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Nine things we learned at Mad Syd yesterday

Freya Herring

Yesterday we went along to the Mad Syd symposium at the Sydney Opera House. An event held annually in various locations throughout the world, the sold-out Sydney show featured talks by leading figures in food from around the globe. David Chang flew in from New York, number two chef in the world Massimo Bottura came from Modena in Italy and activist and businesswoman Chido Govera travelled all the way from Zimbabwe. Of course current number three chef in the world René Redzepi was there (the MAD symposiums are his creation) and the show featured lots of stars from across Australia including growers and chefs like our 2015 Chef of the Year Kylie Kwong, Neil Perry, Peter Gilmore and social researcher Rebecca Huntley.

It was a five-hour event that addressed some of the major world issues in food right now, and the theatre was jam-packed with an audience of Australia’s food elite. Here’s what we learned:

Australia invented foraging
On Australia’s Indigenous people: "They are the original foragers," says René Redzepi.

Peter Gilmore is possibly the most adorable man alive
Gilmore’s love of vegetables, and particularly his passion for the cultivation of rare and heirloom varieties, is well known. At Mad, he gave us a photographic tour of his garden, from the beautiful variegated amaranth he’s growing, to white as day silver edge squash, set to make the menus at Quay and Bennelong soon. He’s even been investigating the difficult extraction of fresh, soft sunflower seeds – “That’s what apprentices are for!”

Massimo Bottura intends on opening soup kitchens around the world
Bottura led his talk with the idea “Cooking is a call to act”. He has launched the NPO, Food For Soul, which seeks to connect food wastage with world hunger. Working with chefs, designers, artisans and suppliers, Bottura is modelling a new type of soup kitchen. He has already opened one in Milan, Refettorio Ambrosiano (with a sign outside that reads ‘No more excuses’), with more planned for Turin and Rio. In the long-term he’d like to open these across the globe, and we’re hoping some of the chefs in the audience might follow his lead. Yesterday he said, “Beauty without good isn't beautiful at all. The good needs beauty in order to communicate its message.” What a legend.

Mushrooms are giving African orphans a way out of poverty
Chido Govera’s mother died of AIDS when she was seven and she was left caring for her young brother and almost blind grandmother, while enduring all kinds of abuse from other family members. After being approached to marry a 40-something man when she was only 10 – an arrangement that would at least release her from extreme poverty – she decided she couldn’t leave her brother and grandmother, and went on to learn how to farm mushrooms to support herself. She founded the Future of Hope Foundation, where she teaches African orphans how to farm mushrooms too, to get themselves safely out of poverty. After meeting with Kylie Kwong backstage, the two have declared that they are going to find a way to work together. We can’t wait to see what they do.

David Chang is the ultimate pessimist
He said, “The future will be less delicious in order to make it more sustainable.” Sure, the man’s got a point, but what’s with all the downers Dave?

René Redzepi is all about the kids
The Noma chef is working on a program in his native Denmark whereby all children studying in public schools will learn how to forage. He was inspired by the effects foraging in the forest has on his own kids, “They don't just see it as a beautiful place,” he says, “but also as a delicious place.” He went on to suggest that Australia should be doing the same thing – and we can’t help but agree with you René.

A new kind of protein shake is born
Kylie Kwong introduced native grower Gayle Quarmby of Outback Pride, who explained that saltbush contains a massive 21% protein. Who needs protein shakes? We say chew on a few of these deliciously salty leaves after your workout and you’re all set. Plus saltbush lives for a mammoth 150 years. How awesome is that?

Cheap food does not exist
Rebecca Huntley said, "There is no such thing as cheap food. Somebody is paying for it." This came up when the panel were discussing where your food comes from – is it an ethical source? "It's about going into David's restaurant and paying $10 for soup, and not $7 as it is elsewhere, and being ok with that because you know where it comes from," said Huntley. Although we don’t believe a bowl of Momofuku ramen costs $10, the woman has a point – do you know the ethics of the food you’re eating tonight?

Cooking with native produce isn’t as scary as you might think
Kylie Kwong explained that warrigal greens taste a bit like spinach, and she uses them to replace it in many of her recipes for Billy Kwong. This stuff is easier to cook than kale, people.

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