At the opening session of #50BestTalks: Life Cycle in San Sebastian, restaurateurs Joan Roca, Gaggan Anand and Eneko Atxa with Farm Africa CEO Nicolas Mounard launched the Chefs for Change initiative, calling for cooks around the world to join them in transforming the lives of rural producers across three continents.
For Nicolas Mounard, CEO of international development charity Farm Africa, there is a clear link between the best restaurants in the world and the planet’s most remote rural communities. “The more I talk to chefs, the more I become aware of the common ground between gastronomy and international development,” said Mounard at #50BestTalks, presented by Miele, in San Sebastian last month. “There is a shared ambition to go beyond food in order to transform lives.”
The chefs’ close relationships with their local farmers and producers and the importance often given to working with the local community are some of the example of this connection, which Mounard sees as an opportunity to close an important gap in the food industry. “A lot of the dysfunction in the food system has to do with the broken link between farming and consuming,” said Mounard. “Instead, chefs are taking a tomato from next door and they’re bringing it to the table, helping people understand that you have to maintain the link between farming and eating.”
#50BestTalks at the Basque Culinary Center
Launching the initiative Chefs for Change at #50BestTalks, Mounard highlighted the work of Joan Roca, Gaggan Anand and Eneko Atxa – the project’s founding chefs – in the fields of sustainability and social responsibility. “There is a willingness to look beyond the product in order to tell the story of the people behind the food,” said Mounard. “It doesn’t matter if you’re eating at El Celler de Can Roca, Gaggan or Azurmendi, or if you’re buying at Walmart: at the end of the day, it’s all about people.”
Chefs for Change consists of 25 sustainable farming programmes in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia, India and Honduras, created to support farmers who produce everything from potatoes to coffee and vanilla. With the launch of the initiative, the chefs choose the programme that best fits their current work, then travel to meet the farmers and producers behind the product to help tell their stories and spread the message that agriculture can make a difference in issues of nutrition, gender equality, climate change and soil fertility.
As part of the launch, the chefs chose one of their dishes and analysed the human footprint of its ingredients. Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, analysed his dish Calçotada, inspired by the Catalan tradition of grilling the local sweet spring onions known as ‘calçots’. Roca’s recipe included Ripollesa lamb from a local breed recovery project, recovered calçot seeds and a plate made from recycled glass, showing how sustainability can be applied to different fields.
Roca's dish Calçotada
Roca highlighted the importance of preservation techniques, including how the chefs can share this knowledge with farmers to ensure that life isn’t wasted, as well as raise awareness at their restaurants. “Landscape and nature have always been one of our creative inspiration sources and our cuisine aims to embrace our natural heritage with the restaurant. We believe we can cook the world we want,” said Roca.
Eneko Atxa of Azurmendi, the restaurant in the Basque Country of Spain that received the Sustainable Restaurant Award for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018, discussed his work with farmer Ana Mari Llaguno in order to recover the cebolla morada de Zalla, or Zalla red onion. “We thought we were pushing the product, but in the end we understood that there’s more, because we are also pushing the community of women behind the product. Four or five years ago, Ana Mari was the only person growing Zalla red onions, but now there are five or six women working on the project,” said Atxa.
Gaggan Anand of Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand, highlighted how sustainability has different meanings and applications in different parts of the world. “In a place like Asia, sustainability has a completely different agenda,” said Gaggan. “Our daily bread is rice. Rice feeds over three billion people and it could be 20 dollars per kilo or five kilos for a dollar. Rice could be in the poorest home in the world and in the richest man’s home.”
Gaggan’s dish, Paturi, consisted of curry rice wrapped in a banana leaf and torched with fire. The Indian chef discussed the importance of rice and fire within Asian cultures and followed each of Paturi’s ingredients back to its source, highlighting the producers, farmers and cooks involved.
“If you take the 17 sustainable development goals of the United Nations, we can address all of them through agriculture,” concluded Mounard. “We need to step up our game. Chefs can help us put a spotlight on this big challenge. So spread the word, Chefs for Change is out now.”
Read more about Chefs for Change on the website, chefsforchange.org.
Now watch the full presentation from Joan Roca, Eneko Atxa, Gaggan Anand and Nicolas Mounard at #50BestTalks: Life Cycle:
Watch the highlights from the rest of #50BestTalks: Life Cycle, which took place on Sunday 17th of June at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian: