February 2018

Oxford Food Symposium 2018: Grants for Young Chefs

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Harold McGee, a trustee of the Symposium, introduces the 2018 Young Chef Grant

It’s time to spread the good word again: the Oxford Symposium invites young culinarians to apply for grants to participate in this year’s edition, 6-8 July. The application deadline is 1 March 2018.

The Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery is the original international food conference, now in its fourth decade, and open to anyone who’s interested, professional or amateur, chef or student. I attended my first in 1985. It’s impressive not only for the range of subjects and participants and contributions, but also for the convivial communal meals, which nowadays are prepared by guest chefs to illuminate each year’s theme. (They’ve come a long way since 1985!)

The Young Chefs’ Grants provide the opportunity for two culinarians early in their careers to attend the Symposium, participate in its discussions, and work with the guest chefs to help prepare dinners and lunches. It’s a great way to give your professional life an energizing jolt: to connect with fellow food lovers from all over the world, learn about ingredients and techniques and traditions you’ve never heard of, and get kitchen experience alongside some of the most knowledgeable chefs of the day.

I recently caught up with a 2015 grantee, Elizabeth Yorke, and asked her for a few words about what the Symposium experience and similar opportunities have meant to her. Elizabeth is a chef at the Red Fork Deli in Bangalore, India, and posted a scrapbook of favorite moments at the Symposium soon afterwards. Here’s an excerpt of what she wrote to me last week:

When I say opportunities like the Oxford Symposium and the MAD symposium are life-changing, i’m not being overly dramatic but these events open your mind to incredible people and their ideas and this amazing thing we all share in common– Food.

These events helped me meet fascinating people in such diverse fields. And convinced me that I need to travel every year, meet people and learn new things. Just cooking in a kitchen was not enough anymore. I met the brilliant William Rubel and interned with him studying about the histories of bread, attended a class on the theological histories of bread at Yale Divinity School, was part of the “food” themed Global Entrepreneurship Summer School in Mexico City followed by a stage at restaurant Lorea.

These small one month stints every year broadened my understanding of food and cultures and made my realise about the potential in our Indian food system and scope for research and implementation in kitchens–be it supply chains, agriculture, policy or just the simple economics of a dining plate.

Thanks, Elizabeth! Several other Young Chef grant winners have weighed in on the Symposium blog (2017 report here; 2016 report here).

This year’s theme is Seeds. Small word, huge subject: from porridge to nuts, biodiversity to variety patents, spices to coffee to chocolate. General-session talks will be given by scientists working on conservation and seed banks, the genomes of wheat and other crop plants, and breeding seeds specifically for breadmaking, brewing, and distilling. The smaller group discussions will be–as aways–all over the map.

Past guest chefs have included Fergus Henderson, Aglaia Kremezi, Jeremy Lee, and Allegra McEvedy. In 2018 they will be:

    Olia Hercules, 

      • Ukraine-born London-based author of Kaukasis and Mamushka, with a menu from the Caucasus
  • Naomi Duguid, Toronto-based author of landmark books on Asia west to east, with dishes from Persia
  •  Abi Aspen Glencross, English chef, farmer, and scientist, collaborating with David Matchett of London’s renowned Borough Market

If you’ve never cooked with blue fenugreek or unrefined sunflower oil or made a walnut sauce or ash: here’s your chance!

More on this year’s program here; on applying for the grants here.