We need to talk about... Culinary Identities
with Harold McGee and the OFS Young Chefs
Special guests: Jeremy Lee and Billy Wagner
The growth in popularity of 'all things food' has elevated the status of the chef from the former behind the scenes, feeding the masses, to that of celebrity. Eating out and tweeting, instagramming or tiktoking about it provides the consumer with boundless cultural capital; they have eaten in the best restaurants, found the hidden gem the world must instantly hear about or just the latest "must try" food truck or dietary fad. And somehow, food has made its way into being a form of material culture dominated by its aesthetics, more than its cultural aspects. This slow transgression and evolution of food has changed the meaning of being a producer of food. There is a new culture and a completely new industry that feeds on it, which by all means seems to be, ‘All Things Fancy’.
The reality, however, is that the industry faces many issues. From sustainability to rising food and energy costs, sexism and racism to staff retention, job security to skyrocketing rent prices. It is, among others, those issues that can impact one ‘s choice whether to turn a passion for cooking into a career as a chef or not. They can compel a successful chef to choose to abandon that carefully chosen career to seek fulfilment elsewhere. They can also inspire and activate an inherent desire to change that narrative, to be a different kind of chef or help educate future chefs.
This group of four current and former OFS Young Chef Grant recipients hail from very different backgrounds, are at very different stages in their respective professional journeys and have followed very different career paths. However, they have faced many of the same issues that have directly affected their professional lives within the culinary industry and directly impacted their paths towards or away from being chefs.
The Kitchen Table Conversation will incorporate their experiences, introduced and moderated by Trustee Harold McGee, alongside those of our special guests Jeremy Lee and Billy Wagner, discussing their own journeys while highlighting the complexity of issues surrounding the profession and, by coming together, finding new and hopefully even better ways of working in professional kitchens.
Nia Minard is the 2022 OFS Young Chef Awardee.
Cordula C. Peters transitioned to a career as a chef later in life after having spent 15 years in academia as a university professor for graphic design, art history, and design theory. As a professionally trained chef she has worked in different kitchen environments, from a 5-star hotel setting and an award-winning fine dining restaurant, to a quirky concept restaurant and now high volume event kitchen, as Lead Chef of The Nether Wallop at Glyndebourne Opera House.
Caitríona Nic Philibín is a chef, PhD student at the Technological University Dublin, and IRC scholar with an MA in Gastronomy and Food Studies. Caitríona swapped her chefs whites for a class planner in 2017 and spent four years teaching cookery classes in a juvenile detention facility. Now working as a researcher, Caitríona's current project utilises archival research to analyse food in folklore in Ireland north and south.
Gaurish Shiyam is a cook and a food researcher from the North-Western mountains of the Indian Himalayas. His studies mainly focus on the cultural aspect of food systems. Currently, he is based in Piedmont, Italy studying the edible potential of Alpine mountain valleys and how to sustain food economies in remote areas.
Jeremy Lee joined Sam & Eddie Hart at Quo Vadis in Soho in early 2012 as Chef Proprietor. Jeremy had previously manned the stoves of Blueprint Café at the Design Museum near Tower Bridge, created by Sir Terence Conran. He has worked with such distinguished restaurateurs such as Simon Hopkinson and Alastair Little, who all played a considerable part in the great resurgence in British Cooking. His menus are reflective of the seasons and are full of his favourite things, using produce expertly sourced from his enviable list of suppliers. Jay Rayner described him as a “rare phenomena in the London food world; a chap everyone agrees is a good thing.”
Billy Wagner opened Berlin's Nobelhart und Schmutzig in 2015 (it's holding one Michelin star since 2019 and was ranked #17 on The World's 50 Best list in 2022). Having grown up doing his homework at the counters of his parents’ restaurants in Saxony and Franconia, and after a successful career as maître and sommelier of renowned establishments such as Berlin’s Rutz, the 35-year-old finally wanted his own place, “to do things my way.” Like Micha Schäfer, Nobelhart’s chef, he strongly believes in changing the system they are part of. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, they would have introduced a 40 hours/four-day week in 2020 (they finally did so in 2022): “We want our team to stay with us, as long as possible, that is the most important.”
Harold McGee first attended the Oxford Food Symposium in 1985 and is currently a Trustee; he's the author of On Food & Cooking: The Science & Lore of the Kitchen and Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World's Smells.
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