Yesterday, the fourth annual MAD Symposium concluded in Copenhagen, Denmark, with another full day of presentations from chefs, activists, ecologists, and teachers selected by Noma chef René Redzepi and his co-curator, Alex Atala of Brazil's D.O.M. While Day One of MAD 4 featured lesser-known chefs and industry professionals, this session concluded with Albert Adrià, Jeremiah Tower, and Chris Cosentino (with one of the most moving speeches of the entire conference). The day also featured some mega announcements from the likes of Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson (who are opening a fast food restaurant chain together), and Chris Ying of Lucky Peach. Here now, a recap of day two:
1) Redzepi introduced the day's first speaker, Isabel Soares of Portugal, saying that he thinks she should be among those shaping the future of cooking. Soares runs the cooperative Fruta Feia ("Ugly Fruit"), which sells fruit of undesirable sizes and shapes to consumers in an effort to fight food waste. Soares explained that 30 percent of the produce in Europe goes to waste because food distributors only buy the attractive fruits that consumers prefer. Since Fruta Feia launched in November 2013, she said, they've saved 41 tons of food just by connecting farmers and consumers who are willing to buy the ugly fruit. Soares concluded by urging chefs to also consider using ugly fruit in their restaurants, asking, "Why must all fine dining dishes be identical?"
2) Los Angeles urban gardener Ron Finley entered the stage with his hands up in solidarity with Ferguson and the Michael Brown protests. After getting everyone in the tent to take a "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" photo, he launched into an energetic talk about his work planting gardens in South Central LA. Finley's start in urban gardening made him a criminal, he said, because while the local authorities didn't seem to care about old mattresses strewn about public spaces, they considered him a criminal for planting sunflowers there instead. But eventually the city changed its land use laws and supported Finley's project after he "embarrassed their ass," he says.
People are all connected, Finley said, arguing that growing healthy communities starts with food. He described the troubles of South Central, which he said "should be designated as an open crime scene." But despite the community's crime rate, Finley argued that "drive-thrus are killing more people by leaps and bounds than the drive-bys. And they're getting away with it." He pointed out that neighborhood supermarkets are closing in favor of drug stores selling booze and cigarettes, and described the local schools as "nothing more than incubators for the prison industrial complex," asking the audience how they expected children's minds and bodies to develop when they are fed nothing but shit.
Chefs, he said, could help change this, especially the most famous of the chefs in the MAD audience. "Some of you fuckers are even like superheroes," he said, comparing Pierre Koffmann to Professor X of the X Men. He urged everyone to continue to make food sexy in order to translate the importance of good food to the world. Throughout the presentation, Finley repeated the refrain, "Change your food, change your life." And, as he left the stage to an ovation, he instructed everyone, "When you leave here, just go plant some shit."
3) Brazilian jiu-jitsu teacher and founder of the Ultimate Fighting Championship Rorion Gracie was up next selling his book Gracie Diet, which is obviously a diet book based on the practices his uncle developed in order to be in shape to fight at any moment. Those include not squeezing lemon on your fish, not combining oil and sugar, and more. It was kind of an awkward point to make in a room full of cooks, which Gracie seemed to acknowledge by conceding that food should be pleasurable, but that people should be careful when weighing that pleasure against their health.
4) In kind of a funny counterpoint to Gracie, up next were Brazilian chef Katia Barbosa and Renato Meirelles of Data Popular, an institute that focuses on Brazil's slums, called favelas. Meirelles talked about how in the favela, being chubby is a sign of health. He pointed to a photograph of a model meant to represent Brazil's elite, describing them as "skinny and sad" and said that women in favelas just don't get why anyone would eat just chicken and salad if they had money.
5) Norwegian chef Eyvind Hellstrom spoke of his career, starting with his time training under Alain Senderens in Paris, where he also met legends such as Bernard Loiseau and Guy Savoy. In 1982, he opened his Oslo restaurant Bagatelle, which became the first restaurant in Scandinavia to be awarded two Michelin stars. "You can't take that away from me," he said, adding that he does regret not getting a third star and that he believes Redzepi also deserves a third star for Noma. Hellstrom then talked about his TV career doing shows like the Norwegian version of Kitchen Nightmares and screened a pretty funny video of him staging an intervention of a man who ate only Nutella for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
6) Lunch break on day two was a pretty epic feast from Los Angeles chef Roy Choi, serving tacos, burritos, quesadillas, radish kimchi, and burgers. Choi was spotted cooking, supervising, and even bussing empty trays back to be refilled with quesadillas and kimchi. He had plenty of help: Lucky Peach's Peter Meehan was bringing out trays of food, Momofuku's David Chang was slicing quesadillas, and Coi chef Daniel Patterson was serving the burgers in a massive foreshadowing of the announcement that came later in the conference that he and Choi are opening a fast food restaurant named Loco'l together.
To complement the meal, Mikkeller brewery produced some malt liquor in bottles emblazoned with Choi's face in honor of the chef.
7) Darina Allen, founder of Ireland's Ballymaloe Cookery School, brought her daughter-in-law Rachel Allen and her brother and co-founder Rory O'Connell to speak about the history of the school and the importance of passing on the philosophy and passion of cooking. Rachel Allen addressed the "What is cooking?" theme of the conference, answering that, to her, cooking is about passing on skills.
8) French chef Pierre Koffmann returned to the stage to demo artichoke prep. He was done in like 10 seconds because he is awesome, so you might have missed it.
9) Ecologist Lopes da Silva and chef André Mifano spoke next about Brazil's food evolution and each giving credit to Atala for his role, As Silva put it, "countries like Brazil are rediscovering themselves through chefs." Mifano declared that it's a revolution and, as such, shared his manifesto against waste and canned goods and the industrial complex.
10) In further exploration of Brazil's growth, chef David Hertz of the food activist organization Gastromotiva came to the stage with Jayme Santos Junior, the head judge of the Court of Criminal Enforcement and Comptroller of Prisons in Sao Paulo. They talked about using gastronomy as a "powerful tool of social integration" by initiating a program in local women's prisons teaching them how to cook. These programs — mostly taught by Gastromotiva instructors — are teaching prisoners how to work and see themselves as part of a group, Santos said, adding, "They are cooking the transformation of imprisoned people."
11) Danish musicians Tatu Rönkkö and Efterklang performed the blend of sounds and ambient symphony that has made them popular in Copenhagen briefly after a coffee break.
12) The legendary Jeremiah Tower spoke about lessons learned through his career, starting with getting hired at Chez Panisse despite refusing to cook bad green beans in an interview. Tower explained the value of benchmarks when it comes to food quality, noting that "quality is only barely subjective." For example, the jumbo Kentucky wagon beans he was supposed to cook are a 0, while "perfect, velvety" haricots verts are the only 10, standing out above all else. "Taste is a matter of discernment," he said.
Tower also spoke about culinary trends, quoting David Chang's five-year-old infamous remark that "every restaurant in San Francisco is serving figs on a plate with nothing on it." That jab, Tower said, "nailed it to the wall" and he added that he thinks San Francisco has no sense of humor about itself. But while Tower noted that chefs in the room might love trends — especially the ones they start themselves — he doesn't think trends are the future. What underpinned the success of his San Francisco restaurant Stars, Tower said, was its simplicity, but also its mission to be "everything for someone." But it's all about the ingredients, he said, noting that this is what makes him want to get back into the business — then dropping a mysterious bomb that he is waiting for an email that might mean that he is getting back into the business.
Tower also told the story of his first moment that propelled him to success — preparing a grilled dessert that launched California cuisine — but warned chefs to be wary of their success. He concluded with some advice that Elizabeth Taylor once gave him: "When the going gets rough, put on lipstick, pour a cocktail, and get on with it."
13) Lucky Peach editor in chief Chris Ying came out with the surprise announcement of his project, zerofoodprint.org, which seeks to reduce and offset restaurant carbon emissions from around the world. The organization started off by studying the emissions at Prime Meats in New York and Noma in Copenhagen. Those findings have already helped Noma reduce its emissions by 30 percent, Ying said, adding that as of now, Noma will no longer contribute to climate change. Further, Ying said, Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo of Prime Meats have vowed the same for the new restaurant they're planning to open. No further word yet what restaurant that might be, but stay tuned.
14) San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino gave the most surprising and moving talk of the weekend that serves as a strong warning to young chefs seeking celebrity. Cosentino said that he had always loved Iron Chef in Japan and when the opportunity came to be on the show in 2007, he jumped at it. He turned out to be a natural on TV — "People would tell me, 'You've got really great soundbites.' How about really fucking great technique?" he explained in a great soundbite — and eventually was asked to go on a show that involved traveling around and eating with a friend of his. (Cosentino didn't name the show, probably for legal reasons, but it was quite obviously the Food Network's Chefs vs. City with him and Aarón Sánchez.)
That show turned out to be something of a disaster. It wasn't really quite what he had expected when he signed up for it, Cosentino said, involving eating challenges that were less like blind taste tests and more like eating eight-pound deep dish pizzas, whole ghost chiles, and snakes. Competing against local chefs, Cosentino says he looked like a bully that was out to make everyone else look bad. "I was bummed, disappointed. I was ashamed," he said. He was upset to be "destroying people's lives" and teaching unhealthy eating habits to his own kids watching the show. But, he said, "It wasn't really an option to stop. I signed a contract." He said he talked to management about his concerns, but they didn't care.
Cosentino's entire presentation was laced with regret and shame, but also flashes of anger at those who labeled him a sellout for going on TV. "Why can't somebody work to try to put braces on their fucking kids' teeth?" he asked. But, he said, he knew he did it to himself by signing up for TV. He had hoped it would give him, his family, and his employees new opportunities. But instead, it brought him to the hospital. Cosentino then displayed medical photographs of his stomach from 2009, showing that it had third-degree alkaline burns that supposedly "looked like he had swallowed a wolverine that had tried to scratch itself out."
Cosentino says he became extremely sick and unable to eat any acids, including the tomato sauce at his own restaurant. In June 2009, he rushed to the hospital when his body was severely distended. Doctors told him that it could be caused by either cirrhosis or cancer. And it wasn't cirrhosis. After five years of tests, Cosentino discovered he had developed an intestinal motility disorder in which food in the stomach can't be pushed into the intestines. His stomach has healed now, but Cosentino notes it was the price he paid for fame. Which, he added, backfired anyway, with his restaurant losing 45 percent of sales when he became labeled a sellout.
When the video of Cosentino's cautionary tale makes it up online in the weeks after the MAD Symposium, it should probably be required watching for any young chefs hoping to gain celebrity in the business. "It all looks glorious from the outside," Cosentino said. "But it wasn't."
15) Finally, the great Albert Adrià took the stage (with writer Lisa Abend translating for him) to talk about the importance of fear as a creative engine. "I want to teach you all to be afraid. You're never too old to be afraid," he said, arguing that when you overcome your fears, you get your dreams. To illustrate his point, Adrià walked through his post-elBulli career and the fears he has had with each project.
At first with 41 Degrees, it was a fear of whether his name would ever be separable from that of his brother Ferran, and a fear of copying elBulli. At Tickets, he was afraid people wouldn't understand the concept (which they didn't, he said, leading to a reconfiguration of the restaurant into the neighborhood version of elBulli that people wanted). He was afraid to tackle the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisines with the opening of his Nikkei restaurant Pakta in March of 2013, having little experience with either. He was afraid when opening Bodega 1900 that the traditional Spanish restaurant would blur together with his avant garde Spanish restaurant Tickets.
Right now, he said, he's afraid of tackling Mexican cuisine with the opening of taqueria Nino Viejo last week, and next week's opening of its sister restaurant Hoja Santa. Adrià says he loves Mexican cuisine, but is afraid that Mexicans won't like it or think it is authentic (the Mexican delegation of chefs made some noise here in support of Adrià). Finally, in February 2015, Adrià says he will open Enigma, the last component of his five-prong culinary plan for Barcelona. But by now he has learned the upside of his fears — by now, he said, he has paid the penance for his time at elBulli in his brother's shadow. He has now became Albert Adrià.
16) Redzepi brought the day to a close with a sort of mysterious and brief rumination of the relevance of the MAD Symposium. The first four years have been educational, he said, and the conference has been great for Copenhagen and for the community of chefs involved. 5,000 people applied to attend MAD this year, he said, though there was only room for about 500-600.
But, Redzepi said, every iteration of MAD has the potential to be the last one. And so he didn't make any certain announcements about next year. That said, Redzepi did say that this coming year will be about chefs in Copenhagen, New York, and Brazil holding each other accountable now that they've gotten to know each other. MAD 5 is going to be about action, he said, adding that he finds it fitting that the Japanese word for "five" is pronounced, "go." Calling an end of the weekend, Redzepi declared, "Now act."
"We've done enough talking. MAD5 will be about action. #MAD4 is now over." - René— The MADFeed (@TheMADFeed) August 25, 2014
- Isabel Soares of Fruta Feia in Portugal
- Urban gardener Ron Finley
- Ron Finley leads a "hands up, don't shoot" group photo
- Rorion Gracie
- Katia Barbosa and Renato Meirelles (and translators)
- Eyvind Hellstrom
- Mikkeller malt liquor in brown paper bags for Roy Choi
- David Chang, helping out Roy Choi with quesadillas
- Roy Choi's tacos and burritos made day two's lunch pretty major.
- Roy Choi announcing his new fast food concept Loco'l
- Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson discussing their plans for Loco'l
- French chef Pierre Koffmann
- Tatu Ronkko and Efterklang perform
- Chris Ying announces zerofoodprint.org
- MAD 4 co-curator Alex Atala
- The help wanted ad that landed Jeremiah Tower at Chez Panisse
- Chris Cosentino's stomach suffered third-degree alkaline burns from his time on food TV.
- Rene Redzepi closes out MAD 4.