Beyond the world of celebrity chefs, TV shows and cookery books, our chefs have an important role to play in supporting local producers. This was the key message from yesterday’s Terra Madre session, When chefs side with farmers.
Facilitated by Dan Saladino from the BBC’s The Food Programme, the need for chefs to championfood diversity and support their local producers and farmers was discussed by Michael Bras, Olivier Roellinger, Altin Pregna, and Cristina Bowerman.
In this lively and empassionated dialogue about the role of the chef, all shared their optimistic belief in the chefs of the future, the joy and pleasure that comes from exploring and creating food based on local traditions, and of their own passion for championing the foods of where they live.
For Cristina Bowerman of Glass Hostaria, the opportunity to support local producers has never been greater. “Our societies are based on cooking, so part of our responsibility is to protect our future”, she said.
Working in a city such as Rome where the closest supplier is forty minutes away, she shared her belief that it is the responsibility of chefs to protect agricultural biodiversity. Speaking to the value she places on mentoring and supporting the farmers that supply her restaurant, she called upon all chefs to adopt a craftsman. "Every restaurant then takes care of the survival of the farmer and artisan. What is important is the chef's awareness of this person who invested their life for their passion."
Her words closely echoed those of Olivier Roellinger who warned chefs away from the easy temptation of going with the one supplier. Talking about his life as a chef in Saint-Malo Brittany, he likened his role as a chef to one of a story-teller. “I am trying to tell the story (through food) of the men and women who have forged this area”.
His fellow countryman, Michel Bras shared a similar philosophy. “Cooking should start with the producer,” he said. Reflecting the theme of the session that true gastronomy is a celebration of one’s surroundings, he described his role as one of “enhancing the image of my land” through a way of cooking that was in harmony with nature.
The role of the chef to preserve agricultural biodiversity was described by Altin Pregna in terms of our personal and collective histories. His restaurant Mrizi i Zanave has revived many of the cultural and culinary traditions repressed under Communist Albania. Describing himself more as a farmer than a chef, he spoke of a deep affinity between himself and the 300 local farmers, shepherds and foragers that he works with.“The more cooks that use local produce, the more they increase their value”, he said.
The role of chefs to engage in dialogues of eco-sustainability and support local sustainable produce was shared by all presenters. For all, any less was a compromise of their creativity and responsibility. Bowerman said it best when she stated: “It is no longer a matter of choice. We must champion ideas of the intimate relationship between producers and consumers.”Yet all admitted that the adoption of such principles was not without its challenges. As Olivier Roellinger said, “behind every regional cuisine, local cuisine, there is a wonderful diversity. You have to learn cooking again”.
This is the challenge and joy when chefs collaborate with farmers.
The Slow Food Chef’s Alliance is a network of chefs defending food biodiversity across the world. More than 400 chefs, from restaurants, bistros and street kitchens – in Albania, Italy, the Netherlands, Mexico and Morocco – who support small producers, the custodians of biodiversity, everyday by using products from Presidia projects and the Ark of Taste, as well as local fruits, vegetables and cheeses, in their kitchens. You can discover more about the alliance here.