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50BestTalks: Top chefs on breaking convention and the new rules governing a modern kitchen

The biggest names in the F&B industry gathered at San Francisco to talk about issues close to their heart. Here’s what went down.

Shattering stereotypes. Celebrating authenticity. Promoting equality. Preserving biodiversity. In the latest edition of 50 Best’s thought-leadership series, 50BestTalks, some of the most influential chefs in the world today spoke up for the causes they believe in.

Gaggan Anand (No. 1 in Asia), Virgilio Martinez (No. 2 in Latin America), Enrique Olvera (No. 4 in Latin America), Daniela Soto-Innes (No. 40 in the world), Dominique Crenn (America’s first female chef to earn two Michelin stars) and Lara Gilmore (No. 1 in the world) shared the stage for the two-hour long session titled “Voices for Change: Championing a Diverse Future”, held on Sept 12 in San Francisco.

(Related: Top chef Gaggan Anand talks about humble past)

  • Virgilio Martinez, chef and owner of Central

Bending the rules

The effervescent Anand, founder of his eponymous Bangkok restaurant, captivated the crowd with accounts of how he “burnt bridges across Asia” – and through breaking convention, created a new global identity for Asian cuisine. “We (in Asia) are loud and might not have the social skills for a fine dining environment; we have our own domestic approach to food. So, we changed the ways: out of the 25 courses on Gaggan’s three-hour long tasting meal, 22 are eaten by hand. Well, I am creating dishes that are supposed to be Indian… and in India we eat with hands, all 1.3 million of us.” The Kolkata-born Punjabi chef created a progressive new style of Indian cuisine in Bangkok, Thailand, and next, he will be moving to Japan in 2020 for the opening of new fine dining concept GohGan. While he crosses geographical boundaries, his food is breaking barriers for Asian cuisine.

 

Doing away with hierarchy

Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn, spoke about leading an ethical kitchen where everybody is respected and treated equally. “Everybody (in our team) is seen and heard – we encourage everyone to be their own voice, free from fear of being judged. And we don’t just listen, we place value on every voice.” To those attempting to shut down dissent, she cautions: gone are the days of militaristic mono-culture.

The presentation by Enrique Olvera and Daniela Soto-Innes of Pujol and Cosme shared the same frequency. “We like the idea of collaboration and horizontal structures,” says Olvera. “We realise that a lot of us in the fine dining environment are really stressed… So, we decided to be Mexican… and have fun in the kitchen.”

“Out of the 25 courses on Gaggan’s three-hour long tasting meal, 22 are eaten by hand. Well, I am creating dishes that are supposed to be Indian… and in India we eat with hands, all 1.3 million of us.” – Kolkata-born Punjabi chef Anand Gaggan

Beyond the kitchen

Lara Gilmore of three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana spread the word on how engaging the community outside of the restaurant led to the set-up of a facility that teaches special needs youths to make and sell traditional Modenese tortellini; and soup kitchens around the world that give – beyond food – dignity to the underprivileged by serving them meals in welcoming, beautifully designed dining halls. Virgilio Martinez also connects with the local community – but for the purpose of protecting and promoting biodiversity. The true importance of showcasing these exotic bites to his global diners: creating demand and value for these little-known ingredients, and in turn impacting the people who care for it – the local Andean community who grow them and who Martinez works directly with.

While the topics addressed seem disparate, the message across the board is the same: that to move towards a more diverse future takes effort from every individual. In the words of Crenn: “It is not just about chefs doing the work, but everyone playing their part.”

(Related: Marco Pierre White tells all about The English House, his first restaurant-hotel in Singapore)

Photo credit: Miele & CIE.KG