Last week, organizers of the Basque Culinary World Prize announced the 20 finalists for its €100,000 prize ($111,000 USD). Unlike Michelin stars or the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, the new prize is being touted as a more philanthropic or philosophical endeavor, “an award for chefs around the world whose projects have improved society through gastronomy,” according to a press release.
At a media luncheon last week at Blue Hill in New York City, Joxe Mari Alzega, head of the Basque Culinary Center, told attendees (including Food Republic) that nominations came in from around the world and that a long list of 110 qualified candidates was whittled down to the 20 finalists by a committee headed by Elena Arzak, joint head chef of Spain’s three-Michelin-star Arzak. The winner will be announced this summer, selected by a panel that includes distinguished chefs such as Blue Hill’s Dan Barber, Alex Atala, Michel Bras, Massimo Bottura, Gaston Acurio, Heston Blumenthal, Dominique Crenn, Enrique Olvera, Joan Roca and Ferran Adria, among others (all of whom cannot be considered for the prize themselves).
Introducing Alzega at the luncheon, Blue Hill’s Barber praised the group’s mission to find chefs and culinary personalities who strive to push technological, social and political boundaries. “The range is wide,” Barber said, “and the role of this prize and of this institution is to bring that awareness to the world in a beautiful way.”
The finalists include both well-known chefs and obscure but ambitious food activists from around the world.
The top 20 finalists are:
- Alberto Crisci, U.K.: Crisci’s charity, The Clink, has a series of fine-dining restaurants inside four British prisons, in which offenders learn to cook and serve and can gain vocational qualifications to give them real job opportunities when they leave — all with the aim of reducing rates of recidivism.
- Alicia Gironella, Mexico: Gironella is a slow food activist who takes part in projects like Semillatón, to preserve native Mexican corn seeds, preventing local species from becoming extinct. The seeds are placed in community banks to distribute among farmers in Sierra Tarahumara for cultivation.
- Angel León, Spain: Chef Angel León is renowned for his provocative culinary innovation at his restaurant, Aponiente. Passionate about research, he has been exploring the potential of the oceans as a food source and is documenting valuable knowledge that could preserve exciting new possibilities for future generations.
- Ann Cooper, USA: The Chef Ann Foundation gives schools the tools and resources to move away from serving highly processed foods and toward providing fresh, cooked-from-scratch meals as a way of contributing to the reduction of childhood obesity in the United States.
- Carlos Zamora, Spain: The Spanish chef has built a reputation for responsible and sustainable restaurant and team management, around which he has developed strong networks with organic producers. He also supports social initiatives such as Depersonas, which trains and employs young people with learning disabilities.
- Daniel Boulud, France/USA: French chef Daniel Boulud is the codirector of New York charity Citymeals on Wheels, which provides healthy meals to elderly people who cannot buy food or cook for themselves. Boulud is also in charge of Chefs Deliver, an initiative in which top chefs cook gourmet meals for the homebound elderly.
- David Hertz, Brazil: Driven to join the social gastronomy movement ten years ago, Brazilian chef David Hertz started Gastromotiva to give opportunities to the socially vulnerable of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro (later Sao Paulo, Bahia and now Ciudad de México) through food and culinary training.
- Gabriel Garza, Mexico: Inspired by working at a local center for the visually impaired, Garza singlehandedly set up Destellos de Sabor, a project that teaches the blind to cook for themselves, giving them independence, self-esteem, and the potential to find future employment.
- Jessamyn Rodriguez, Canada/USA: Harlem based-Canadian Jessamyn Rodriguez created a nine-month training program for low-income, immigrant women to become artisanal bakers with Hot Bread Kitchen. Through an employer-driven workforce development and business incubator, it helps women and men develop their skills in the culinary arts in order to be able to earn fair wages and achieve financial independence.
- José Andrés, Spain: Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in Haiti, José Andrés started World Central Kitchen to use the expertise of its chef network to empower locals by providing them with clean cooking stoves and training in food safety and sanitation. Additional programs include feeding programs in schools and culinary training for the local hospitality workforce.
- Joshna Maharaj, India/Canada: Canadian chef Joshna Maharaj works with several hospitals and institutions to help them serve better food to patients. In particular, Maharaj rethinks and redesigns all elements of the food chain, from farm to fork, in favor of healthy, fresh, nutritious meals.
- Kamilla Seidler, Denmark, and Michelangelo Cestari, Venezuela: Seidler and Cestari were chosen by Claus Meyer to take his Melting Pot project to Bolivia, where they opened the restaurant Gustu, which also functions as a cookery school. Gustu has put a culinary spotlight on a previously overlooked country, as well as serving to train and empower locals through a wider knowledge and consciousness about their ethnic gastronomy.
- Leonor Espinosa, Colombia: Leonor Espinosa is the founder of Funleo, an organization that aims to preserve the food traditions of Colombia while highlighting sustainable practices and local food production. Its focus is on Afro-descendent, indigenous communities and helping them to develop and market their traditional crops and ingredients.
- Manoela (Manu) Buffara, Brazil: Brazilian chef Manu Buffara is nominated for her work in Ilha Rasa, in Curitiva, where she fights besides some 20 producers to preserve traditional ingredients, farming methods and biodiversity. She also encourages locals to explore the potential of their agriculture.
- Margot Janse, Holland/South Africa: Dutch chef Margot Janse runs Isabelo, an initiative that started with a simple gesture — a nutritious muffin given to 70 schoolchildren in Franschhoek, South Africa — which has now become a program that produces 1,300 meals a day for local schools.
- Maria Fernanda Di Giacobbe, Venezuela: Maria has built a whole chain of education, entrepreneurship and economic development around Venezuelan cacao. With Kakao and Cacao de Origen, she supports local producers with the resources they need to improve their product. She also helps women get the training and tools they need to become chocolate entrepreneurs themselves.
- Massimiliano Alajmo, Italy: Italian chef Massimiliano Alajmo created Il Gusto per la Ricerca to fund research into children’s neoplastic diseases. A recent digital initiative — Tavoli Trasparenti — sees 300 top restaurants backing the cause, with the price of the meal being donated when diners book online.
- Nani Moré, Spain: Nani Moré is the founder of the Asociación de Comedores Ecológicos (the Ecologic Canteen Association) in Catalonia. She directs documentaries and short films campaigning for better food for children and has been working with several institutions to prove that fresh, nutritious food can be made at low cost, ensuring that children get the good food they need.
- Rodolfo Guzman, Chile: Rodolfo Guzman, who exemplifies culinary innovation, is passionate about discovering native ingredients from all over Chile, from which he has created hundreds of new dishes and flavors at his research center, Conectaz, in Boragó. The center employs a multidisciplinary team who also look at the ingredients with a view to future food security and sustainability.
- Teresa Corçao, Brazil: Teresa Corçao is the founder of the Instituto Maniva, created to nurture organic family farming and better nutrition in society as a whole. Maniva’s Ecochefs network was set up in 2009 to promote ethical cuisine as well as to encourage communication across the food chain, from producers to consumers.
More information about the prize and each of the nominees can be found on the Basque Culinary World Prize website.