What is cooking in a mad, mad, mad, mad world?

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What happens when Rene Redzepi and his merry band of pranksters bring together a gaggle of chefs and culinary people to talk about “What Is Cooking”? It becomes a MAD affair!

MAD Bale
What happens when Rene Redzepi and his merry band of pranksters bring together a gaggle of chefs and culinary people to talk about “What Is Cooking”? It becomes a MAD affair!

MAD is a  community of thoughtful people who care about food and the impact the restaurant community can have on how we eat. Every summer they erect a giant red circus tent and hold an annual conference in Copenhagen. This year, I got to go and it was inspiring, whimsical, heart wrenching and good fun.

I also have to confess; I have a complete crush on Rene Redzepi. He’s completely human, humble and approachable. I imagine he’s quite intense in the Noma kitchen, but this is as it should be when you have the number one restaurant in the world. On the second morning, he greeted every single attendee with a good morning kiss and a hug and that gets my vote for keeping it real.

Picture this opening moment: lots of people riding high on the excellent coffee that was served in the breakfast tent. It's a cacophony of conversations, photos, greetings and meetings all going on at top volume. And then we’re told to head to the main tent. Coffee Pour

You shuffle into one of the entrances and now you try to find a seat on the bleachers but it’s really dark and your brain is being blasted by LOUD heart thumping rock music. It’s the kind of music that tattoos your brain for the rest of the day.  On your seat is a tote bag that has the program of the day’s speakers, but it’s too dark to read it, so you’re still wondering what’s going on. (Note: To keep us all speculating, the list of speakers was kept top secret.)

And then the music stops. The crowd settles in and grows quiet.

A man and a woman in a kimono walk onto the stage.

Without saying a word, the man pours flour into a shallow red bowl. He adds water. He begins to knead the dough with the familiarity of someone who knows how to listen with his hands.

In absolute silence. 

Within moments, he’s got a viable ball of dough and he moves to a table-top where he rolls out the dough.

In absolute silence.

He picks up a knife and lovingly slices the noodles. (And here there is a collective gasp of knife-envy from the audience because it’s the most beautiful noodle knife cutter we’ve ever seen.) The noodles are dropped into boiling water, then tossed in cool water, drained and finally arranged on a plate that rests on a serving tray. 

In absolute silence.

The beautiful woman in the kimono glides forward into the audience and offers an audience member the tray to taste the noodles. She returns to the stage, retrieves the other tray and again offers the noodles.

In absolute silence.

 It was a moment of pure, peaceful, prayerful zen. A moment that encapsulated all that is cooking: the prep, the saving of every scrap of left over flour, the attention to detail and finally the offering of food. This was a chef’s way of saying grace. Thank you Chef Rai. (Restaurant Sobatei Rakuici in Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan).

 Then our leader, Chef Redzepi, steps out into the spotlight and the tent goes MAD. [Update: Link to MADfeed's video of soba master Tatsuru Rai.]

 Mad Flags

I’ve always cared about cooking; it’s who I am, but I struggle to find the words. The people who spoke at this festival found their words and told their stories.

It’s my honor to share with you some of their tales over the next few weeks. Today I’ll leave you with this nugget of wisdom  given to us by Chef Jeremiah Tower.  Here's what Elizabeth Taylor told him,  “When the going gets rough, put on your lipstick, pour a cocktail and get on with it.” Lipstick

 Amen, sister. #MAD4

 

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