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Coming together to discuss the future of gastronomy

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In a virtual event organised by Basque Culinary Center, chefs from across the world discussed the impact of Covid-19 on food and what's next for the sector

Last week, the Basque Culinary Center in Spain hosted a virtual discussion that saw chefs from all over the world addressing the current Covid-19 pandemic and its catastrophic impact on the foodservice and hospitality industry.

From the US to Brazil, from Spain to Ghana, the chefs outlined the impact of the pandemic in their country and shared an insight into the many different ways that restaurants are helping their communities at this time.

The online event was hosted by the Basque Culinary World Prize (BCWP), an annual prize created and awarded by the Basque Culinary Center (BCC) and the Basque government to a trailblazing chef creating an impact beyond the kitchen.

Now in its fifth year, the prize celebrates chefs whose work has made an impact in areas such as innovation, technology, education, environment, health, food industry and social or economic development.

“Since its inception, the prize has highlighted gastronomy as a global phenomenon that has become a transformative force of society. It is through gastronomy that we can confront and offer solutions to the challenges faced by contemporary societies,” said Joxe Mari Aizega, director of the BCC.

“There is no bigger challenge than the Covid-19 pandemic. It is the defining issue of our times and with the culinary world disproportionately affected than many other sectors, it is right that this year to seek nominees that reflect the active role that chefs have as agents of social change in relation to the pandemic.”

An industry on life-support

Current holder of the prize Anthony Myint (main picture) of non-profit initiative Zero Foodprint said the situation for restaurants in his city of San Francisco is critical. “The  industry is on life-support. The city had a lot of challenges. At some point soon everyone will have to consider how to create a new normal,” he said.

“This crisis exposes that there is no cushion, there is no safety net, there is no margin for error. Our individual businesses need to be resilient, our food system needs to be resilient. That is one take away from the pandemic. It’s the ability to produce food in a natural way.”

Speaking from Spain, Diego Guerrero of Madrid restaurant Dstage who has joined in with the Spanish off-shoot of World Central Kitchen during this time, hinted at the careful consideration that will be required once countries’ start to ease the lockdown.

“We are seeing that, in Spain, reopening could cost us more than being closed. We have to be more cautious than ever. Beware of those who want to open sooner, they might be first to close again,” he said. “We have to understand that the crisis affects everyone’s business. Personal wellbeing comes from the collective one; this is no time to act alone. Either we all get together, or we won’t overcome this.”

A chance for change

But this challenging time presents an opportunity to change things for better. Joining the conversation from London, UK, Douglas McMaster, the man behind the zero-waste restaurant Silo expressed a hope that it may force people to consider the bigger picture in the future. He pointed to the climate change crisis that prior to Covid-19 had been on everybody’s minds.

“There is great uncertainty in the immediate future, which begs us to look at the bigger picture. Hopefully a more sustainable future. This is definitely not the last ecological catastrophe. There is a much greater storm coming and it’s climate change. The rate of change is far too slow, it would seem the only way to make this change occur is the storm itself,” he said.

“This is an opportunity to think. I’m focusing my attention on an online learning platform to turn zero waste into a mainstream idea that is accessible to everybody. I’m working very hard to make it simple. This is my current project. It’s disruptive to our industry – you innovate or die. We are being forced into a decentralised network of activity. This means we will come to future catastrophes with more resilience.”

The Basque Culinary Center welcomes nominations for this year’s edition of the World Culinary Basque Prize until 1 July.

The chefs taking part in the event were: Eneko Atxa (Spain), Maria Fernanda di Giacobbe (Venezuela), Ebru Baybara Demir (Turkey), David Hertz (Brasil), Diego Guerrero (Spain), Elijah Amoo Addo (Ghana), Douglas McMaster (UK), Anthony Myint (USA).

Tina Nielsen