Planting Thoughts: We can all make a difference

Eva Helbaek - 31/08/2011

“What I see here I’ve never seen before. This conference brings something new; as individuals we can do something for the collective.” Alex Atala, chef/owner of D.O.M., said those words, and I think they pretty well capture the essence of the outcome of the symposium ‘Planting Thoughts’ that was held in Copenhagen as part of the food festival MAD Foodcamp this weekend (August 27-28). The speakers, among them chefs from the World’s best restaurants, idealistic farmers, foragers and scientists with the numbers to back up the good intentions, were at a common pace: They wanted to make a difference and take their share of the responsibility for how the mouths of the world are fed.

Does sustainability comply with fine dining? But how does sustainability comply with fine dining? Isn’t fine dining about using luxurious ingredients and manipulate them into something even more luxurious? Not necessarily in the traditional way. For instance, Daniel Patterson (Coi), talked about how he has rediscovered the beet, which is now one of his favourite ingredients. Farmer Søren Wiuff explained how a leek sown at a different time of the year than usually can be a totally new, very tasty product. Plant neurologist Stefano Mancuso said that we only know 10% of the plant species on earth, meaning there are loads of undiscovered, potentially delicious ingredients out there. And foragers Miles Irving and Francois Couplan gave the audience a little insight into some of the plants we usually overlook, but which can easily be eaten - with delight.

The world is watching But most important is not what is being put on the plates at the fine dining restaurants. Massimo Botturas (Osteria Francescana) words, as they were being read aloud by René Redzepi (Noma), point out the essence: “It isn’t just about serving food. Chefs have to be conscious of their thoughts and acts, because the world is watching. Without ethics our jobs as chefs are not complete.” In other words, the burden lies heavier on the chefs' shoulders, because they are role models for the rest of us. But the responsibility lies on all of us. Or, as Kamal Mouzawak, chef and founder of Souk El Tayeb, Beiruit’s first farmer’s market, said: “How can each of us do that little thing that makes a difference?”  

For a more thorough an very well-written overview of the symposium, take a look at Katie Parlas blog.   Eva Helbak is editor of the Danish restaurant guide Spiseliv. Twitter: EvaHelbak Photos by Mads Eneqvist (top) and Erik Refner (bottom) More pictures from MAD Foodcamp at Spiselivs Facebook page