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René Redzepi's MAD FoodCamp 2011 Hangover Observations

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The Copenhagen sky at 6AM on Saturday was a wild sight — a heady crimson, with thunder, lightning, and rain to match. It was so intense, in fact, that it caused part of the MAD Foodcamp symposium tent to collapse; chef René Redzepi, the event's face and one of its masterminds, considered calling it all off.

But somehow things cleared up, and in a matter of two hours, the tent was rebuilt and things got going on time.

Reiterating what he had expressed leading up to the event, Redzepi welcomed the crowd by laying out the essential idea behind the symposium: the role of the chef has reached a place of influence and prominence in recent years, and those who cook, farm, and write about such things "need to know more about the food that we eat and need to create better relationships with our people." According to Redzepi, those chefs need to educate themselves, need to recognize that it is possible to create an authentic cuisine anywhere, and need to realize that the seemingly private interactions with farmers and purveyors "can create real change." He finished by saying, "We're here to tell you that everything is possible. And even if it's not, we need to try and believe it is."

The presentations that followed over the next two days fell in line with the Noma chef's general thesis. There were talks from farmers, foragers, and food academics that venerated the plant (Stefano Mancuso and François Couplan), that emphasized the benefits of policulture and the hunter-gatherer philosophy (Søren Wiuff and Hans Herren), and that argued for the potentials of urban farming (Thomas Harttung). Miles Irving, the prominent English forager associated with London restaurants like Hibiscus and The Ledbury, explained how he got into the practice and spoke about the degree to which plant life throughout the world remains untapped. Harold McGee, the last of the non-chefs, provided a detailed, almost dizzying overview of the chemical reasons behind plant flavor.

The list of chef speakers amounted to a San Pellegrino all-star team. Some produced impressive videos — short films, really — that showcased relationships with purveyors (Andoni Aduriz, Gaston Acurio, and even Massimo Bottura, who couldn't make it as he was stranded in New York), while others spoke of recent developments in their restaurants (David Chang of Momofuku on microbiology and Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken on the preservation techniques he must use at his Swedish restaurant). Daniel Patterson of Coi used the history of the beet as a jumping off point for discussing the unexpected ways we can use seemingly simple or boring products. Gaston Acurio closed out the event by giving a personal presentation about how recognizing Peru's biological and cultural diversity has allowed for the creation of sustainable restaurants that help purveyors and respect all rings of society.

Though they didn't dominate the proceedings, there actually were demos, and all of them tended toward the natural: Michel Bras walked the attendees through his historic Gargouillou, which Redzepi called "the most copied dish in modern gastronomy;" Iñaki Aitzpitarte of Le Chateaubriand prepared a green "risotto," in which samphire replaced grain; and Attica chef Ben Shewry punctuated his impassioned call for a new contract with nature by bringing out a makeshift grill and preparing a simple dish of abalone with foraged plants found along the seashore.

Throughout, Redzepi served as ringmaster, introducing presenters here and there, but most importantly acting as a catalyst for debate and conversation. It was not uncommon for him to interrupt during a chef's demonstration and urge them to go deeper. During Alex Atala's presentation, for instance, he went up and asked the simple question of how the Brazilian chef manages to make an authentically Brazilian contemporary cuisine. A day earlier, as Aitzpitarte was preparing his dish, Redzepi pushed the notoriously shy chef to explain what inspired him to make the faux risotto. Often, the incitement led to further discussion, and at other times, like during Aitzpitarte's talk, it led to sobering levity: "A journalist was coming to my house, and she had asked me to make a dish the color green. I hadn't prepared anything, so I made what I could with what was in my fridge."

The symposium itself was small, limited to only a couple of hundred attendees from across the world, including Sydney Morning Herald food critic Terry Dureck and chefs Sean Brock, Claude Bosi, Frank Falcinelli, Matthias Dahlgren, and Scott Boswell. The intimacy of the environment allowed for much interaction between sessions and, as intended, conversations were had and connections were made. To balance the exclusivity out, there was an entire food festival happening outside that did justice to Redzepi's claim that festivals like Glastonbury and Roskilde were his inspiration. There were cows, outdoor grilling, public talks, and various stalls within various areas that showcased local Nordic artisans and purveyors.

An extremely positive and hopeful mood dominated the festival; at one point during the weekend, the British food writer Jay Rayner, who wasn't in attendance, reacted to tweets he had seen coming out of the event: "I'm sure #MADFoodCamp is a great thing, and it's probably just jealousy, but some of the tweets coming out of CPH are sounding cultist." On a boat ride back from the festival, Pittsburgh chef Kevin Sousa, who had come to Denmark just to be at the symposium, weighed in on the question of potential fanaticism: "It makes sense. They're excited about something, they want to spread it, and that's how you make it happen. It feels like history is being made."


· All Mad Foodcamp Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All René Redzepi Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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