Cooks and Places

“Chefs have to play a role in the evolution of the relationship that people have with food and places”, said Brazilian chef and food educator Teresa Corçao on opening the meeting of cooks during the final day of the Terra Madre international gathering yesterday. “The growing awareness of the unsustainability of our food system calls for action from cooks”, she encouraged.

For decades chefs have been driven to discover new tastes and food combinations and there work has always been about bringing pleasure to people. But chefs must now reconnect with the land, its farmers, people and traditions in order to retain the quality and diversity of the desired ingredients and flavors .

Corçao spoke about one of the projects she has initiated in southern Brazil to encourage young chefs to adopt this approach early on. Named Tu me ensinas a receita, eu te ensino a transformar, the program represents a new approach to culinary training that sees chefs becoming intimately knowledgeable with local food production. Students spend time with farmers to understand how they work, and then prepare and share one of their family recipes. The following day they return to school and transform this traditional recipe into a professional one.

The diversity of the panel composed by Corçao allowed the audience to grasp the extent of the role chefs can play in spreading Slow Food ideals. Other speakers included Wam Kat, a former cook on the Rainbow Warrior, cookbook author and self-proclaimed democratic cook, and chefs Masayuki Okuda from Japan, Abdon Manga from Guinea Bissau and Adam Bernstein from the USA. While Bernstein has completed a complicated sustainability certification for his restaurant, Manga’s simple approach is to shop daily for seasonal produce in quantities he’ll be able to use that day.

The speakers’ presentations generated an enthusiastic discussion among the audience with cooks and producers identifying opportunities in their countries. A farmer from Oregon, USA, enthusiastically stressed that producers are eager to work with chefs. “We are passionate about what we do”, she said, “and want to experiment with new productions with chefs… We love to cook and have plenty of family recipes to share.” Wam Kat reinforced this last statement by sharing the advice he commonly gives: “Don’t buy a product from someone who can’t tell you what to do with it”.

Manga spoke about the great wealth of culinary knowledge held by Guinea Bissau’s mothers and grandmothers, and that beyond reconnecting chefs and places, family recipe sharing could be a wonderful opportunity to preserve an otherwise oral tradition. Elizabeth Rodrigues Torres from Uruguay was met with warm applause when she stressed that Latin America’s chefs have to realize that they are “sitting on gold” with all the treasure of biodiversity that this continent holds.

Corçao concluded by saying that this year will be a milestone for a new voice from Terra Madre cooks, who joined the global network in 2006. “The 2010 edition has allowed us to start thinking more deeply about the role of cooks within the ‘Food+/=Places’ equation”, she added. “In 2012 we will see us come back with more concrete solutions, that take their queue from chef Adrianna Lucena eloquent summary: “We as chefs have to adopt the land around us; it is our role to interpret our local area”.

By Pascale Brevet

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