The international chefs changing our food systems

18 June, 2020 by
Madeline Woolway

This year, an industry known for its vibrancy has come face to face with its biggest challenge — restaurants, cafes and bars across the world have had to close their doors. The global hospitality sector is diverse, with some challenges unique to specific venues and others felt by all. The widespread shutdown of societies has touched countries across the globe, and the culinary profession has been one of the hardest hit. But, if there’s a sector capable of adaptation, it’s the hospitality industry.

The dedication to morphing is apparent in the work of the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian, Spain. For the past decade, the institution has encouraged innovation in gastronomy, celebrating its ability to transform society. Even with the world in lockdown, the Center is pushing on with its mission. The institution brought together more than 1000 people to listen as previous winners, nominees and jury members of the Basque Culinary World Prize discussed their trials and tribulations along with their hopes for a post-pandemic world. Hospitality stayed up late into the night to join the Basque Culinary Center’s Sasha Correa as she spoke to chefs over Zoom. Here, we share lessons learned.

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Read the full feature in Hospitality’s June/July issue

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At 12:30am on Thursday 1 May, Australian time, the Basque Culinary Center gathered 10 internationally recognised chefs together for a virtual discussion. Over three hours, the live-streamed event tackled a pressing issue: the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on restaurants and the possibility of lasting change, not just for the industry but for society at large. Joxe Mari Aizega, director of the Basque Culinary Center, led the discussion with a call to arms. “Five years ago, we started walking down the path of the Basque Culinary World Prize,” he says. “There is no bigger challenge than the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the defining issue of our times, and with the culinary world disproportionately affected [compared to] many other sectors, it is right to seek nominees that reflect the active role chefs have as agents of social change.”

Basque-born chef Eneko Atxa of restaurant Azurmendi agreed, imploring those who work in the world of gastronomy to apply the talent they use in their restaurants to the challenge presented by novel coronavirus. “We can be part of the solution,” he says. “I understand gastronomy as a medicine, capable of strengthening our health, our spirit and our culture, but also our economy. That’s why we must take our knowledge and use it in this context to find solutions.” It’s an attitude that was echoed throughout the talks, with each chef providing examples of the ethos in action.

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Eneko Atxa Credit: Basque Culinary Center

 

Read the full feature in Hospitality’s June/July issue

Concern about food supply chains was a common theme and one many chefs can help resolve. The pandemic has exacerbated social inequality and put further strain on global and local food supply chains already fractured by industrial agricultural practices and climate change. It has also revealed how vulnerable the restaurant industry is.   

“This crisis exposes that there is no cushion, there is no safety net, there is no margin for error,” says Anthony Myint, San Francisco-based founder of Mission Chinese Food and environmental initiatives Zero Foodprint and Restore California. Myint won the 2019 Basque Culinary World Prize for his work with Zero Foodprint, which partners with restaurants to reduce their environmental impact.   

“One word I hear a lot of people say now, that I didn’t really hear as often before, is ‘resilience’,” says Myint. “Our individual businesses need to be resilient; our food system needs to be resilient.” Through his projects, Myint is focused on challenging the industrial food system. “Our approach has been to focus on healthy soil and changing the system,” he says. “What healthy soil is creating is resilience in the face of climate change. We need to switch to that at scale so our food systems can be resilient because there will be future regional disasters as climate change worsens.”

Read the full feature in Hospitality’s June/July issue

Nominations for the fifth edition of the Basque Culinary World Prize are open until 30 June, 2020. Professionals and institutions within the industry are able to nominate chefs who have ‘transformed society through gastronomy’.

Lead image: Anthony Myint Credit: Basque Culinary Center