In August 2020, when many in the restaurant business around the world found themselves enduring the brutal consequences of a global pandemic, many without income, without their staff and their business, Food On The Edge founder JP McMahon reached out to speakers and other contributors to the Food On The Edge symposium. His request was simple - to write a letter addressed to the industry.
“The basis of the request was that their contributions would serve to provide a global record of a particularly challenging time while allowing hope to shine on the future and the next generation of young cooks, chefs, farmers, and food activists," he said. "What we got was a series of deeply personal and moving accounts of their Covid-19 experience with many recounting losses and some reminiscing on valuable gains and insights.
“The book portrays the diverse voices from around the world that make up the industry, from the chefs to producers to service providers. The book has been downloaded thousands of times and the response has been nothing short of inspirational. The resilience of our industry is testament to the support we give each other and the learnings we take from each other.”
The experiences throughout the book have similar themes, often the joy that came with spending more time with family and loved ones, and evaluating what life was like before Covid-19 and changes that would be made going forward. Matt Orlando, of Amass Restaurant in Copenhagen, wrote: “I have realised that I have let my restaurant define who I am over the last seven years. I have also realised that this cannot be the way forward.”
Many writers that contribute to the book recognise this spirit of the resiliency of the industry; Elena Arzak, of Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain, wrote: “The hospitality industry is in an especially hard place. But if there’s one thing chefs are good at it’s making the best out of any situation. We are givers and can make wonderful things out of the ingredients that we have on hand. We are good at logistics and planning and we are generous because our reason for being is to feed and take care of people. Now is the time to be especially generous.”
Others recounted the despair of losing their teams and the dream of the future they were building. Alexandre Silva, owner of Loco in Lisbon, Portugal, wrote: “I felt the accountability of having 70 people at risk of losing their livelihood and the risk of leaving my daughters without anything to eat, and the risk of me and my wife Sara falling into a bottomless pit of depression.”
Massimo Bottura, of Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy, who spoke at Food On The Edge 2016, shared a recipe he used while working in Refettorio in Rio de Janeiro with Food for Soul, the non-profit organisation he founded with his wife Lara, and Gastromotiva. The recipe is a carbonara using banana peel, “to show that the most incredible things are still possible when you look at the world from another point of view and dare to leave your comfort zone.”
The comfort zone has never been a space that JP McMahon likes to dwell in, and he is planning Food On the Edge 2021. “Food On The Edge 2021 will take a different format to years gone before,” he said. "Nevertheless we are looking forward to keeping the momentum going and the conversation alive.”
The 121 contributions are being added to and an updated version will be available on Google Books at the end of February. Until then the book is available by visiting the Food On The Edge website. For more information see www.foodontheedge.ie and check out @FoodOnTheEdge on social media.