The countdown to the Basque Culinary World Prize began somewhat officially last month with an inspirational inauguration in the format of a webinar, hosted on the 25th of May. Officials, professionals, journalists and interested parties gathered online to hear a series of question and answer reels from prominent names in the gastronomy world. This came as a way of introducing the awarding of the prize, the winner of which will be announced in July.

The Basque Culinary World Prize[1] is an award created and presented by the Basque Government in collaboration with Basque Culinary Centre[2]. The aim of this incentive is to elevate chefs from around the globe who show how “gastronomy can be a monitor for change,” an inescapably important motivation and more so now than ever post pandemic.

Mauro Colagreco, jury member, esteemed chef and owner of Mirazur introduced with the statement that with a profile comes a responsibility to understand the weight of the impact you are capable of. He said: “The current situation doesn’t allow us to wait until the impact comes from somewhere else. You have to generate the impact…I think we have to invite everyone in the food industry to change the way in which we work, the way in which we consume, the way in which we produce.” This was also followed in detail with a championing of sustainable farming practice, not to exclude meat from diets but to create an understanding that meat produce is part of a global solution. 

Similar sentiments were mirrored by Josh Niland of Saint Peters Restaurant[3] and author of The Whole Fish. He promotes working with nature in a respectful way but says we all carry a nostalgia around consuming fish which makes it both romantic and problematic, and to shy away from the unknown is a luxury that cannot be afforded. He affirms: “As a chef, my responsibility is not flicking the lids off caviar, it’s realising that I have a responsibility to use my education, technique, and training to bring comfort to the customer and educate the next generation of chefs”. 

Sustainability in seafood continued as a topic with Karin Abensur[4], founder of Ecofish, a social enterprise that trains female fisherfolk and promotes sustainable fishing. This important legacy she leaves in her trail means that doors are open to the next generation of women aspiring to work in fishing. She says “If there is a 14 year old who wants to be a fisherwoman, she will not have the problems that we did.”

The key-take away continues to be that a sharing of knowledge will inform beneficial change. This rhymes true also in the project by Nicole Pisani, co-founder of Chefs in Schools[5]. She campaigns to ensure that all children have access to nutritious meals and remarked that: “We need to be in touch more with our food. We need to ask questions. We need to eat what’s outside our window instead of importing things just for the sake of it. There are so many solutions, but educating kids is key.”

Juan Llorca, chef, youtuber, and founder of “Por una Escuela bien Nutrida” (For a well-nourished school)[6], a programme which seeks to spark a conversation about school meals, commented on the importance of sharing information highlighting the importance of what children eat in schools. He said in simple clarity that “Social media is a platform to tell the world that things can be done in a different way. I wanted to demonstrate that children can do really well just eating as adults do. So I started telling that story on social media.”

These wholesome projects are the ones that flourish in their authenticity. Matt Jozwiak, founder of Rethink Food[7], runs an organisation that collects excess food from restaurants, grocery stores and corporate kitchens to make nutritious meals for those facing food poverty.He says that “As chefs go forward, they’re really being seen as community leaders, which I think is extremely important.”

And community leaders are exactly how leading chefs should see themselves.Dieuveil Malonga, former Top Chef contestant and founder of Chefs in Africa[8], commented on using his platform to showcase talented chefs that might be unknown due to lack of visibility. His work and travels lead him to say confidently that: “The world is ready for African cuisine…the game is changing. Food doesn’t have borders. That’s very important. That’s why we want to share African cuisine.”

Leonor Espinosa, owner of restaurant Leo Cocina y Cava[9], awardee of the 2017 Basque Culinary World Prize, and founder of FUNLEO foundation[10] joins to mirror the importance of knowledge and its boundless value: “You have to go to different areas, you have to get to know people, you have to observe and research and experience. You must have a commitment to knowledge, a commitment to that memory which gives an identity to a country.” 

This series of the day’s contributions acted to highlight how important action is outside of the kitchen when it comes to social and environmental change. Practice that is regenerative, educational and inclusive is the common thread that the Basque Culinary World Prize seeks to celebrate, so that actions around the globe can continue to inspire. In the next stages of deliberation the judges panel will be going through a process of analysing and assessing candidates, and we await the decision that will meet us mid Summer.