As some of the world’s top chefs, academics and psychologists gathered on a piece of wasteland on the outskirts of Copenhagen for two days of lectures, there were no airs and graces. The talks took place in a blue and yellow striped big top – a suitable location for Redzepi’s travelling circus of trainee chefs, producers and food researchers from the Nordic Food Lab. Communal lunches, camping and caravans were the order of the day. A movement away from ‘The Prima Donna Chef’ – with the emphasis on improving diners’ experiences, building social consciousness and sourcing responsibly.
Everybody attending was united by the fact that food was more than a job. But a lifestyle. This was most spectacularly demonstrated in the talks given by two of Noma’s suppliers: Patrik Johansson ‘The Butter Viking’ who hand-churns and delicately ferments butter especially for the restaurant, and Roderick Sloan ‘The Lone Wolf’ - a Scotsman who moved to the northern tip of Norway where he spends four hours each day hand-harvesting sea urchins from the (literally) freezing water.
Everyone tried at least one bee lava and “lemongrass-tasting” ant
During the two days, food was shared, and we were challenged to try new flavours and concepts. Mexican chef Enrique Olvera handed round strips of fermented and dehydrated banana, Bocuse d’Or winner Rasmus Kofoed shared his ‘Viking Chewing Gum’ – smoked and dried breast of lamb – and the boys from the Nordic Food Lab encouraged everyone to try at least one bee lava and “lemongrass-tasting” ant.
Food is changing. And the annual MAD Food camps are on the front line of change. Zimbabwean charity founder Chido Govera explained how harvesting mushrooms in agricultural waste had changed her life and could change others; Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall spoke about his Fish Fight, explaining that “if we can spread our nets a little wider, the burden on the earth can be a little less”; and American Blue Hill chef Dan Barber discussed the importance of reviving dying varieties of wheat.
Danish scientist Tor Nørretranders reflected on the ‘Old World’ he was brought up in, where the earth was viewed as a hostile desert: “It was asphalt, and concrete and devoid of food. Food was in supermarkets and on plastic trays.” He philosophised how this outlook became a self-fulfilling prophecy – as we gave less to the earth, it gave less in return. But he predicted change. “We have forgotten that we live in a rich garden where food is everywhere. Trust the world. Search the world. Learn your way. Be curious and skilful.”
If we can spread our nets a little wider, the burden on the earth can be a little less
“There are only so many ways to make a potato taste great.” Nørretranders pointed out. “So don’t compete over the most imaginative thing to do with a potato. It is a waste of your skills. Think about cooking with something else instead. We eat so few species – so move away from the four main crops, and focus on finding more varied ingredients instead.”
And so we left Mad Food 2012 feeling even more buoyed about Sous Chef, because in our own small way, we are helping move things forward. Forget potatoes – and try seaweed, frika or planchada beans instead. Join us in understanding more about forgotten, artisanal techniques like smoking, fermenting and air-drying. And let’s surge forward into Nørretranders’ ‘New Era’, embracing a more varied diet and developing a more informed relationship with food.