The MAD Academy: Environmental Innovation via Chef-Led Change
MAD, the Danish word for food, unites a global cooking community with a social conscience, a sense of curiosity, and an appetite for change,
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From luminaries in the field to young apprentices, MAD connects individuals and equips them to make a difference in their restaurants and across the world. Recognizing that food is inseparable from some of our most pressing global challenges, MAD unites a global cooking community of thousands of chefs across continents with a social conscience, a sense of curiosity, and an appetite for change. Under the leadership of chef and co-owner of restaurant noma, René Redzepi, a ten-member Board of Directors, and Executive Director Melina Shannon-DiPietro, MAD is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that boasts a global network of individuals working to make food better.
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Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Copenhagen and Denmark, with a global impact
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
The home of chef and innovator René Redzepi, Copenhagen and Denmark are uniquely poised to address global crises related to the environment, climate, and food. By harnessing the country’s natural resources and utilizing clean energies, Denmark has proven itself a committed leader to addressing major problems affecting the globe. It is in this progressive, eco-friendly environment that the MAD Academy offers a space for forward-thinking chefs to convene and collaborate to strategize ways of maximizing the moment in which we live, where the influence of chefs is ever-increasing in driving industry-led change. Copenhagen’s strategic location is crucial, as well, as a gateway both to Scandinavia and to the European continent as a whole. Its central location provides an ideal place for chefs from across the globe to gather.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Like the cooking industry, Denmark stands at a crossroads. For years, Copenhagen was an island, both physically and socially. With one foot in Scandinavia and the other on the European continent, Copenhagen is the gateway to two worlds, fully belonging to neither. Its people were largely heterogeneous. In terms of cuisine, for most of modern history, Copenhagen and Denmark were adrift from the rest of the world, with few people concerned with Scandinavia.
However, through a combination of perseverance and luck, the cooks of Copenhagen have carved out a name for Nordic cuisine, such that in the past fifteen years, people have begun to travel to Denmark from around the world to eat at the great restaurants in town. The success of Copenhagen as a culinary destination has allowed the city and Denmark to connect with the rest of the world, but also opened the door to discussions on the nature and character of the land itself. What is it, after all, to be Danish? Scandinavian? Nordic?
When chefs René Redzepi and Mads Refslund opened the restaurant Noma seventeen years ago in Copenhagen, they set out to explore the Nordic region to find the “right” ingredients, cutting out the rest, preserving those in season, and never using imported herbs or spices. Driven by the concept of purity and insisting all foods be grown nearby, Redzepi and Refslund decided that vegetables like tomatoes, which have a Mediterranean identity and require a hot climate, would not fit into their style of cooking. In retrospect, Redzepi admits that everything done in those early days was built around a blind search for a local identity, which quickly began to collapse under the weight of new questions: When is an ingredient truly local? What makes it belong here? What does it take for an ingredient to be integrated to the point where one thinks, Now this can be on the menu?
Denmark today faces these same questions: what does it mean to be Danish? Who creates the definition, and must it be adhered to? How long must one be rooted in Denmark--and what does it mean to be rooted--to belong? Today almost everything found in a Danish pantry actually came from somewhere else. Over time, it became understood that an ingredient like cardamom has a thousand-year-old history in the region. Why deprive oneself of it? Why take cinnamon away? Ground ginger, an ingredient born in South Asia, is a major part of traditional Danish baking. Most Scandinavians are intimately familiar with the flavor—it’s now considered local.
These same queries and concerns are reflected in the ever-changing face of Denmark. As Copenhagen takes its seat among the great capital cities of the world, the demographic composition of the city continues to evolve. The multitude of languages, cultures, and peoples convening in Copenhagen reflects the shifting borders of the world in the age of globalization. MAD engages and encourages such shifts, provoking intercultural and intracultural dialogue through food.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
The restaurant industry is at a crossroads. Civil society is reckoning with acute food-related issues—from climate change and environmental degradation to public health and social justice. Chefs find themselves with a newfound platform to impact not just what, but how we eat. Preliminary research and surveys indicate that the public’s trust is directed towards chefs rather than scientists in regards to questions about food and sustainability. Thus, the professional kitchen is a nexus for some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century, through which, if the leaders and chefs are properly equipped, inspiration, knowledge, and solutions can be disseminated to the broader public. Serving both emerging professionals and those at the top of their game, and possessing a global reach, MAD is uniquely poised to address this gap with unparalleled training, integrating all aspects of what it means to be a 21st-century chef —from new techniques to resource management, sustainability, leadership and business management.
Food is a driving force behind our current ecological crisis. It is also a point of entry for change; everyone eats everyday. By building the market for sustainable foods, partnering with farmers to innovate our agricultural system, exploring the geological conditions to reduce carbon emissions and cultivate more sustainable practices, promoting biodiversity, acculturating our palates, and developing new techniques, chefs have the potential to create a more sustainable system and lead us on a path toward resilience. By establishing the MAD Academy in partnership with the Danish government, MAD is piloting a new type of education for the restaurant world at its Academy to accelerate change toward a sustainable future. Its education platform will encompass environmental sustainability, leadership practices, and business management. Its cohort of alumni will change industry standards across the globe.
The expert-designed yet highly experimental curriculum will combine coursework on ecology, geology and food systems, business and scale, and management and leadership, with labs that accelerate culinary innovation and explore next-generation hospitality. MAD has demonstrated its impact across its two day Symposia and evening seminars. The Academy is the next step in positively impacting the future of food.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Our inaugural programs at the MAD Academy will bring together some of the world’s most influential chefs with visiting instructors, academics, scientists, artists, and subject-matter experts for five days of study. As an example, soil health will be a key component of the sustainability curriculum, and serve as a mechanism to explore concepts as vast as carbon sequestration and as specific as flavor. One such guest speaker is Minik Rosing, professor of geology at the University of Copenhagen and the Natural History Museum of Denmark, whose trailblazing explorations of Greenlandic glacier flour, a substance unique to Greenland which not only reduces CO2 emissions, but also mitigates tropical deforestation, is receiving global attention. American journalist Michael Pollan has been crucial to the amplification of a related message, namely that by addressing the agricultural basis and consequences of climate change, we as a whole can begin to reduce CO2 emissions and develop more sustainable practices. Pollan, for example, not only writes about the need for sustainable practices to avoid soil depletion, but also the need to reassess water systems and the overconsumption of water within agriculture. By exposing students to aspects of food consumption such as these--that is, highlighting the role of soil in building long-term climate resilience, crop health, and flavor--we aim to equip chefs with the tools needed to make sustainable choices and promote conservation within their restaurants.
This program as a whole explores the well-being of people in and connected to the industry as well as the impact of food systems’ processes of growing, processing, distributing, cooking, eating, and disposing of food. We will help participants make sense of the potential social good their businesses hold, the interconnected nature of food systems, and prioritize solutions that can be applied in their restaurants. Students will develop new perspectives on systemic challenges and how they can make impactful changes to their practices. It should also be noted that this curriculum area will address several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals: from the ambitions to eradicate hunger and promote good health and wellbeing (2-3) over aspirations of quality education and gender equality (4-5) to the commitment to implement environmental sustainable solutions (11-15). Curriculum highlights include:
*Social Impact of Food Initiatives;
*Equality, Justice, and Prosperity;
*Building Resilient Soils;
*Quality Education and Responsibility;
*The True Cost of Food;
*Decoding Labels from Local and Biodynamic to Organic and Fairtrade.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
MAD currently has a tri-continental footprint to engage with the general public, hosting MAD Mondays in Europe (Copenhagen), the United States (New York City), and Australia (Sydney). Furthermore, MAD’s biennial two-day Symposia in Copenhagen draw hundreds of guests from around the world to attend lectures and engage in discussions for how the food industry might best address the challenges our global society faces. MAD therefore not only seeks to engage with chefs and industry leaders, but also collaborate with the general public and offer the tools and trainings to address climate change and shifting food sources.
Based in Copenhagen, the MAD Academy will continue to bring visionaries from across the globe to the capital of Denmark, enriching the city’s landscape through intellectual and culinary exchange. Copenhagen will thus benefit not only as the locus of these important conversations, but also serve as the epicenter of a global shift towards sustainability within the food industry. The People of Copenhagen will profit from MAD and the MAD Academy’s community outreach and engagement.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Since its inception, MAD’s global impact has been vast. In three years, MAD has reduced food waits in 1,000 restaurants worldwide. Graduates of the MAD’s educational programs have founded ten social impact businesses or organizations in five years, utilizing the tools and strategies gained through MAD. Furthermore, 10% of MAD graduates have partnered with locals schools or institutions to drive sustainable practices, and 25% of MAD school graduates shared a sustainable practice with a neighboring restaurant and saw it adopted. Continuing MAD’s tradition of partnership and collaboration, 25% of MAD graduates have partnered with farmers or purveyors to increase sustainability at the production short. Finally, 50% of MAD graduates have introduced a sustainable practice to their menu, e.g. decreasing meat consumption, sourcing organically, and eliminating non-sustainable fish. MAD and the impact of the MAD Academy certainly reach well beyond the boundaries of the five-day program, not only enriching and benefitting Copenhagen, but indeed impacting the global community.
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