The World’s 50 Best Restaurants convened in San Francisco this past week, bringing their speaker series, 50Best Talks, to the city by the bay. The event attended by chefs, media and guests began with an introduction by group editor, William Drew, who noted that San Francisco was an ideal venue for a discussion on how the culinary world can champion a more diverse future. Such an ideal venue in fact, that the city also played host to The Global Climate Summit last week, which concurrently addressed similar themes of changing our food system (and beyond).
Drew introduced the impressive and diverse panel of presenters, and all award winners on the The World’s Best Restaurant list, beginning with Gaggan Anand of Gaggan in Bangkok, chosen four times as the Best Restaurant in Asia, followed by Virgilio Martinez of Central in Lima, also voted Best Restaurant in South America four times in a row. Next was Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, voted The World’s Best Female Chef 2016. Enrique Olvera of Pujol in Mexico City, #13 on the list spoke along with Daniela Soto-Innes of Cosme in New York City, #25 on the list and finally Lara Gilmore of Osteria Francescana of Modena, #1 on The World’s Best 50 Restaurants list. Here are the highlights of their presentations.
Burning Bridges Across Asia.
Gaggan Anand spoke about the challenges of running a restaurant in Asia. “10 years ago Bangkok didn’t know what fine dining was,” he said. Frustrated by diners who spend too much time on their phones, he serves 22 out of 25 courses to be eaten with your hands, and brings courses out every four minutes eliminating their photo opps. In true phone-happy fashion, Anand’s menus are dotted with emojis. He shared a video based on the Kiss song “Lick it Up” that inspired a dish that is eaten by literally licking the plate.
Your takeaway? Get creative with the conventional fine dining experience to reach and engage millennial diners—so they focus on the food, not their phones.
Biodiversity from Andes to Amazon. “I want you to be out of your comfort zone,” said Virgilio Martinez, adding, “I want you to eat pirañas, an alpaca heart and milk of alpaca.” The Peruvian chef described a dish made from indigenous seaweeds, clams, and potatoes cooked in quinoa stem ashes. It’s a dish he created at a research concept called Mater Iniciativa that opened a few months ago combining cultural anthropology and cooking, designed to get close to indigenous populations and serving just 30 diners. This center is allowing him to focus on biodiversity, new ingredients and an awareness of “the impact of our decisions.” Critically aware of what is happening in the environment he said, “We are losing diversity everyday and must not miss any detail. I must surrender to the experience of not knowing.”
Your takeaway? Research is crucial to preserving biodiversity, so take a look around you—where are your local ingredients coming from? What else is indigenous to your region? Dig deeper.
Disrupting the Diversity Debate. Speaking candidly in reference to her female chef award, Dominique Crenn began by saying, “I like to exist as a person, not a as a number.” She went on to explain: “I don’t want to talk about my restaurants or food, but what we are today and who we are… it’s about caring for others and humanity and what we can do to change things in the world.” Those who dare to dream she said, need to encourage an ethical kitchen everywhere. “Your identity is not on your Instagram profile or Twitter feed, it runs through your veins and runs further back than we can imagine. Employees must be seen and heard so they too do not feel like a number. Potential is within all of us. Gone is the militaristic culture of fear. You have the power to change things,” she implored.
Your takeaway? How can you bring humanity and your whole authentic self to your kitchen and team?
Crossing Frontiers with Mexican Cuisine. Enrique Olvera and Daniela Soto-Innes focused on the culture of their restaurant kitchens. Olvera spoke about needing a new challenge after working hard at Pujol, and coming to NY which allowed him and his partner Soto-Innes to rethink the restaurant business. “We like the idea of collaboration with two chefs rather than one,” he said. “We work as a team. But there’s a whole team who are really important. We decided to have fun in the kitchen.” They showed a slideshow of the restaurant as it was built, explaining that the location used to be a strip club. “But it has a great essence,” they explained adding, “The most important thing for us is to be extremely happy.” The chefs emphasized the importance of making sure people want to come back, of being approachable and ideally not too busy.
Your takeaway? The restaurant experience can and should be as fun for the people back-of-the-house as it is for the people in the dining room.
An Ethical Future Through Food. Lara Gilmore described two programs that she and husband Massimo Bottura have founded as an extension of the work they do at their groundbreaking restaurant in Modena. The first was Il Tortellante, a foundation that pairs special needs teens and retired pasta makers to make tortellini, and the second was the non-profit Food for Soul, which provides good meals to those less fortunate, leaning on the couple’s network of chefs to produce special menus from lesser than ingredients, in a beautifully designed space, with the goal of fighting food waste and hunger. The program invites chefs from all over the world to come and cook for those in need, using surplus food. A success in Milan, the program has expanded with locations in London, Rio and Paris and spawned a cookbook, Bread is Gold. “Anyone can be a voice for change,” Gilmore said, “What we do matters. We cook, we welcome, we restore, we care. Just by doing, maybe we can make the world a little bit better place or a more delicious one. We are part of the opportunity for a better future.”
You have the power to transform lives, outside of the restaurant. How can you use food and the power of hospitality to do so?
Hungry for more? Watch the full program here.