50 Next: Why 50 Best and the Basque Culinary Center are joining forces to discover the people shaping the future of gastronomy

Laura Price - 09/11/2020

With just days to go before applications and nominations for 50 Next close on 12th November, we meet the head of 50 Best’s Academic Partner, the Basque Culinary Center, to find out more about this fresh collaboration

Having hosted a special edition of #50BestTalks in 2018 and with almost a decade of experience in education, research, innovation and promotion of gastronomy, the Basque Culinary Center (BCC) is a natural choice as the Academic Partner of 50 Next, the new list of young people shaping the future of food and drink. From their home in San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain, BCC’s team of specialists are helping to develop the 50 Next initiative and to provide insight and expertise throughout the selection process.

Here, we catch up with General Manager Joxe Mari Aizega to find out about the BCC’s work and his hopes for the list, which will be revealed on 22nd February 2021.

Hi, Joxe Mari. First, can you tell us why the 50 Next initiative is important to the BCC?

50 Next is a natural evolution of the activity we do at the Basque Culinary Center. As an institution, we are used to working with young generations. We educate the leaders of the future and we see the power they have, so it was a natural approach to connect and promote the future leaders in gastronomy and the people transforming their sectors.

What is your role in 50 Next?

As Academic Partner, we are contributing our knowledge and also our connections to the initiative. We have been involved in many activities, not only in education but also in accelerating start-ups, working with the Basque Culinary World Prize and more.

Tell us about the BCC’s understanding of the word ‘gastronomy’.

Gastronomy is not just fine dining any more, but a wide value chain, covering produce, transformation, hospitality, tourism. We want to promote this wide understanding of gastronomy. From a cultural, social and economic perspective, it’s a very relevant strategic sector for many countries. [Click here for examples of the people who might apply]
The Basque Culinary Center's students celebrate after cooking for the #50BestTalks guests in 2018

What sorts of people do you hope will feature in the list?

We are looking for young people making a difference and showing results. We would like to showcase young people who are changing their sector, transforming the content and sometimes the values and the results. I am looking forward to finding young people, to giving them visibility, and showing the world the transformation that they are leading. I am sure we will find very inspiring young professionals.

Is there anything else you are looking for?

We visualise a list that has to be diverse, with a balance in geography, gender and different sectors. Diversity represents this society and the world. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to show this wide perspective.

The creation of 50 Next comes from a similar place to the creation of the Basque Culinary World Prize in terms of wanting to ‘give back’ and to make a social impact. How can 50 Next make an impact?

The basis of 50 Next is innovation and entrepreneurship – young people developing new initiatives, visions and ideas. Innovation and entrepreneurship are a driving force of our society. So of course, we will be showing the world the people who are making a difference, improving our society and making advances in every sector.

50 Next counts on the support of the Best of the Best group, including Massimo Bottura, Joan Roca and Ferran Adrià, who are also on the BCC’s international board. What kind of role do you see these leaders playing and how can they help nurture the next generation?

All of these people are visionaries. They are leaders who have led revolutions in their countries and in the gastronomic sector. [By involving them in 50 Next] we are giving the legitimacy of these leaders to the young generation. The leaders and the revolutionaries connecting with the young generations is a very powerful combination. [Click here to read leadership lessons from Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca of El Celler de Can Roca]

What are the main challenges facing the gastronomy world right now?

There is a short-term challenge that is Covid-19: the health crisis, the economic crisis. Not being able to travel is affecting gastronomy in every country, in every territory. Thinking a little further into the future, I think gastronomy is connected with sustainable development. This is a big challenge. Health, gastronomy and food habits are also a very relevant challenge for the future.
Basque mussels cooked by the students of the Basque Culinary Center

What is BCC doing to help tackle those challenges?

First, we are educating the future generations and giving them skills to develop these challenges properly. Second, under the BCC umbrella, we have a Research and Innovation Centre. We have research projects working in sustainable development, health, in European projects, with universities, restaurants, and we are also helping entrepreneurs in our acceleration programmes. We see a lot of start-ups working in these two main areas of sustainable development and health.

How did you come to lead the Basque Culinary Center?

About 12 years ago, when I was Vice President of Mondragón University in the Basque Country, some chefs visited and asked if we would be interested in creating a new centre for the future. I was the one who had that conversation, so you could say that gastronomy found me.

When the world returns to some degree of normality, we are planning to hold the first 50 Next event in Bilbao. What are your hopes for that event?

We want it to become a really inspiring event, and also a moment to gather and connect not only the people in the 50 Next list but also the innovation and entrepreneurship community within gastronomy.

How might the 50 Next event provide a positive way to restart after the pandemic?

I imagine that after the pandemic, a lot of initiatives will become inspiring and very significant because it's something that we're missing so much. Technology and digital connections are great – they’re efficient and allow us to connect quickly and easily. But we need face-to-face interactions, so I think this event and others in the coming years will be very relevant and inspiring.

Finally, how does 50 Next tie in with the Basque Country?

The 50 Next initiative is about not just gastronomy but also innovation, entrepreneurship and transformation. All these ingredients are very relevant in the Basque Country, in our culture and way of doing things, because this is a gastronomic territory. We consider ourselves a ‘culinary nation’. Also, there is a lot of innovation and entrepreneurship in our way of working and doing business. Gastronomy has transformed the Basque Country – our culture, our economy, our society. So it's great to be involved in something that is going to show the power of transformation. [Find out about Biscay, 50 Next’s official Destination Partner]

Discover more about 50 Next:

50 Next is looking for young people from all countries and across all areas of the gastronomy world, from activists and app developers to craft beer producers and cheesemakers. Find out how to apply or nominate – the deadline is 12th November!