By Patrick Hieger

[Patrick Hieger]

[Patrick Hieger]

As the headlining / keynote / first speaker of this year’s chef’s symposium at Mistura, now called Qaray, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini did exactly what he was supposed to do–he set the tone for the entire festival, by giving chefs, producers, and the organizers of the festival an ultimatum.  From the moment he set to the stage, Petrini came out swinging.  “I care more about the 300 producers out in the market than I do about seeing these chefs speak.”  Those are big words for a crowd that’s waiting to see the likes of Kamilla Seidler, Rodrigo Oliveira, Jorge Vallejo, and many more of the big names that are headlining this year’s symposium.

What Petrini’s chat centered around is, perhaps, the hottest topic in Latin America right now.  A respect for ingredients.  Pride for one’s surroundings.  The machine that is industrialized food and how it’s killing us.  Slow Food has been around for a long time, and it seems that its founder has only been stoking his own fire during that time.  “Chefs are more important than actors these days,” he said, “but the foods that producers are growing shouldn’t be for them.”  It should be for the same people that are producing it, and everyone else.  For Petrini, the industrialized food world has hit peak schizophrenia, and he’s really not happy about it.

Only in its first day, Mistura somehow feels different this year.  There’s no Gelinaz! floating in the air, none of the “world’s best chefs” floating around for photo ops, waiting for a big party.  There’s plenty of talent, plenty of partying, but this year the food, the traditions, the customs feel front and center.  Carlo Petrini would certainly have it that way.

It just so happens that the Slow Food founder is friends with the president of Apega, the organizing body for Mistura.  And because they’re friends, it seemed that Petrini felt just fine being perfectly honest, and basically blunt, with Bernardo Roca Rey.  “Bernardo,” he said, looking directly at his friend who holds a great deal of power, “I want Mistura to have a clear mission, to protect and defend those 300 producers outside in the market.”  Cue sighs and “yesses” from the crowd.

Before finishing up, Petrini made it clear that he’s here for the producers.  Parties?  Probably not.  50 Best lists?  Nope.  “A chef cannot exist without a campesino.”  Crowd goes nuts.  Mistura begins.  The game has been changed.

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