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MAD2 food symposium in Copenhagen: some highlights

July 6, 2012 |  7:00 am

Mad2The second annual MAD food symposium spearheaded by Noma chef Rene Redzepi took place this week under a blue and yellow circus tent pitched on a hay-strewn meadow at the edge of Copenhagen. An audience of international food devotees lucky enough to score tickets descended on the Danish capital to hear speakers address the role of the chef in a world whose food system is increasingly complicated.

MAD is a tantalizing mix of high-minded intentions and the best chefs in the world (with occasional moments of the sanctimonious, bizarre or poorly translated) in a Nordic setting free of the telltales of commercial sponsorship (i.e., demos equipped by All-Clad). There was smorrebrod (open-faced sandwiches) for lunch and Coffee Collective coffee to help the jet-lagged, or the hungover (one assumes that’s also what prompted David Chang to board the morning shuttle boat with a tallboy of Carlsberg and Johnny Iuzzini to pass around a bottle of bourbon before entering the tent).

This year’s theme for MAD (which means “food” in Danish) was “appetite,” and speakers included food suppliers, academics and chefs such as Dan Barber, Chang, Leif Sorenson and Ferran Adria. (You know it’s MAD2 when you spot Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, Ludovic Lefebvre, Wylie Dufresne and Bertrand Grebaut on the same night at Christian Puglisi’s Relae restaurant in Norrebro.)

The conference accommodated 550 people, up from 300 last year, says Noma director Peter Kreiner. Redzepi announced next year’s MAD conference will be curated by Chang and the producers of his quarterly magazine Lucky Peach, to be held Aug. 25 to 26, 2013, with the theme of “guts.”  

Among the 20 talks at MAD2, more than a handful especially stood out. Some quick-and-dirty highlights follow:

On the first day, Roderick Sloan described some of his below-2-degrees-Celsius experiences as a sea urchin diver in northern Norway, and U.K. chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall railed against European fishing quotas that compel fishermen to dump tons of dead or dying fish back into the sea. Enrique Olvera, chef of Pujol in Mexico City, passed around dehydrated fermented banana to illustrate his modern Mexican cuisine that draws on native ingredients. Patrik Johansson, who makes butter in Sweden for restaurants such as Noma, during his talk flashed a picture of his wife taking a shower. "We're kind of hippies with a Michelin edge," he said. 

The final presentation of the day was Blue Hill chef Dan Barber's "The Taste of Wheat." "We are the messiahs of freshness, the high priests and priestesses of flavor," said Barber, who added that "farm to table" was not enough. "But when it comes to wheat, we've convinced ourselves to eat what's essentially a rotten product." His answer to the standardization of wheat? A new breed of the grain, dubbed Barber wheat, developed in collaboration with plant scientist Dr. Stephen Jones.

The second day kicked off with Chido Govera bringing the house to tears with her story of overcoming poverty in Zimbabwe through fungiculture -- raising mushrooms -- to feed her family and other orphans. Anthony Myint and Danny Bowien on Mission Chinese Food: "We're definitely not serving authentic Chinese food at Mission Chinese, but it is an authentic experience." Danish chef Rasmus Kofoed of Geranium described his obsession with winning the Bocuse d'Or (he won it last year after taking bronze and silver in previous competitions). 

Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver, the duo behind London's St. John Restaurant, sat down in conversation on a couple of hay bales with a bottle of Burgundy, and Henderson regaled the audience with his "Jedi chef" analogy. To cook, "put away your sights; feel the force." Ferran Adria, who shut El Bulli in Roses, Spain, last year, capped MAD2 in what came across as a sweeping passing of the torch (reminding up-and-comers to respect their forebears) that culminated in a video of the last night at El Bulli. He got a standing ovation.

Mad2too

MAD2ers having lunch outside the symposium's tent.

Ferran

El Bulli chef Ferran Adria: "People think they have to achieve everything they want in 5 months or 5 years.... For 15 years we weren't bringing in enough money to pay our own crew."

Fergus

Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver of the St. John empire in London.

Here's the full roster of speakers: 

DAY 1

Tor Norretranders: "We Are Here Because We Have Appetite"

Roderick Sloan: "Appetite – the Lone Wolf"

David Chang: "MSG: Delicious or Evil?"

Enrique Olvera: "Rotten, Fried Bananas"

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: "Ethical Food Futures"

Massimo Bottura: "Cultural Consciousness"

Andrea Pieroni: "The Importance of a Rose: Feeding Biocultural Diversities"

Shinichiro Takagi: "Asking the Winds of the Seasons"

Dan Barber: "The Taste of Wheat"

DAY 2 

Chido Govera: "Appetite Beyond Temporary Food Cravings"

Paul Rozin: "The Psychology of a Meal & How to Make a Meal Memorable"

Mission Chinese Food: "The Audacity of Hope & Szechuan Peppercorn"

Massimo Montanari: "Between Nature & Culture: Appetite as a Guide"

Rasmus Kofoed: "Passion/Prison"

Nordic Food Lab: "Delineating the Edible & Inedible"

Andrea Petrini: "True Stories, Book Two: Cosmopolis Redux (A Trailer Trash Tracy’s Remix)"

Wylie Dufresne: "An Appetite for Knowledge"

Leif Sorenson: "From Nothing -– Till Something"

Fergus Henderson & Trevor Gulliver: "Appetite? Ahh, Hmm, Yes."

Ferran Adria: "Do I Have an Appetite for Creativity?"

ALSO:

Cookbook watch: Marcus Samuelsson's "Yes, Chef"

It's Taco Thursday: Tongue tacos

A perfect knife

-- Betty Hallock

Top photo: Outside the MAD2 big top. Credits: Betty Hallock / Los Angeles Times

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