Day 2 of MAD Food Camp: Big Names and Big Ideas
The theme of this year’s MAD Food Camp in Copenhagen was "Appetite," and the first day’s speakers certainly whetted the appetites of the audience. Those appetites were satisfied. In the words of one attending chef, Josh Pollen of London’s Blanch and Shock, Day Two was bound to be "massively epic." Heavyweight speakers included Wylie Dufrense of Manhattan’s WD-50, Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen of Nordic Food Lab, Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver of St. John in London, and Ferran Adrià.
Before any of the speakers began, René Redzepi paid a tribute to Spain — Spain’s soccer team, that is, which had defeated Italy’s team to win the Euro 2012 championship on Sunday. Busting out a giant picture of the Spanish flag, Redzepi asked the audience to listen to the Spanish national anthem (probably much to the consternation of Italian chef Massimo Bottura).
But after that, the start of Day Two was not about games. In what was probably the most poignant talk of the entire symposium, Chido Govera talked about hunger, memory, and the will to do things differently. Govera, a young Zimbabwean, was orphaned at the age of seven. Left to take care of a younger brother and grandmother, Govera learned to forage for mushrooms from her grandmother. Saved from forced marriage, she was fortunate enough to be chosen for a pilot project on fungiculture. Taught how to cultivate mushrooms using agricultural waste, Govera used her skills to provide money and food for not only her own family, but also other orphans in her community. She has since taught fungiculture to other disadvantaged youth, but also started her own business to fund her development projects across the Africa and as far away as Oakland, Calif. But what does this have to do with appetite? In what could be said as an inspiration to the world, Govera said, "Appetite lets us look inward and bring it outside to make change with what we have."
This hopeful message was echoed by Anthony Myint and Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco and now New York City. In what could be a described as a fairy-tale, which even made Lee Tiernan, head chef at St. John Bread & Wine in London, cry, Myint and Bowien told their story: Myint, then a line cook in San Francisco, "didn’t know what I wanted to do with my cooking career. As I often do in moments of uncertainty, I ate a taco."
And thus the story of Mission Chinese Food was born. First starting with a food truck and then renting space from a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant for the princely sum of $300 a day, Bowien and Myint started cooking food in a cramped kitchen, also shared with the still-running Chinese restaurant. It wasn’t easy. After doing their own cooking for a stint, Myint and Bowien would then sponsor guest chefs at the restaurant. As each night was a "logistical nightmare," both Myint and Bowien thought that maybe "failure was an option." After closing the restaurant for a month, Bowien and Myint reincarnated themselves as Mission Chinese Food. Like other Chinese restaurants, Bowien and Myint hired local Chinese immigrants to be staff. Unlike local Chinese restaurants, they paid their workers living wage and donated a large part of their profits to charity: one year alone, $130,000 was donated to the San Francisco Food Bank. Using their appetite for good food and social justice, Bowien and Myint’s story proved that Cinderella can go to the ball… even with Szechuan peppercorns.