Monday the 18th January 2021 saw the first Chefs' Manifesto gathering for the year, hosted by Chef Manjit Gill and Chef Anahita Dhondy. Partnering together with the Indian Federation of Culinary Associations, day 1 offered a line up of talented chefs, farmers and industry professionals.
After introductions and an overview by Chef Manjit Gill and Chef Anahita Dhondy, Chef Soundararajan introduced Mr Paul Newnham, Director of the SDG2 Advocacy Hub. He gave an outline of the Chefs' Manifesto, introducing many participants to the 8 Thematic Areas and reasons why it is crucial we all make changes to how to approach food.
A panel discussion on COVID, agriculture and the food industry, included speakers: Chef Vijaya Baskaran, Ms Sneh Yadav, Dr Joshita Lamba, and Mr Harpal Singh Garewal. A lively discussion from each participant ensued, with topics including COVID challenges, organic farming vs non organic farming, the importance of soil health and interactions with the food industry moving forward. Ms. Sneh Yadav from Tijara Farms offered an emerging globally recognised insight, "COVID has brought sense to everybody: food has become the priority." Her sentiments echoing the urgency in securing sustainable food systems.
Chef Gayatri Peshawaria was next on the programme, bringing us directly into her back garden and beyond into Pingalwara Farm in Punjab, India. What a treat! Travelling with Chef Peshawaria through a zero-budget, zero-waste organic farm, feasting our eyes on the produce pulled directly from the soil and watching as she talked us through how she uses all the ingredients. From the cotton sacks, to the birds, Chef Peshawaria immersed us in the farm and allowed us a fantastic insight into Punjabi farming and cooking. Be sure to watch the video below!
Back in her garden, Chef Peshawaria showed us how locally sourced ingredients can be turned into culinary delights that will enhance and elevate a multitude of dishes. Chef Manjit Gil commented after Chef Peshwari finished, that she perfectly demonstrated how simplicity is the pinnacle of excellence.
Following on from Chef Peshawaria's engaging cooking demonstration and farm-walk through, a panel discussion ensued amongst the following esteemed speakers: Mr Jaspal Singh, Mr Rahul Singh - President of National Restaurants Assocation, and moderated by Chef Radhika Khandelwal. With so many different perspectives, experiences and learnings, the 30 minute discussion on individual and corporate challenges and responses to COVID was varied and held many interesting insights. The over-riding message was once again a perspective that is held by many around the world: the restaurant and food industry is one of the most affected industries by COVID 19 and the ability to come back strong relies on many factors.
Mr Vimal Arokiaraj Vincent, CEO of Ahimsa Organic Agri Tech Producer Company, talked us through his organic farming practices, and how he works closely with thousands of farmers to instil good agricultural practices. Crucial in his farming is teaching the next generation good agricultural practices to ensure the planet is well looked after.
Chef Rajiv Gulshan closed out the afternoon sessions with a discussion and insights into why food sustainably must be of the utmost importance to students, up and coming chefs, farmers and industry professionals.
Tuesday 19th January saw day 2 kick off with a warm welcome from Chef Manjit Gill and some excellent points on how we should prepare food and ensure there is Good Food For All. Chef Gill gave a re-cap of day 1, and encouraged all attendees to become a United Nations Food Systems Hero. Chef Anahita Dhondy gave a run down of the programme for the afternoon followed by a welcome from Paul Newnham.
Dr Pasupathy was the first of several presenters, sharing with participants a session on CS - Cultivator, Chef and Care. Noting important insights on how the inflation of goods in India has put added pressure to an already struggling industry, Dr Pasupathy shared his thoughts on how to not only decrease costs but also increase overall health through food choices. The premise of his presentation involved encouraging participants to choose ingredients that are nutrient-dense, ingredients that are seasonal and ingredients that are local. He stated that 90% of non-communicable diseases exist because we don't understand our farms and the relationship produce has with our bodies. He felt the solution to better health relies on farming, ingredient choice and soil quality.
Following on from Dr Pasupathy, Paul Newnham interviewed three international chefs on their work and involvement with the Chefs' Manifesto. Chef Mokgadi Itsweng, a food educator and chef, shared her reasons for joining the Chefs' Manifesto were because it aligned with her own research, offering guidance and a structure backed by science, to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Chef Mokgadi is a strong advocate in her work for: Thematic Area 1 - ingredients grown with respect for the earth & its oceans; Thematic Area 3 - investment in livelihoods; and Thematic Area 5 - celebration of local & seasonal food. Each of these guiding principles help to shape the work she does, and the choices she makes regarding purchasing ingredients, menus and the projects she is involved in. Chef Mokgadi uses social media to spread messages of accessible food in her region, which is especially important since the onset of COVID 19 and increased food insecurity in South Africa.
Chef Deepanker Khosla (DK) was the next guest, owner and Executive Chef at Haoma - Bangkok's most sustainable restaurant serving zero-kilometre dishes and running a zero-waste kitchen. Chef DK only cooks with produce that is grown in his Haoma's urban garden, right in the heart of Bangkok! Chef DK has a deep respect for nature, so becoming an advocate of the Chefs' Manifesto was a natural fit. Chef DK shared with participants his passion for fortified ingredients, particularly fortified rice which he uses in his own kitchen. He stated that fortified rice is cost-efficient, increases nutrient values and that it can help the masses at large as it can be fortified depending on what specific populations need.
To watch Chef DK visit a fortification factory, please see the video below:
Chef Arthur Potts Dawson, with over 35 years experience in the food industry, shared his passion for the health and wellbeing of people and how he believes the earth can heal us. "This generation now, is the first generation to communicate through food," Chef Arthur stated, recognising that there is power in social media and the messages we share. Chef Arthur spoke specifically about advocacy, and how the Chefs' Manifesto has helped him refine his messages and helped him understand what story he wants to tell. He is passionate about advocating for a better world and what he wants to leave behind for future generations. He finished his interview by sharing that "food is so deep and rich in narratives... [and] connects people to the planet" we have to advocate for the earth so it continues to thrive.
Chef Anahita Dhondy introduced the next panel, moderated by Chef Vanshika Bhatia. The panel discussed the pros and cons of plant-based proteins vs vegetarian proteins. The consumption of dairy was debated at length by all panelists, including Ms Meenakshi Bajaj, Dr Madhush, Dr Joher and Dr Gunjan Goela. All panelists offered insights into the protein debate, including:
Chef Megha Kohli, introduced by Chef Anahita Dhondy, took us into her kitchen for a cooking demonstration. She shared with us the ingredients she was using to cook Kheer, a pudding dessert, as well as why she is so passionate about the Chefs' Manifesto. The key ingredient in Chef Megha's dish was millets, and she explained why they are such a fabulous crop to use: gluten free, easy to digest, they require minimal water to grow (80% less water than most crops), are highly nutritious and they help maintain soil health. The final dish presented looked stunning as well as delicious!
Chef Soundararajan shared next, the importance of using millets - the wonder crop! He gave a detailed presentation on why millets are extremely beneficial for people and planet. Increasing crop diversity by cooking with small grains and forgotten grains are essential to the health of our planet, as well as increasing nutrients in our bodies. For more information on millets and crop diversity, visit Crop Trust.
Chef Vijayan Baskaran led a presentation with Professor Trilochan Sastry on Farm Veda. Farm Veda is a Collective Development, formed in 2005, working to ensure farmers get the right price for their produce after months of hard work during the agriculture season. Today there are over 36,000 farmers working together across three districts. As of now, only the profit goes to the farmers. In the long run, the ownership will also entirely go the farmers of India.
Following on from Farm Veda's inspirational story, Chef Abijit Saha, a food and beverage consultant with Bangalore Airport, shared on vertical farming. Chef Saha pointed out that populations in urban cities are increasing, whilst rural areas are seeing a population decline. Together with an increase in overall global population, and the degradation of the planet (excessive cultivation has caused mass soil erosion), vertical farms are one answer to increasing food production. Able to be built close to cities due to their space-efficiency, as well as requiring reduced water, vertical farms can output high volumes of crops whilst decreasing the impact on the planet.
Sustainability and food waste was discussed by a panel of esteemed guests, including Chef Salil Fadnis, Chef Saby, Chef Rajiv Gulshan and Chef Saha Abijit. Chef Salil Perhaps best summed up how many feel about food waste, stating that the "wasting of food is a crime against humanity". With so many people going hungry each day, there were undoubtedly many resounding murmurs of agreement from attendees. Some astounding facts were shared regarding food wastage specifically in India, and solutions offered by a number of panelists:
The impact of nutrition and Indian agriculture was the final presentation of the event, given by Professor Ram Rajasekharan. Professor Ram shared with us about a fairly unknown crop - Teff - a small Ethiopian crop, the tiniest grain and the oldest grain known. Initially it was not successfully marketed, until superior chefs in Bangalore took Teff onboard, and marketed the crop! It has a high protein content, with high dietary fibre, gluten-free, sustained glucose, magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, Vitamins C and B6. Teff is favoured by marathon runners as it is a slow-releasing grain which sustains them over their long runs! It is a micro-nutrient dense grain.
With closing remarks from Paul Newnham and Chef Manjit Gill, Chef Manjit urged all chefs attending to join the Chefs' Manifesto and take away new learnings to implement in their lives. He gave a quick recap of the key points from throughout the day, including the importance of ingredients, sustainability, good food for all, and food systems. "We chefs can take the crops, cook it, and get people to eat it, enjoy it and feel happy. We chefs play an important role in shaping the nations... we must have the knowledge." Many thanks were given to all involved from Chef Anahita Dhondy and the event was closed. Well done to everyone!