Joe Warwick co-founded and launched the 50 Best Restaurants Awards and went on to write the iconic Where Chefs Eat. He continues to be an influential voice in the restaurant industry and he is creative director of the World Restaurant Awards lunching in Feb 2019. Suffice it to say that when he suggests that every speaker at a food conference in Helsinki works in the line, “Finland has it all” to their presentation, you pay attention. Even if it was after one too many Arctic Blue gin and tonics.
Sauce is the brain child of Pauina Pirkola, has been running for 4 years and is a forum that brings together chefs and food leaders from all over the world. Let us agree never to use the word “influencers”, but everyone participating is influential in their area of food, whether it be journalism, cheffing, food tourism or tech. WeFiFo was there to talk about social eating, to meet some like-minded people and, yes, to claim that Finland has it all.
The thing is, it does. Finnish food is subtle, delicate, clean and often highlights foraged ingredients, preserved vegetables and the berries and game of their forests. The country itself is one of contrasts – wild, often punishing natural environments alongside solid, affluent cities; beautiful islands, forests and mountains and burgeoning tech industries; warm welcomes and taciturn self-sufficiency.
The structure for Sauce included two days of events and then a full day of presentations and forum discussion, some of which was open to the public. Inevitably one strong element to the proceedings involved various people trying to beat us to death with booze and food. To say that the entertaining and hospitality was relentless is an understatement and yet it was delivered with such warmth and enthusiasm and from such a talented group of people that even the most satiated among us always managed a final bite of baclava.
So, Sauce was many things – it was a community, a forum, a jolly, a symposium, a discussion, a provocation, a seat at the table and a slump underneath it. It was a place where WeFiFo felt immediately at home – strangers meeting around sharing tables is at the heart of what we do. It was a compass, but it was also a ship.
To try and give an overview of what Sauce was and what it delivered it might be useful to borrow a device from one of the speakers at the conference, Joao Wengorovius, the CEO of W&B and author of We Chefs. He talked about the words and ideas common to the 21 chefs he interviewed for his book, asking them about things beyond the table that might be relevant to other walks of life. He identified 33 words that traced commonalities between their ideas and arranged them in clusters for his 20 min talk. Stay with me. With none of Joao’s fluency I will try and summarise Sauce through an arrangement of quotes taken from a few of the people that spoke there – I would hope a few phrases can help give a feel for the special kind of creativity and community the event enabled. To be clear, plenty more people spoke and contributed than we mention here – these are only a few of the lines that struck a chord.
“I am haunted by wheat”. Dr Stephen Jones.
Probably the sentence that although whispered, will echo the loudest. It was uttered in a matter of fact deadpan way by Dr Stephen Jones the Director of the bread lab at Washington State University. He is a wheat breeder and baker. The university and their lab breeds wheat to explore and develop nutritionally dense, high-yield varieties used to try and offer an alternative to the high processed white flour based “bread” that permeates most of the shelves and diets of the western world. Sometimes a message is so simple and so quietly yet expertly delivered that to hear it is to be instantly converted to a cause. Eat better bread. Challenge a broken food system. Don’t patent life. GMO does not have to be the answer. Wheat may haunt Dr Stephen Jones, but his work and words will also hover spookily around everyone that heard them at Sauce.
“Who am I from?” Maksut Askar
Maksut along with Muhammad Orfali and a whole team of amazing people put on one of the highlights of Sauce – the Beyond Borders dinner. Here, and then later at the speech day, Maksut went on to explore ideas of place, migration and home. At one point he stumbled over his words and inadvertently gave us an odd expression of exactly these issues, Who am I from? When borders are removed, this phrase shows how powerfully intermingled place, geography, identity, food and nationhood can become. Who am I from, or, perhaps as illustratively – what does home taste like? A final thought on this subject came from the same Beyond Borders lunch: what is the phrase that best describes the food that reminds us of home? Homesick cooking, of course
“In Islam they say, each act is an act of adoration” Kamal Mouzawak.
Kamal, (along with Maksut, And Muhammad Orfali) all wove talks about the importance of where they are from – the importance of place and belonging – into their own very different stories and missions. Kamal spoke movingly about the street markets he has created in Lebanon and how as an activist he has devoted his life to helping women find hope through food. It was inspiring to hear about the people he is enabling to make money and a livelihood from their cultural culinary experience. Far more modestly WeFiFo aims to do the something similar. We could all do well to think of cooking and sharing food as an act of adoration.
#tweezerguy Andrea Petrini.
When Dr Stephen Jones stood up to talk about bread, I was worried for him. The previous 30 minutes (we had all be allocated 20) had consisted of a dynamic, noisy, offensive, exciting, sacred and profane call to revolution from Andrea Petrini. Collected loosely under the banner #theendofasweknowit, he bounced as he shared a stream of wisdom, provocation and vision. A few sang out, a few landed painfully close to home. All were worth paying attention to. #tweezerguy was one such excursion as Andrea explored, to the loud beats of Fourtet, the compulsion some chefs felt to fiddle with cold, scentless ingredients with tweezers. Amongst some entertaining profanity and extortions to touch things with your fingers and bring back the central role of the sense of smell to the table, we could all agree with the final rousing call to coming together with food.
Andrea ended by provoking a full room to chant along with him: “unite for every nation, unite for every land, unite for liberation, unite for freedom of man”. Borderlessness and community were ultimately the main theme of Source, and its guiding light. WeFiFo felt very comfortable there. And for the record, we have never arranged cold food on a plate with tweezers.
What did we learn then, what was it for? Sauce is above all else a meeting place – and what better place to meet, than around a table. The connections, ideas, insights, and revelry that is shared when we eat together is as important as the flavour. Pauliina and her team spent months planning and organising the events. It was a triumph and then suddenly it was there, in front of us, around tables, being recorded, filmed, broadcast, shared. The recipe for Sauce is found amongst the people you eat with. As Joao Wengorvious has it, “Everything happens gradually… and then suddenly”
The full speaker list: https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/1cab31_b68fc0ad7ccc46bab6488dc1d0b3c450.pdf