It's difficult to sum up a weekend of such epic food proportions as the MAD Symposium put on by the team at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen.
I've been pretty lucky in my eating and cooking experiences. Through our sustainable food-focused web series, we've gotten to travel the U.S. and the world meeting incredible people, tasting street food and Michelin dining alike. It's a dream job, but still, this weekend was special.
For those unfamiliar, MAD means "food" in Danish and for the last three years, Rene Redzepi and his team at the formerly heralded "best restaurant in the world" (recently placed as the second best) have been putting on THE culinary conference. It's a "for cooks, by cooks" event, so no demos, no big sponsors, no paying hand and foot for bite sized portions from different restaurants. You come to MAD to learn... and to eat.
We came to do just that -- and also to speak at the event and show some of our films -- which we were super honored and amazed to be a part of. But let's start with the eating, because that's what most of my photos (all on the iPhone) entail.
An hour from the time we landed in Denmark, we were sitting at a table at Noma. I'm not going to rub it in, but the restaurant deserves all the acclaim it gets and then some -- not only for the food, but also for service that is unparalleled. The staff is like a cult (a good one) that wants you to be a member, and you happily drink the Kool-Aid, or as is the case at Noma, the wild sorrel-aid.
After 24 courses and a good night's sleep, we woke up Friday morning, and (along with the 30+ other individuals speaking at the event) we were whisked off to the small Danish Island of Bornholm for a day of bonding on the beach. It didn't hurt that the organizers had set up a room full of wild produce, as well as a pig and a lamb for some of the best chefs in the world to cook up for dinner. Imagine Alex Atala, David Kinch, David Chang, Pascal Barbot and the Franks from Frankies (all speakers at the event) cooking you a BBQ overlooking the Baltic sea, with flowing natural wine. I know, I'm bragging again.
The next morning the conference began, but not before Copenhagen's best coffee roasters treated the crowd to the fanciest coffee you've seen. Pour over, cold press, machiatto, the choice was yours. Caffeinated to the max, we entered the circus tent where over the next two days we were to experience an amazing array of talks.
But first, there hung a dead pig, right in the middle of the tent for all to see. Blood ran from its neck. As the crowd came in, snapping their instagrams and imagining what would come next, we took our seats, Mirra shielding her vegetarian eyes. Then ACDC blared and in came Dario Cecchini -- Tuscan butcher extraordinaire. The crowd cheered. I felt sick. Maybe it's Mirra's animal loving spirit that overcame me, but the splitting open of this recently alive animal to the sound of cheers and rock and roll seemed a bit disrespectful. But the music stopped, the guts had been spilled, and Dario began to speak.
From that moment, he won us over, he jumped into his love of animals, the respect he has, the need to honor a slaughtered beast. It was dramatic, it was romantic and as he cut open the pig, he waxed poetic about being a butcher. "We are losing our race..." he declared. He was preaching the butcher gospel, and he ended with a minute long recitation of Dante. A stunning way to start the event that made me twice as nervous for my impending talk.
I can't go into all of the speakers like that, as there were too many, and they were all so good. Really, as far as conferences go, my expectations are usually pretty low. But here they had speakers like nowhere else. To run through a few:
Vandana Shiva: The anti-Gmo anti-pesticide activist from India who we covered in a recent video. She shared her story and challenged the world's best chefs to adopt GMO free menus.
Ahmed Jama: A Somali chef and refugee in London, who moved back to Mogadishu to open a restaurant in support of rebuilding his country. The restaurant has been bombed twice, killing 6 of his staff. He is currently rebuilding again.
Martha Payne: An 11- year old from Scotland who became famous for her blog that posted pictures of her school lunch to the shame of the school board. As a result of her blog, she's raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for children's school lunches in Malawi.
Sandor Katz: The author of "The Art of Fermentation" has given sauerkraut inspiration to thousands and made us rethink our relationship to bacteria.
These were just a few of the dozens of speakers that shared their take on "guts." In between the speakers there was food by a group of Lebanese women, who were Christians, Jews and Arabs. This trip to Denmark was the first time any of them had been out of their native country. Besides their peaceful coexistence philosophy, they made delicious baba ganoush, flatbread with zatar and lambs testicles.
The next day Mission Chinese from San Francisco and New York City burned everyone's mouths with their MaPo Tofu and Cumin Lamb. The Szechuan peppercorns and endless chiles gave pleasure and pain to the northern European clientele.
The first night consisted of a secret after-party complete with a pop-up dinner on the street from David Chang and the rest of the Momofuku team who made their famous bo-ssam. We spent the following two days trying out some new and acclaimed restaurants (Amass and Bror) headed by recent alums of Noma (Matt Orlando and Samuel Nutter/Victor Wagman, respectively), and stopped by our old favorites Relae and Manfreds (also by a Noma alum, Christian Puglisi), and our favorite wine bar, Ved Stranden.
We were reminded, time and time again, of the kindness, generosity and community created by Noma and the people from whence it came. They made us feel a part of the family. I applaud team Noma and team MAD for such an incredible and mind bending event. I hope to go again next year.