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When Chefs Side With Farmers


‘Farmers, food artisans and cooks, all together we can construct a new history of the world.’

These were the hopeful words of French chef Olivier Roellinger that brought to a close ‘When Chefs Side with Farmers’ at the Carignano Theater. Roellinger is a brilliant interpreter of Breton cooking, enhanced by a masterful use of spices. He is the fourth French chef to have given up a third Michelin star to share his food through simpler formulas. He was joined at the conference by three other big names of world gastronomy: Michel Bras, Altin Prenga and Cristina Bowerman.

Michel Bras is a chef ahead of his time. His cuisine was firmly rooted in the traditions of his local area, the Aubrac, long before it became fashionable. Beyond his eponymous restaurant in Laguiole, which now boasts three Michelin stars, in 2002 he opened a restaurant in Japan and a brasserie in Rodez.

Altin Prenga is a young chef who at his restaurant—the most famous in his native Albania—has imposed a totally territory-dedicated style of cooking with local ingredients sourced through a network of hundreds of suppliers. Given his culinary vision, he has been one of the promoters of the Slow Food Chefs Alliance and the champion of Albaneseritratti_carignano_web-2 regional cooking, a role he plays with great intelligence.

Michelin-starred Cristina Bowerman is a chef who goes against the general trend. After graduating in law, she moved from her native Cerignola, in Puglia, first to California, then to Texas, where she fell in love with food and took a degree in Culinary Arts. With this baggage of experiences under her belt, she returned to Italy and settled in Rome.

The theme of the conference, moderated by Dan Saladino, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme, was the responsibilities that chefs have, and the challenges of the future, the difficulties of small food producers and the loss of food biodiversity at a moment in time in which their popularity and power to influence public opinion is enormous.

Their stories and careers are very different, yet they all agree in their denunciation of an industrialized agriculture polluted by pesticides and herbicides that has lost its way in the pursuit of productivity and profit, and a form of fishing that sees giant fleets devastating the seas and threatening the world’s marine life. The situation is very grave indeed, and must be acted upon without delay.

The role of the cook—indeed the duty, according to Cristina Bowerman—must be to support sustainable local produce.

The speakers interpret thi16_08_PRENGAs commitment in different ways. Altin Prenga, a reference point for 200 small local farmers, is converting a former prison into a workshop where they can process their products and sell them on the market. Cristina Bowerman has formed an association of chefs, each of whom ‘adopts’ an artisan to preserve their knowledge, and whose aim is to change the law to make it easier for cooks to work directly with farmers. The pledge of Roellinger is to encourage big names in world gastronomy, starting with the members of the Relais et Chateaux association (of which he is vice-president), to work with produce promoted by the Slow Food Presidia and Ark of Taste. It is no coincidence that both Roellinger and Bras have already joined the French Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance, which was launched in the course of Terra Madre.
After leaving his restaurant to his son Sébastien, Bras is now dedicated to improving the diet of the elderly in care homes—‘because food is the last link with the memory of what we once were’—and developing confectionery for children with diabetes. He and Roellinger have also signed a letter expressing concern about the recent merger between Monsanto and Bayer.

Yet, as Prenga said, ‘The big corporations think that people don’t understand anything, but it’s not true, and things are changing.’ The fact can encourage many other cooks to work directly with small producers, refusing to make bulk orders from the large-scale retail chains that control 35% of restaurant purchases. ‘Something is happening in the world,’ added Roellinger, ‘and the wonderful Terra Madre market in Turin is part of the change that is already underway.’

Raffaella Ponzio
r.ponzio@slowfood.it

 


An Event by
 Città di Torino
 Slow Food
 Regione Piemonte
In collaboration with
Mipaaf
With the contribution of
 
Official Partners
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Supporters of the Terra Madre Foundation and Slow Food
 
 
 
With the support of
 
 
 

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