Denmark will school chefs in global issues

COPENHAGEN • Danish chef Rene Redzepi, founder of acclaimed restaurant Noma and non-profit group MAD, has stepped up to the plate once again.

MAD, dedicated to global change in the restaurant industry, has announced its most ambitious project to date: Building an educational centre in Copenhagen.

"We want to make it a place to learn all the things we don't seem to learn when we are becoming cooks," said Redzepi.

With funding from the Danish government for research and planning, MAD - the Danish word for food - will open the facility, tentatively called Gastro-Akademi.

Its immediate goal is to teach chefs from around the world how restaurants can become more humane, responsible and sustainable.

In the long term, the group hopes to address the industry's many endemic problems, from climate change and food waste to its history of racism, sexism and violence.

"The food we eat and the ways we produce it have a major impact on human health and environmental sustainability," Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said in an e-mail interview.

"Gastronomy is therefore also a means to address global sustainability challenges - whether health, environmental or climate-related."

The government grant is part of Gastro 2025, a multi-agency push to make Denmark a world leader in food systems, as it is in areas like green energy and alternative transportation.

It is also, Mr Rasmussen said, official recognition that innovative cuisine has produced tangible benefits for Denmark. What began as chefs' experiments with local foraging and cold-climate cooking have transformed the country into a global food destination.

Although a brick-and-mortar academy is years away, pilot programmes will start this year.

Two small groups of chefs and scientists, activists and farmers will meet in Copenhagen for five-day immersion programmes to sketch the way forward.

Redzepi will work with a group of chefs and food leaders, mostly from Scandinavia, to set the curriculum. With his work at Noma, he became the global avatar of the naturalistic New Nordic movement.

He closed the original Noma in 2017, recreated versions of it in Japan, Australia and Mexico, before reopening in Copenhagen last year.

Since MAD was formed in 2011, its Symposium has brought chefs, farmers, academics and activists to Copenhagen every two years for a meeting.

The Gastro-Akademi is an outgrowth of the non-culinary side of the Symposium, where talks have grown ever more grave in recent years, addressing sexual harassment, glacial melt and mental illness.

Some of the chefs who have participated in the Symposium - Kylie Kwong of Australia and transplanted American Rosio Sanchez - are advisers on the development of the academy.

One, Jessica Koslow of Sqirl in Los Angeles, said MAD sessions have shown that the restaurant industry, which used to be intensely nationalistic, has become global in its outlook and concerns.

"MAD is asking the tough questions that you don't ask when you're a chef and all you think about is checking off your list of what you need to cut."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2019, with the headline 'Denmark will school chefs in global issues'. Subscribe