Text by Olivia Beba Haslam
Photos by European Food Summit
The start of November saw the European Food Summit 2021, held in the creeping winter sun of Slovenia’s sweetly understated capital, Ljubljana. The symposium was curated by journalist Andrea Petrini, co-hosted by chef Anna Roš and organised by managing director Martin Jezeršek.
As the crowd settled into the space, Martin Jezeršek opened with obvious relief: “Finally.” Not only was this event taking place eighteen months later than was planned, but here was to be the accumulated knowledge and experience of invaluable voices in the industry, with the wait applying to lifetimes of expertise.
The tone was set by the immaculately prepared Beti Vidmar, who represented the Biotechnical Faculty of Ljubljana. She presented an applaudingly enthusiastic argument for working in detail with the microbiome of cattle to battle methane output and in turn climate change – a refreshing opposition to the exhaustively lazy demonisation that commonly litters conversations surrounding meat trade and production.
Chef and restaurateur Rebecca Clopath mirrored the same specific simplicity in her delivery. Speaking of the cultivating, growing and sourcing required to achieve a truly local dining experience, Clopath exuded an ethos that suggested both respect for and restriction by the land she tirelessly works. In an indirect questioning of what we as consumers think we’re owed and what is ours to take, she repelled the modern channels that originated from an undesirable history in an attempt to re-write.
Perhaps this is why the next speaker, journalist and activist Marie-Claude Lortie, who could cover any number of subjects, chose to speak gushingly about her favourite cooperative supermarket. Her grounded topic was one that reminded that no one should be above the humility of simple processes that pay people well and ensure good quality food is had. Coaxing questions from the audience lead Lortie to conclude that idealistic as it may be to equip everyone with the ability to pay the real cost of food, it should be a priority and the answers lie within addressing info-structure at a legislative level.
In a bold change of tone, the audience next became viewers of a boisterous cinematic project that satisfied a hunger for humour. In a performative and dramatic delivery, esteemed Chef Colombe Saint-Pierre of Chez St-Pierre presented a playfully self-deprecating interpretation of the effects and efforts involved in adapting a restaurant amidst an ultimately tragic time for the industry.
The entire first section of the summit was filled with female contributors. Let it be known this was a conscious effort on the part of the organisation and none of this happened serendipitously. Nothing affirms this better than presenter Maria Canabal, journalist and founder of Parabere Forum, who presented devastatingly recent statistics that showed there must be deliberate action to balance the monotonously disappointing sexism remaining prevalent in the culinary world. There should be no mistake, gender equality cannot be achieved by accident.
As the morning concluded, the overwhelming feeling throughout the audience was one of being in amongst a proceeding of activists – be it intended or accidental. The passion placed on every project demonstrated that an abundance of extreme care brought on impressive action from all participants.
Hugo McCafferty of Fine Dining Lovers introduced the afternoon with a firm-favourite proverb of the pandemic period: Necessity is the mother of innovation. The food system society has designed around itself ultimately crumbles when ‘normal’ does too, and in evidence, Andraž Tuš of Tuš Slovenija, collaborator in Ana Roš’ new supermarket line of edible goods, ran through the logistics of taking excess produce and marketing it for consumers, an impressively resilient adaptation made in the wake of Covid’s destruction.
From one end of the supply chain to the other, farmers Jeanne Dumas Chalifour and Matteo Monterumisi told their story as one of the producers featured on Ana Roš’ prodigal menus. Children in arms, they appeared the epitome of what it means to run a family farm, and if their wholesome image wasn’t enough to make a case for the strength of natural practices, their fierce and pleading delivery that we can all be doing better as individuals for ourselves, and the earth certainly resonated.
Activism ignited, a roundtable session chaired by Roš included Irena Orešnik, renowned cheesemaker, and Mitja Zupan from the Zupan fish farm. As producers, they spoke from personal experience and the group passionately addressed an absent Minister of Agriculture with a plea to resolve significant issues within Slovenia’s agricultural industry. Referring to the high portion of untouched forest Slovenia boasts, Ana Roš made sure the audience heard clearly that the image of green was not to be interpreted as one of sustainability.
Increasingly clear was that there’s a thin line to tread between sustainability and greenwashing. With a live video call from celebrated chef Ángel León, he focused on seeking innovative ways to diversify diets and preserve nature by paying attention to alternative species the oceans offer.
The following speaker was one with an indisputable wealth of tangible expertise in sustainable restaurant practice; Nicolai Nørregaard of Copenhagen restaurant Kadeau. Yet he broke the chain of expectation with his topic; Toxic Masculinity – one chosen for him by curator Petrini. In an achingly captivating open letter, the chef regaled personal experience that held undivided attention.
With the tone for open-mindedness set, noted art theorist and critic Nicolas Bourriaud philosophised upon the blurred lines of food and art, an argument he began by correctly nullifying. With attention to the all-encompassing nature of aesthetics, he touched on the brilliant consideration some of the best chefs apply in their daily work as creatives.
The fitting follow-on was a live call with René Redzepi. In a comforting juxtaposition, the infamous chef loomed on the screen above as Andrea Petrini sat comfortably as if at home on stage, and the audience paid witness to the pleasantness of good friends sharing a stance on the direction of the culinary world. In a sweet detail, they revealed that Petrini’s shirt for the occasion, suspiciously resembling his usual Comme des Garçon attire, was in fact hand decorated by Redzepi’s daughters.
As talks concluded with the intelligently succinct words of author John Lanchester, the running order of the programme made immaculate sense. He charismatically poked educated fun at menus that are based on the outdated pallets of the ‘upper class’, a comment which sat warmly with an audience that had been dining impeccably for the last couple of days thanks to organisers of the event. Petrini’s friendships reach globally, clearly as does his ability to pair the most diverse of voices.
Dusk set in, and the audience was released back out into the winter world of rewarding and thankfully unadulterated food offerings of Slovenia. After an imperfectly harmonious day in which some of the best minds in the current culinary climate shared snippets of thought, attendees were left with hundreds, as well as ultimate gratitude to those who contributed to and organised the event. Finally.
The European Food Summit 2021 can be experienced in its entirety here: http://www.foodsummit.eu/en/video