Q&A: Anthony Myint, winner of the 2019 Basque Culinary World Prize

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The San Francisco chef has won the award for his commitment to fighting climate change

Chef Anthony Myint has been rewarded for his commitment to combating climate change. Through ZeroFoodPrint and The Perennial Farming Initiative, he helps restaurants in their quest to become more sustainable with a focus on healthy soil and farming. Now, he has been awarded the 2019 Basque Culinary World Prize (BCWP) – an award handed out every year by Spain’s Basque Culinary Centre to chefs making an impact beyond the kitchen. The judging panel (below, with Myint center) is made up of some of the world’s best culinarians, including Dominique Crenn, Joan Roca and Massimo Bottura.

Where did you start the journey that has taken you to winning the Basque Culinary World Prize?

The journey began the same way some of our other improbable projects began, with the question: “why doesn’t someone just…?” We had a daughter and started thinking more about the future and global warming and realized that zero chefs were working on climate change. We started by learning about our own restaurant, Mission Chinese Food. We found that about three quarters of the carbon footprint was ingredients and started learning a lot about farming. The good news is that farming can reverse global warming.

Can you describe your two projects: ZeroFoodprint and the Perennial Farming Initiative?

ZeroFoodPrint is a way for restaurants to do their part. They conduct a Life Cycle Assessment and make practical changes. They then address their remaining carbon footprint by making contributions to renewable farming and renewable energy projects to become carbon neutral.

The Perennial Farming Initiative is an outgrowth of a [now closed] restaurant called The Perennial, which was serving perennial grains and carbon ranched meat and regeneratively grown produce. We would always get asked by customers and chefs, “what can I do?” And we started to realize that no matter how much demand we could create for these game-changing, world-saving products, there was no supply. We shifted our efforts to focus on greater systems change.

What drove you towards a focus on climate change?

Really, it is the optimism. Food and farming and healthy soil represent not only the majority of the solution to climate change, they represent optimistic solutions. It is not about using the trash and eating bugs and fake stuff. We can eat healthy, delicious, nutritious food that solves global warming. We just need to incentivize healthy soil.

What is the single biggest thing chefs and restaurateurs can do to fight climate change?

Understand the opportunity for healthy soil to solve global warming through delicious food, but then to compost, and either source in ways that promote healthy soil, or to go carbon neutral, which involves financial contributions to transition acres from non-renewable farming to renewable farming.

What are some examples of people doing it well?

Amass in Copenhagen does all of the above and chef Matt Orlando is a genius at creating delicious food while also prioritizing full utilization. But honestly, any of the restaurants at ZeroFoodPrint, because the industry is extremely challenging and the whole point is to set a replicable example. Instead of focusing only on internal efforts and conservation, we can focus on system-wide restoration efforts.

What will winning the BCWP mean for your work?

The pledge from the jury of the world’s best chefs is the best and most powerful endorsement in the world. The award also creates a reason for society – including food press, chefs, diners, business people – to take a moment and recognize the heretofore completely overlooked opportunity that healthy soil presents. In many ways nobody noticed the elephant in the room because the room is built on the elephant.

What are you hoping to do with the prize money?

Broaden the movement by helping restaurants around the world go carbon neutral, and using some of the funds to build the program we are working on with the State of California. It will be launching this fall and we are creating a team and platform and the funds will help ensure a successful program.

Tina Nielsen