SIAL 2022 welcomes new patron Mauro Colagreco to champion ‘own the change’ campaign
The internationally renowned chef is partnering with SIAL 2022 to help people change their relationship with food and develop a circular gastronomy.
His three-Michelin star restaurant Mirazur was the first in the world to be certified zero plastic and he is now hoping to inspire others at this year’s trade show.
He spoke to SIAL Newsroom about his efforts to remove plastic from the kitchen and create a circular gastronomy for the future.
We can see that our relationship with food is changing. Could you tell us more about this from your perspective as a leader in the industry?
We have our own, slightly different approach, because we believe the world has already changed and that we are already running late. Today, we believe restaurants and in particular kitchen staff, are too far removed from living things and nature. I’ve been asked to give talks at some of the best cooking schools in the world and when I start, I ask if anyone knows how long it takes to grow an onion. Unfortunately, in the past four years, not one of the 20,000 students has been able to answer me.
As a cook, our job is to transform these products and so the disconnect between these products and cooks, who have been reduced to a technical tool, has become a real problem today. A problem, because few cooks today understand the different seasons. They receive a list of ingredients where ordering carrots, caviar or salmon is all the same. Today, we are heading in the right direction and events like SIAL are helping, but for the past 30 years little attention has been paid to the relationship between cooks and living things.
Could you tell us about Mirazur and your efforts to shake things up?
While we primarily serve food, we also have around five hectares of cultivated gardens. And by getting closer to nature, we were able to witness first-hand the problems which we are facing today. So based on our observations, we immediately started working towards the decontamination of plastics and four or five years later, we are the first restaurant in the world to be certified plastic free. And after we opened in January 2020, the organisation which certified us received 500 calls from restaurants and hotels around the world.
This is a testament to the impact which we can have, because when we started, we were only looking at our consumption in the restaurant. But we quickly realised that despite reducing our use of plastic, this would not be very useful, unless we looked at the entire supply chain. So we started working with our providers and producers. Some understood very quickly and rallied to our cause, while others took a little more time to change their habits. But it has had much more of an impact than we originally thought. This will hopefully inspire people at SIAL by showing them that they too can make a real difference by owning the change.
Could you tell us what you mean by circular gastronomy?
You have probably heard people talking about the circular economy. Here, I’m speaking about a circular gastronomy, which I believe is the gastronomy of the future and will impose itself, because there is no other feasible model. The circular gastronomy, like a circular economy, views products as finite rather than infinite. We must adopt a circular food system, and to do this we are going to have to change our behaviour and realise that the primary materials we depend on our not endless. Today we are importing ingredients from the four corners of the world, but in the future we are going to have to adapt, because I think this could even be forbidden.
Our garden produces around 70% of the fruit and vegetables which we consume in the restaurant. There is always a surplus of vegetables, which we then distribute amongst our other restaurants, but the priority is on Mirazur and creating a virtuous cycle which, we hope, will one day supply all of them.
How important is the role of a chef in this transition?
I think their role is primarily to educate and be an example for others. Today, people in developed countries are spending less time cooking at home and its rare to see households cooking like they used to 40-years ago when mothers and grandmothers would be cooking for everyone.
Now we live in a society where all this has been thrown into question and this has created a knowledge gap when it comes to recipes. When I learnt how to cook with my mum, it wasn’t just learning a list of ingredients, there was a cultural element and I learnt to respect the seasons and of course, the most important ingredient, love. But for the next generation, there is a loss of information and know-how and that’s where the chef’s role is important.
I often use the example of my grandparents who were modest people, living a normal life. I think they must have been to a restaurant about 40 times in their lives. Today, there are people we eat in a restaurant 10 or 12 times a week, if not more. So when it comes to our relationship with food, the chef’s role is fundamental because rather than gatekeepers, their role is to educate the general public and others within the food industry. Events like SIAL provide us with an opportunity to do this.
So can events like SIAL also play an important role in this?
Exactly, our partnership with SIAL and other organisation enables us to reach a large number of consumers. What we are doing at Mirazur is normative, because we are cooking for an elite who can afford a certain price point and only do 45 seats per service. So to help spread the word and lead by example, I have also launched a chain of burger restaurants called Carne which looks to address one of the main issues – eating meat. It’s the only burger chain in the world to receive a B Corp certification, which is very difficult to obtain and has a triple impact – economic, social and environmental.
For example, we are trying to communicate that the problem is not about eating meat, but the type and amount of meat we consume. We believe that we can feed the world and that all men and women should be able to eat well, and I don’t mean just a bowl of rice. I mean good food which is good for their health and the environment.
In your eyes, what are the most important challenges to address at SIAL 2022?
The biggest challenge is going to be changing peoples mentality. The hardest part of obtaining the plastic free certification was changing the mentality of our teams. Even though our teams are young and conscious of these problems, there is so much plastic in our lives that it is difficult to realise what needs to change. So I think the challenge does not only lie with plastic, but also asking consumers to change their behaviour. They might think something is simpler without realising what impact their consumption is having. That’s why events like SIAL which bring people from all corners of the food industry together are so important.
A phrase I often use, is when we are thinking about the food we want to eat, we are deciding what tomorrow’s world will look like. Today people are consuming better, but this idea really has to become part of their thought process to ensure its reflected in their everyday actions. The second challenge I think is to do with methods of production. But if we manage to change the mentality of consumers this battle will be a lot easier. Without a change in mentality however, it will be impossible to change these production methods. So I think these are some of the important questions which we will be asking ourselves at SIAL 2022.
There will be many producers attending SIAL 2022. Could you tell us about the producers you work with?
We work with small producers, which is one of the reasons which are not completely self-sustained. We want to help and protect these small producers who have been working the land for generations but sometimes face challenges when their children, for example, do not want to follow in their parents footsteps. So we really value local producers, who are part of the land’s richness and its terroir.
Of course it’s not 100% and we do allow ourselves certain small luxuries like for example, we import balsamic vinegar from Modena and parmesan. But we don’t import any exotic fruits. We have planted our own bananas, dragon fruit and mangos, because with climate change our terroir is changing and so we have planted trees which can handle warmer and dryer climates. We also launched an initiative called Plant a tree in Mirazur, where for a minimum price of €25 people can plant a tree which then belongs to them for life. They can come and visit it with their kids and taste the fruit.
It will be interesting to speak with people at SIAL 2022 and learn about other initiatives and what changes they are making.