Why this year's MAD will be pretty sane
René Redzepi's Alex Atala-hosted food and cooking symposium will remind us what cooking is really about
'Mad' is Danish for food. Hence the name of the world's best restaurant, Noma; it's a contraction of two words, meaning of 'nordisk' or Nordic food. Similarly, Noma founder René Redezpi's annual Copenhagen symposium, MAD, is a meeting of like-minded chefs, food professionals and fans, that reflects on the subject of food preparation.
Yet MAD, which this year takes place between August 24-25, is just a tiny bit nutty. It's aim, according to organisers, is “to recognise that the modern chef is faced with challenges and responsibilities that go far beyond supplying simple sustenance for the duration of a single meal. We want the chefs who attend the symposium to return to their kitchens and reflect on what they have seen and heard; the new questions we now know to ask, to become more inquisitive and imaginative.”
Picture a TED event with live butchery. Previous iterations have dwelt on such wide-ranging themes as vegetation (2011); appetite (2012); and guts (2013). However, this year, rather than add to the thickets of coverage surrounding chefs and their work, MAD seeks to strip back the undue media attention, with the simple theme of Cooking.
As René and co see it, “the more attention our industry receives from television, film, newspapers, magazines, and the internet, the less clear it becomes what it means to cook. A path to celebrity, a means of attaining fortune – the past decade has given rise to a great many things that we know cooking is not. Our goal for MAD4 is to remind ourselves what cooking is.”
A noble plan, and one that echoes Rem Koolhaas' 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, which forgoes the lure of stars, and focusses instead on the nature of buildings. In a similar manner, MAD has decided not to announce its line-up, and instead has chosen to place added emphasis on the theme.
Of course, we know this year's co-curator will be Alex Atala, who does possess a certain star quality, having transformed Brazilian haute cuisine at his São Paulo restaurant, DOM. Yet, in his regular excursions into the county's interior, he knows what it means to get away from it all.
Moreover, this year MAD will also welcome 10 unknowns to join stars like Redezepi. As part of its new MAD Grant, the symposium will welcome 10 young chefs under the age of 30, drawn from an open call from across the world, to Copenhagen. If these are the culinary stars of the future, then hopefully René and co will let them know how to keep their eyes on the kitchen, not the TV contracts.