by Alex Galimberti
Last Sunday was the final day of the 2011 edition of Mistura, the annual gastronomic festival that takes place in Lima, Peru. Since its first edition in 2008, Mistura has quickly become the most prominent gastronomic exhibition in Latin America. What started as a local showcase of regional Peruvian ingredients and cuisines soon became a platform for bringing together chefs, researchers and producers from not only Peru but all surrounding countries. The growing international interest in Peruvian gastronomy has recently brought chefs and researchers from all continents to gather in Lima during the week of the festival.
This year’s calendar of events that took place from September 9th to the 18th included many different types of panels, demos, and tastings. As usual the promotion of Peru’s diverse culinary traditions and its unique native ingredients were key components of the festival’s calendar. The approach used by APEGA (The Peruvian Gastronomy Association) to promote the festival’s agenda is based on the push to get UNESCO to recognize Peruvian gastronomy as a world heritage asset.
The highlight of this year’s edition of Mistura was the annual gathering of the board of the Basque Culinary Center, the so called ‘G9’: group of chefs and food professionals that included Ferran Adriá, Dan Barber, René Redzepi, Alex Atala, Gaston Acurio, Yukkio Hattori, Massimo Bottura, and Michel Bras. Their meeting concluded in the release of an open letter to the chefs of tomorrow. The letter is a declaration of core values that should guide the work of a chef: values of respect towards nature and society and preservation of knowledge. It seems that in the past few years, this type of attitude has pretty much been a requisite for any chef to maintain a successful professional image. What some critics might say is that not every chef is doing this for the right reason. This very harsh critique by The Guardian’s food critic Jay Rayner points out that most of the top restaurants in the world are very unsustainable businesses, just by the sheer nature of luxury gastronomy and its frequent use of rare and exotic ingredients that have to be sourced half a world away from the urban centers where these restaurants are usually located. Not to mention that while most of these chefs are saving heirloom vegetable species and promoting awareness of forgotten culinary cultures, they do so by relying on the labor exploitation of huge brigades of highly trained cooks, who compete to see who can work longer without pay in the hopes of one day becoming the next breakthrough chef themselves.
So what the new generation of chefs, and also of students of gastronomy, need to do is not only to take the points of the G9 manifesto to heart, but also use a critical lens when admiring the work of the big chefs of today. We are all inspired by their talent and philosophies, but sometimes there is more to it than what you see on the surface. As a gastronomy student, what do you think about this? Will the chefs of tomorrow be able to embrace the ideals of environmental and social justice while trying to feed a growing demand for cutting edge innovative dishes? Can a restaurant owner truly put saving the environment at a higher priority than maintaining their businesses profitable? I personally think that by making these practices profitable, the new wave of socially and environmentally conscious chefs can prove that if you truly practice what you preach, it becomes easier to work as a role model for the rest of the restaurant community.