Day 2 of MAD Food Camp: Big Names and Big Ideas
As several speakers noted, part of understanding appetite is understanding science. In studying the memory of meals, Dr. Paul Rozin examined the psychology of memorable meals, and his findings should make restaurants take notice. After surveying diners in America, Rozin asked "Why should we be serving dessert at the end of meals if it’s not our favorite dish?" (Sorry, pastry chefs.) The key to memorable meals is in the physical ordering and structure of meals. Foods that are novel, food order (a quick survey of Mad Food Camp participants found that majority liked appetizers the most), and communality all affect our experience with meals. But are chefs willing to incorporate those elements into planning meals? Are we missing a certain vocabulary about how we understand the meaning of food?
In challenging conceptions, the Nordic Food Lab’s Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen presented the world of edible "inedibles" — namely insects. In a world where food security has become paramount concern of policy makers, environmentalists and governments, why aren’t we eating more "inedibles"? For Nordic Food Lab, that question is one of the reasons to go "wildvore." But the other major concern? Deliciousness. "Deliciousness is the driving force of edibility." Distributing a little bag filled with live ants, bee larvae, and a fish sauce of garum and grasshoppers, they said, "Everything is edible, just some things have consequences." Luckily for us (and any future diners at Noma), the ants, bee larvae, and grasshoppers happen to be delicious and can create unique flavor palates. So why aren’t we eating more ants, grubs, and grasshoppers? "Only prejudice can make it taste bad."
And speaking of prejudices, there are the chefs who just aren’t interested in science. To those who think that way, Wylie Dufrense has a message for you: "There are many people outside the kitchen with much more knowledge than chefs. We have to learn from them, too." For Dufrense, the appetite for knowledge came out of a curiosity to know how and why chefs cook. Going through the motions is not good enough: "Understanding the processes and having more knowledge about the ‘whys’ helps us to do our jobs better." But lest anyone think that Dufrense is just a scientist, he also emphasized the personal and creative aspect of chefs. How can that be expressed? With humor. But in the end? "Whoever knows the most wins… Let’s keep knowing. Let’s keep learning. Let’s keep cooking."
But that humor bit? Leave it to St. John to provide it. Sitting down on two hay bales with a nice bottle of red, Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver of St. John Bar and Restaurant in London had their own take on appetite. Henderson said it best: "I am a prisoner of appetite. I have a lunch habit." But in terms of where that appetite comes from? It’s from diners. That is where the force is. But in terms of a restaurateur? Trevor tells it like it is: "A good restaurant will take five or six years. You have to have an appetite to hang on while you build that." To wit, Fergus suggested that "chefs have to be Jedi knights, or rather, Jedi chefs." But most importantly, the message was one of humility — and a good bon mot.
Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver have a nice picnic at MAD Food Camp. Photo: Evelyn J. Kim
In what was probably the most anticipated talk of the entire symposium, Ferran Adrià took the stage. Considering the circumstances, it was a miracle that he appeared at all: "For 18 months," he said, "I swore I would never go to another chef symposium. I swear. But I came. And I want to explain why." In what may seem as a surprise to many, Adrià explained from 1994 to 2008, elBulli never made any money. But it was never the point: "I got into cooking because I like the challenge of creativity, to forge new paths. I never searched for success, but for happiness." Creating that happiness takes a lot of work. In probably the only statistical demonstration using grapes, Adrià pointed to the miniscule population interested in avant-garde cuisine-in a grape seed. "What’s a grape seed? It’s nothing! But if you put it in the ground, it grows." But that growth is one that takes hard work, dedication, and creativity. And creativity does not come automatically. It’s a capricious beast: "If you want to play at the Noma/elBulli level, know that creativity has no compassion, no matter how passionate the chef." But ultimately it is not just one chef that makes a great restaurant. For Adrià, "elBulli is not made by Ferran Adrià. elBulli is bigger than any of us." And in what could only be a tribute to the 2,000 stagiares and staff members who passed through the restaurant over the years, Adrià reminded all of us what it’s all about: "The human side of this symposium is always with human values — ethics, honesty, happiness, and justice — and you." If Ferran Adrià and elBulli are any indication of the manifestation of those ideas, the world is going to be a better — and happier — place.