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Considering the chef as social conscience

G9 conference chefs The recent "G9 Conference" of eco-conscious chefs in Lima, Peru, has drawn the gimlet eye of British restaurant critic Jay Rayner of the Guardian newspaper in a column called "Reality Check, Please."

The meeting, officially titled the 2nd Summit of the International Advisory Board of the Basque Culinary Center, attracted an international group that included culinary man of the hour Rene Redzepi from Noma in Denmark; his predecessor, Ferran Adria from just-closed El Bulli in Spain; and France's Michel Bras. Apparently, a lot of heavy thinking was on the agenda. Among their pronouncements:

We dream of a future in which the chef is socially engaged, conscious of and responsible for his or her contribution to a just and sustainable society ... through our cooking, our ethics and our aesthetics, we can contribute to the culture and identity of a people, a region, a country ... we can also serve as an important bridge to other cultures ... we all have a responsibility to know and protect nature.

To which Rayner replies: 

Blimey.

Let's be clear. There is nothing wrong with a bunch of very talented, very serious cooks having these thoughts. The night they all sat around the fast-emptying bottle of Fernet Branca hugging each other, staring intently into each other's eyes and saying solemn things like "I am a bridge to other cultures" must have been a complete doozy. But there are some things which really should be kept behind closed doors. Yes, of course good chefs ought to be serious about their ingredients. Yes, they have a responsibility to source stuff ethically. But they also need to remember that they aren't secular saints. They are chefs cooking dinner for very, very rich people.

What do you think? Has the chef-with-a-social-conscience movement reached its peak? Or is it just beginning -- and not a moment too soon?

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-- Russ Parsons

Photo: From left: Chefs Dan Barber of the U.S., Rene Redzepi of Denmark, Ferran Adria of Spain, Gaston Acurio of Peru, Michel Bras of France, Yukio Hattori of Japan and Alex Atala of Brazil. Credit: Enrique Castro-Mendivil / Reuters

 
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