Xanty Elías wins the 2021 Basque World Culinary Prize

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The Spanish chef has been recognised for his project dedicated to educating children about healthy eating. He tells Tina Nielsen what drives his quest for social change

He is already the only chef to hold a Michelin star in his region of Huelva in southern Spain at his restaurant Acánthum. Now Xanty Elías has been named as the winner of the sixth edition of the Basque Culinary World Prize (BCWP) for his work outside the restaurant kitchen.

He has been handed the €100,000 prize, launched by the Basque Culinary Center to recognise chefs whose work has a social impact, for his project “Los Niños se Comen El Futuro” translated as “the children eat the future”.

“I am happy and very grateful to the Basque Culinary World Prize. It is a wonder to show that gastronomy and chefs can make society evolve towards a better future, where gastronomic culture has real value from the beginning of teaching,” said Elías. “Los Niños se Comen El Futuro was born from the need to ‘share’ knowledge with the consumers of tomorrow, through a subject at school, at the same level as the other core subjects, helping to generate awareness and better habits. Empowering children to make conscious decisions about the food that they eat while still a child is the basis for a healthier and more sustainable future.”

Passing on knowledge

Elías got involved in social projects to benefit his region, starting with the launch of the Prenauta foundation in 2017. A non-profit that partners with community members to promote economic growth, it provides consulting services and projects facilitation across the founders’ fields of expertise.

In 2018, seeking to affect change on public health, he started work on the project to educate the next generation about healthy eating. “My motivation for this project stems from a personal and professional need to be able to share and spread the passion that I have for gastronomy and passing on a culture of knowledge to the little ones, who will be the teachers of tomorrow,” says Elías. “I’m driven by the knowledge that gastronomy can contribute to the evolution of society and help people lead healthier lives.”

The programme teaches students traditional Andalusian recipes and shows them how to apply academic subjects like mathematics and chemistry to cooking, as well as educating them about healthy and sustainable eating. As part of the programme, chefs visit schools to deliver masterclasses. In the 2019/20 academic year, the programme reached over 15,000 schoolchildren across more than 100 schools in Andalusia. Elías hopes to his programme throughout Spain at a national level.

Also recognised in the 2021 edition of BCWP are Kia Damon from the US and Ana Estrela who hails from Brazil but is based in Italy.

Damon founded the Supper Club from Nowhere as a response to the lack of visible black women in the industry, bringing chefs and farmers together to combat food injustice and provide fresh produce to those in need.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Supper Club From Nowhere has focussed on providing care packages to elderly people who have had difficulty accessing groceries. Damon also founded Kia Feeds the People and Auxillo, two non-profit organisations committed to combatting food apartheid and facilitating access to food in so-called  “food deserts”.

Estrela founded her project Ethnic Cook in 2013 – run exclusively by women, it is a space where female immigrant chefs of 15 different nationalities come together to build cultural bridges by sharing recipes from their countries of origin with the people of Italy. Ethnic Cook provides culinary training, encourages female entrepreneurship, and stimulates cultural understanding.

A role for gastronomy

Joxe Mari Aizega, the director general of the Basque Culinary Center says the three chefs speak to the role of gastronomy in society. “Given the boom that gastronomy has experienced in recent decades, the role that our sector is called to play in society has become especially relevant,” he says. “That is why, in its sixth edition and coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the Basque Culinary Center, the Basque Culinary World Prize aspires in 2021 to connect with reality and evolve to delve into inspiring characters such as Xanty, Kia, and Ana. Three exemplary professionals who have known how to take advantage of their knowledge, entrepreneurial vocation, creativity and will influence society by furthering sustainability, social integration, and diversity through gastronomy.”

Elías has big ambitions for his social project. “Our goal is to create a new school subject on gastronomic culture that is taught in schools all over Spain, which is curricular and project-based! We want to create a new era of conscious consumers,” he says.

“This project is already showing every year that every child is proof that if we invest time, resources and efforts into teaching them healthy habits from an early age, society improves in a sustainable and evident way.”

The winner of BCWP is chosen by a jury made up of some of the world’s most influential chefs., including Joan Roca (El Cellar de Can Roca), Gastón Acurio (Acurio Restaurants), Elena Arzak (Arzak Restaurant), Manu Buffara (Manu), Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn), and Enrique Olvera (Pujol).

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Tina Nielsen