This conference is the food conference to end all food conferences. Started in 2011, the MAD Symposium is about bringing together influential figures from all over the food world–whether they are chefs, farmers, scientists, or 9 year old bloggers–and sharing and exploring that knowledge. This year was the third MAD symposium and the theme was guts. Stolen directly from their website: “This theme is meant to invoke a sense of courage and urgency, enabling this year’s MAD to become a venue where we can reflect on the stories and ideas that no one usually dares or gets an opportunity to tell.”
the circus tents that housed us for two days
Julian: We knew going into this trip that Italy, Spain, and France would be largely shut down during August. But we still came at this time because we thought the MAD Symposium would be something worth centering the trip around. It definitely was. What an awesome event. I’ll take it from the start, as it really set the tone for the whole thing. We walked into the circus tent to the sounds of Metallica. On the stage: a pig hanging from its hind legs, bales of hay, and a giant butcher’s block. The lights dim. Then Dario Cecchini, a butcher from Italy, comes out**. He immediately slits the pig open, revealing the intestines. It’s not gruesome. Instead, it’s beautiful. We’re watching a master do what he’s been doing day in and day out for his whole life. He takes the intestines out and plops them on a log. Then he works out the stomach, lungs, and heart. All along, his wife is translating his words to us. His passion–for his profession, for the products he works with, for his wife, for his region–was so apparent. I was pumped.
**Midway through Dario’s talk, I realized that he was the butcher of at Antica Macelleria, in the small village of Panzano, Chianti. Several years ago, while on vacation with my family, I randomly stumbled upon this very butcher shop. I remember that place so distinctly…the smell of curing hams and sausages was so good, I probably spent an hour in that butcher shop, just taking it in. I liked it so much that I even bought a souvenir plaque from the place. Turns out, it’s pretty legit.
absolute legend, Fergus Henderson. He didn’t give a talk of his own, but did introduce his wife’s, Margot Henderson.
Jesse: Sounds of Metallica is a wee bit of an understatement. It was blarring, and it was epic, and I almost peed my pants. My mom would have told me I needed to be wearing ear plugs. Now, there were 20 speakers over 2 days, so we won’t go over them one by one, but just so you get the gist of the what we heard I’ll name a couple that stood out to me: Dave Chang opened by talking about guts, it was raw and and slightly awkward in that Dave Chang honest, no fluff way; Jason Box, a glaciologist, spoke about black ice; Martha Payne, a 10 year old blogger, spoke about her efforts to bring food to school children in Africa; Vandana Shiva, renowned environmental and food activist, spoke about revolutionizing our agricultural system; among many other fantastic speakers.
we were graciously welcomed to MAD by some of the best chef’s in the world
Julian: Yeah, you’ll soon be able to check them all out here. So we won’t bore you with going over all the details of everyone’s talk. But, taken as a whole, I personally came away from the conference really inspired and ready for what’s to come. Many speakers alluded to the importance to sticking to something that you truly care about, and the courage that it takes to fight for that. As young restauranteurs, we know we’re not as experienced as many people who set out in this business. Hearing the stories of other chefs who were similarly inexperienced was reassuring. I don’t think anyone is ever really “ready” to open their own restaurant. As in, nobody is going to do it without making tons of mistakes. But having the guts to fight through and learn from whatever comes our way will clearly be crucial.
David Chang and a pig
Jesse: Agreed. We spoke and listened to tons of people who opened their own restaurants or businesses, and there was no one formula for success. We got some people saying you have to do this and others saying you have to do the exact opposite. We had people who were masters of their craft before they opened anything of their own, and people who lied their way into a higher position and ended up super successful. The advice was all over the place–besides for the fact that you need to be passionate and stick to your guns. The market research, planning, finding the right people, the right location (not to mention a ridiculous amount of hard work)–all of that is crucial– but without the passion and the courage to pursue a vision, it’s often all for not.
Julian: After the two days of the conference, they invited everyone to a party under a bridge in the city. A great restaurant popped up and served us a multi-course meal, they gave us all the wine and beer we could drink, Jesse danced the night away and potentially injured his knee in the process, and we met some of the people we look up to most in the world. We were also invited to visit the Nordic Food Lab’s kitchen, where they test some of the most creative food preparations in the world. For a food geek like me, this whole weekend was like a comic book convention that Batman magically showed up at. It really was everything and more I could have wished for.
thanks to the MAD crew for a great couple of days