Chefs, food writers, scientists, winemakers convened in Ljubljana, Slovenia for the European Food Summit to discuss not just the state of food today but also the importance of making connections, thinking outside the box, thinking beyond the confines of borders and to listen to what nature is telling us.
Slovenian chef Ana Ros and Andrea Petrini, the conference curator came up with a very interesting lineup of speakers to tackle a wide range of topics.
Andrea Petrini conference curator set the mood for the conference with a video which showcased beautiful images of gastronomy. It started off like a tourism video but turned darker as he tackled issues like issues like migration, riots, climate change and sustainability among others. In his concluding remarks he pointed to the fact that while we speak about sustainability, this conversation and the actions that need to be taken are just the start.
Andreas Caminada called on the industry to stop whining and start taking responsibility as he presented his foundation Uccelin which helps young talents get experiences in some of the best restaurants in the world as well as with producers.
Christophe Pelé, chef of Le Clarence, in conversation with Andrea Petrini spoke of the need to make fine dining fun again but also on the importance of adapting to other cultures. Having worked in Hong Kong he has no qualms with using soy sauce to season certain dishes that are served in the restaurant despite the fact that he runs a French restaurant. “Why not? We can mix things and it is in this way that we can actually integrate other cultures. You create a certain mix, a new personality and this works and it encourages you as a person to search for new things.”
Lior Kochavy could not flip an omelette but that turned out to be a a good thing because he has created a concept in Slovenia that crosses all borders. Now in its seventh season, he has created Open Kitchen bringing chefs and their restaurants to Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital to showcase their food.
“Six years later, we have collaborated with 200 restaurants and served 1000 dishes to over 2 million happy visitors. In selecting and curating the restaurants that take part in Open Kitchen Lior focuses on three criteria, quality, diversity and creativity.”
Riccardo Camanini, chef of Lido 84 used the theme of Gabrielle d’Annuzio novel ‘La Leda senza cigno’ (Leda without a swan). D’Annunzio understood the need for absence. If you lack something, it encourages you to work for it. He said that as a cook, he tries to search deep in poetry and even mythology to generate joyful emotions. “We cannot be egoistic because our clients have given us their time and are listening to us,” he said.
Roberto Flore, who runs the DTU Skylab Foodlab after heading the R&D of Nordic Food Lab for a number of years works to connect science with chefs and food and build tomorrow’s pillars. “It is extremely important to take action because the future will happen whether we like it or not. People are afraid of the future because we feel we are not in control of our future. There is top down innovation but there is a lot of bottom up innovation and that is extremely important. Machines today are designed with efficiency in mind but this is not efficient. It is just driven by numbers. There will be a crash point if we do not act now. The question is how can we design machines with social efficiency in mind? A machine that benefits society,” he said.
Afton Halloran spoke of the Roast Beef rebellion recounting a story of how she refused to cook roast beef at school when she was 12 years old making her teacher furious. “This small rebellion is part of the story. In Europe, we like to think that we are better but one third of children are overweight and there is between 30 to 70 per cent obesity because our lifestyles have changed. We need to make drastic changes.”
She said that people need to be open minded because things evolve and have always evolved in the past. “Like we got the tomato to Europe in the past, we need to get different concepts from different cultures. We cannot exist in a vacuum,” she said.
Valter Kramar, a winemaker, beermaker and sommelier of Hisa Franko among others spoke about his passion for natural wines or what he calls ‘the natural wine religion’. “Natural wine production today is just 3 per cent and I hope that in future we can get to 20 per cent. This is important not just for the people who drink it and for the people who make it but we also want to leave our kids with land that is not poisoned,” he said.
Food writer Georges Desrues used the Kasekrainer dilemma a sausage filled which cheese that is popular in Vienna but originated in Styria and Slovenia and the conflicts and discussions it led to. He used analogies of food to highlight the contradictions, like the Wiener schnitzel or the Costoletta alla Milanese that originated from Paris but was taken over by the Viennese. Food transcends borders but can also bring a dark side in people. Food is something that should unite us not divide us,” he said.
Mateja Gravner of Gravner wines spoke of her father’s visit to the US which made him realise that all wines tasted the same. “It led to the realisation that if he stopped making wines no one would notice. If you are a small producer, the only thing to do was to try to do your best. When you realise that wine is not necessary to survive you start to question the point of producing bad wines. If we need to make wines, they need to be the best ever,” she said.
Gravner is one of the pioneers of natural wines and so called ‘orange wines’ which he created in 1997 after experimenting with fermenting wines with the skin on.
Joe Warwick, the creative director of the World Restaurant Awards and author of a number of books including Where chefs eat gave a passionate speech on Brexit and what impact this is likely to have one food in the country including restaurants and agriculture among others.
Ana Ros brought her Colombian sous chef Leonardo Fonseca and Colombian chef Leonor Espinosa of restaurant Leo together on stage. Leonardo said it was amazing that he was together with two super strong chefs. “I respect the work they do for their country and for the gastronomy of their countries.”
Ana said it was an honour to have Lea here because of the great work she was doing in Colombia with Leonardo pointing out that she was the perfect person to showcase Colombia instead of the ‘stereotype’ depiction through TV series like Narcos.
Jordan Khan, chef of Vespertine presented his unique restaurant in Los Angeles considered to be one of the most avant garde restaurants in the world and recently took the Atmosphere of the Year award at the World Restaurant Awards. “Music, art and film have made me who I am outside the kitchen and that’s what I want to reflect in the restaurant and kitchen,” Jordan said.
Last on the stage was Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz. He spoke of gastronomic imperialism that has been created through guides like the Michelin or Zagat and more recently the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
“They dictated the way restaurants should be. For many years, only Europe played that game and the other continents watched the game being played. But now the game is being played everywhere and restaurants have to follow the same style with the same model if they want to be successful. We now have social media with the massification of opinion. We are entering a world that is being colonised, where to be successful there will be no diversity. Algorithms will have a huge impact but it is for this reason that each one of us needs to follow our own direction,” he said.
At the event I also spoke about the Belgian conundrum or how politics and regions have fallen into the trap of not promoting the country but rather their region forgetting that the food world is changing and more collaboration is required. I asked who is going to take the mantle to lead.