NOTES FROM A MAD SYMPOSIUM

Ishwariya Rajamohan

Ishwariya Rajamohan

Other 15th November 2018

NOTES FROM A MAD SYMPOSIUM

This August, I had the privilege of attending the sixth MAD Symposium in Copenhagen. Founded by René Redzepi, MAD is a non-profit that holds events and this TED-style conference. This year’s theme, Mind the Gap addressed the pressing issues in the restaurant industry.

The conversations in the iconic Big Red Tent ranged from #MeToo in our kitchens to our toxic work culture and also how the food community could help tackle climate change. We also looked at less talked-about issues: balancing being a parent and a chef, rewriting narratives around race and celebrating your food culture as an immigrant.

And I want to share three of those talks with you because the ideas they propose are the future of the industry - ideas for all of us to own, chefs.

BEN SHEWRY - NO MORE COCK ROCK

Chef Ben Shewry’s talk is the one that we should all watch: he shares the payoffs of making fairness central to the workplace culture at Atttica, his acclaimed Melbourne-based restaurant.

He completely dismisses commonly-accepted fallacies that you can only lead a kitchen through fear or that you have to work long hours to prove your worth. His chefs work 48-hour weeks; they are happier and more productive than ever. It also shows up in the quality of the food they cook.

In contrast to the norms that dehumanise us in kitchens, his staff are also given opportunities to share their voice and recognise the impact of their work. Empowering them in this way means that they take ownership of their work, no matter what their level of experience. What would our industry be like if this was the commonly-accepted norm, instead of being one shining example?
Watch the video:

ROSIO SANCHEZ - OWNING IT

Chef Rosio Sanchez describes her journey as the daughter of Mexican immigrants in Chicago who found herself many years and kitchens later when she launched her own taquerías in Copenhagen.

Her path echoes that of many chefs: first seeking to master technique and then unique challenges, which working for Noma presented her with. Although she tried to add her own personality while executing someone else's vision, it still felt like a compromise. But this is where she had to face the fact that she wasn’t yet clear about the kind of food she stood for.

This is the critical part of her message: to take the time to find out who you really are and what matters to you. Something that we seldom do as chefs. But that enquiry greatly impacted her and her business. There’s a clear divide between how we’re expected to serve as chefs and our own authenticity; she reminds us that the best chefs have always found ways to express that authenticity.
Watch the video:

DAN GIUSTI - FEEDING A MILLION

Former Noma Head Chef Dan Giusti dreamt of feeding a million people and set up his non-profit Brigaid to improve the quality of school lunches in the US. For him, working with a $1 per meal budget isn’t as challenging as getting the meals right - a quarter of his young customers live below the poverty line. Seeing a child choose a peanut butter jelly sandwich over Brigaid’s nutritious meal was disheartening, but it opened his eyes to the reality that the child couldn’t risk disliking the only meal he would get to eat that day.

He shared with us how his work has changed his perceptions on success, accolades, perfectionism and the idea that we know best because we’re chefs. As the world of fine dining gets more and more complex and inaccessible, he challenges us to examine how we approach it. For him, all that matters is that you’re cooking the food that matters to you and that you really tune into what your customer wants.
Watch the video:

This is only a small sample of the powerful conversations we had. I highly encourage you to watch the others on the MAD website, chefs!

(All images sourced from www.madfeed.co; you can also find the rest of the videos there.)

(Ishwariya Rajamohan founded Love Letters to Chefs to help chefs navigate the challenges of the profession. It's about really seeing the human being who shows up to work in a chef's jacket. Her current focus is the #BetterCheflife project, and the hashtag is being used on social media to promote the concept of a better work-life balance in our industry).