photos provided by Dan Steinberg
Food waste was the topic at hand last Friday night at The Theater at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. “One-third of the world’s food is thrown away, while hundreds of millions of people go undernourished”, was the banner slogan for the evening.
The sold out event “Food for Soul – Cooking is a Call to Act” was billed as a lively round table discussion with five of the world’s most renowned chefs coming together to present their unique visions on how to tackle food waste and hunger. Food for Soul, the non-profit organization founded by chef Massimo Bottura, promotes social awareness about food waste and hunger through a wide range of initiatives in collaboration with chefs, artisans, food suppliers, artists, designers and institutions. $5 from each ticket was donated to Food Forward, an LA non-profit that rescues fresh local produce that would otherwise go to waste.
Hosted by Jonathan Gold, the Los Angeles Times restaurant critic, it featured Massimo Bottura, Mario Batali, Roy Choi, Dominique Crenn and Mary Sue Milliken.
And lively was an understatement.
Directly before the event began, a private reception upstairs at the theater featured champagne, passed hors d’oeuvres and an enthusiastic crowd. Behind a loud, crowded table in the back, a woman was scraping granular chunks of cheese from a giant wheel of 42-month-old aged parmigiano reggiano and serving it with a generous pour of Massimo Bottura’a own 40-year-old ace to balsamic di Modena traditional. At that moment, she was getting a lot more attention than the luminaries floating around like Nancy Silverton and Michael Cimarusti, who were there to attend the event.
The event kicked off with a moving opening from the Urban Voices Project, a choir organized to provide healing through music for homeless and disenfranchised individuals on Skid Row of Los Angeles. Larry Ingrassia, the managing editor at the Los Angeles Times gave a short opening speech and Jonathan Gold promptly took over with an anecdote about a book he discovered in Artesia years ago, while writing a story, which featured recipes using food waste.
He talked about poking fun at things like banana peel salad, potato peel fritters or taking curdle milk and making paneer from it at the time, and he explained a shift. “The time for that little book had come,” he said. “It’s time to tackle the inconsistencies of the current food system.”
A passionate and sometimes raucous discussion ensued about ways to tackle food waste and address hunger. Dominique Cren, chef of Atelier Cren, which earned two Michelin stars, spoke excitedly about the need to start getting involved to make change – even at the smallest and most local level, in your own home. Roy Choi spoke about his restaurant Locol and their progressive policy about food waste, mentioning it wasn’t about preaching, that it was making the project so cool, people would naturally just follow. Mario Batali, who owns restaurants all over the world, talked about the balance between business and making solid decisions about food waste – although he feels strongly that food waste is not just about restaurants. All of the commentary was peppered with laughter and wise cracks, and political commentary. Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill, spoke about her movement to highlight trash fish and the fact that chefs have a platform now because people really view them as trend setters. It’s hip and cool and sexy not to waste food. And Massimo Bottura explained the beginnings of his Food For Soul initiative and spoke emotionally about how he picked up the phone and called sixty five chefs and no one said no. “If we give and set an example people will follow,” he said.
After roars of applause, the stage emptied and the screening of “Theater of Life” began, which tells the story behind the Refettorio Ambrosiano, a soup kitchen conceived by chef Massimo Bottura for the Milan 2015 World’s Fair to turn food waste into meals for those in need.
And just minutes later, Massimo Bottura, filled with energy took, his place at the end of a table in the lobby and began signing his books. Of course each signing included the requisite selfie, and he never once complained or cut it short.
“I’m here and happy to be,” he said smiling at the line. “I’ll stay until the end.”