would surpass all the achievements of those seated on the panel, he said.
He also reflected on some of the profound changes in food and the world at large that have occured since taking home the first ever World’s 50 Best title, including the impact of the internet and social media, and what he believes is improving gender disparity in kitchens, his prediction being that there will be many more women in professional kitchens over the next 10 to 15 years.
Daniel Humm and Will Guidara: Back to Basics
The winners of this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants for Eleven Madison Park were in a reflective mood, given that they’ve just signed a new 20-year-lease at their New York premises. Humm spoke of how the pair was trying to learn from their own and others’ past mistakes by going back to basics, putting the customer experience at the forefront of everything they do. “Deliciousness is the most important thing in the kitchen,” said Humm, “if you don’t want your food to be delicious, become a painter.” Not just in the kitchen: Eleven Madison park is renowned for faultless service.
The Swiss-born Humm went on to pose the question: what exactly is a fine dining restaurant? For him and Guidara, it’s a magical, happy place, not one of reverence. “Fine dining is a conversation,” he said. They also reflected on their experience of winning the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, perhaps slightly mourning the fact that the thrill of the chase was gone.
Joan Roca: Cooking is Caring
The three Michelin star El Celler de Can Roca in Girona is the work of three brothers of course and it’s this family-forward philosophy that we should be passing on to the next generation of restaurant staff, said the oldest of the three, Joan. Taking care of your team is paramount, said Roca, “cooking is caring,” but “humanising gastronomy” is a tough challenge – this is a restaurant after all that, as we reported earlier in the year, now employs its own psychologist.
“We need to make the next generation feel comfortable,” he said, “that they’re not sacrificing their lives.” Gastronomy is moving “from products and techniques to people, from science to awareness and conscience,” the two time World's 50 Best winner continued, before emphasising the responsibility of being number one on the list, as Humm and Guidara looked on.
René Redzepi: Foraging Our Future
He may have made light of his reputation for foraging, but Redzepi is deadly serious about the practice, one that he said helped him establish a sense of place as an immigrant to Denmark from Macedonia. He and his team have just launched a foraging app as part of the Vild Mad (‘Wild Food’) project, a three pronged initiative designed to teach people the fundamentals of foraging through technology, a specially designed school curriculum and workshops, a skill that Redzepi believes is “as important as math.“ “Why do we waste?” he asked, “We waste things we don’t value.” As he was drawing his speech to a close, baskets of edible roses were shared amongst the audience. The metaphor for a rosy, yet delicate future was not lost on the room.
All images: World's 50 Best Restaurants