Unfolding the potential of indigenous food cultures: Claus Meyer at TEDxCopenhagen 2012

Unfolding the potential of indigenous food cultures: Claus Meyer at TEDxCopenhagen 2012

Translator: Jenny Lam-Chowdhury
Reviewer: Tanya Cushman Thank you very much. I want to share with you the idea that great taste
is not just a source of joy, but also a matter of love, and maybe, an instrument to improve life. I’m from a part of the world where ascetic doctors and Prussian priests have led an anti-hedonistic,
300-year-long crusade against the pleasure-giving
qualities of food, (Laughter) and sensuality as such. The idea of preparing wonderful meals
for your loved ones has been considered a sin, aligned with theft, eccentric dancing
and even masturbation. (Laughter) For centuries, the idea
of preparing wonderful meals – The philosophy so successfully
communicated by these fine people was that if you want to live
a long and healthy life on Earth and avoid going to hell in the end, the only thing you have to do
is to eat something of inferior taste and get it over with in a hurry. It was in this period
that I was brought up in a middle class family, in the ’60s, in the darkest period
of Danish food history. (Laughter) My mother represented the first generation of Danish women
working outside the home. It was an era of canned meatballs, potato powder, sauce coloring
and the stock cube. My parents raised me on a diet composed of chopped, fatty meat
of the cheapest quality and frozen vegetables,
preboiled years before in Kazakhstan! (Laughter) Both ingredients were stocked
in huge chest freezers in our basement. Most of the meat was wrapped
three to four times in dried breadcrumbs and then deep fried in margarine
packed with trans-fatty acids. And the excessive margarine
was used for dipping. (Laughter) No wonder that at the age of 15,
I weighted 94 kilos, and I was among the three fattest kids
in Southern Denmark. (Laughter) (Applause) Eating in my childhood was never a matter
of reaching out for the beauty of life; it was a matter of efficiency. Food should be cheap, and it should be prepared
and eaten in less than 30 minutes. What then radically changed my life was one year spent
in Gascony, France, as an au pair with a French baker, Guy Sverzut,
and his wife, Elisabeth. They could not have children,
and they’d always wanted a son. On my side, my parents
divorced when I was 14. I didn’t see my father very much anymore, and my mother became an alcoholic. So, somehow, we were a pretty good match. And up to this day of my life, Guy is the most generous person
I have ever met. His bakery represented a time pocket. It was the Golden Age
of French culinary craftsmanship. He always bought the best produce,
he never challenged the price. His recipes were extremely complex. He gave away a lot of stuff, and he gave discounts
even to people he didn’t know. And then he had way too many employees. And one day, I decided to challenge
this business philosophy. And why? To understand that, you have to know
that my father’s life philosophy was that happiness is about doing
everything you did yesterday, but just a little bit more efficiently. (Laughter) So in my childhood, I was cutting
the grass lane around our house three times a week, three years in a row, and my father stood
watching this going on. He timed laps, and he gave me penalty
seconds if I left unfinished patches. (Laughter) So when I shared my observations
with Guy in the bakery, he put his big baker hands on my shoulders
and said a couple of things to me that I will, I think,
remember till the end of my life. First he said, “Le bonheur c’est savoir ce que l’on veut
et le vouloir passionnément, et mon fils, quoi que tu fasse
il faut que tu l’aime.” “Happiness, my son,” – he always called me “my son” – “is about knowing
what you want to do in your life and having the guts to follow your heart.” And then he said, “Le temps ç’est le pire ennemi
non pas seulement des métiers de bouches, mais aussi de l’amour
et de l’homme tout bref.” “Haste is the worst enemy,
not only for gastronomy but also for your love
and maybe for humanity.” The figure that you will
get up there in a second is from my studies
at the Copenhagen Business School. I actually did it myself. (Laughter) (Applause) In my family, we got
a microwave oven in ’74, and my parents divorced in ’77. (Laughter) Do you have a microwave oven? And you’re not married. (Audience comments) (Laughter) And you’re still married?
And you’re still married? (Audience comments) Congratulations! (Laughter) I eventually decided to leave Gascony
and go back to Denmark. I had found out in France
what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to try to change
the Danish food culture. I started my first company before graduating
from Copenhagen Business School. Guy has told me that it
is only in the light of eternity that you see the true value
of your priorities and your decisions. Therefore, before pursuing a new idea, I always made sure that there was something imperfect
to repair or improve on. In brief, a greater cause. So, for 25 years
I’ve tried to invest myself in projects that were not only
beneficial for myself in the short run, but some that, somehow, could also promote my community,
my industry, my country, and why not? In the larger picture,
I like to believe in that; it motivates me, makes the world a little bit
better place in which to live. I think that this approach
as an employer or an entrepreneur is the main reason why for all those years I have most often been surrounded by comrades and missioners, and not by ordinary employees
working for money or personal progress. At the beginning of this millennium, gastronomy in the leading
culinary countries of Spain and France had become increasingly elitist, irrelevant, and detached from most people’s lives. So, when René Redzepi
and I founded Noma in 2003, we wrote in the very first menu,
on the left side, that with this restaurant
we want to create a new Nordic Cuisine that embraces the Arctic
and brightens the world by virtue of its great taste
and unique character. Pretty pretentious, you may think,
and I totally agree. (Laughter) But the fact is that food
matters beyond pleasure. 90% being lost in less than a century, it is beyond doubt that we are in the middle
of a process of mass extinction of the biological species on Earth. And this time, it is life
that is destroying itself, so to speak. In something like 150 years,
one very intelligent single species is single-handedly demolishing
his own livelihood as well as the large part of the biosphere, and in the meanwhile, one billion people are suffering
from hunger and poverty. But man holds a unique position
amongst the living creatures on Earth. Evolution has provided us with the ability
to think and show compassion, and as Leonard Cohen once said, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” In 2002, René and I felt
that time had come for the chefs to stand up
and raise their voices. We wanted to redefine luxury; we wanted to emphasize seasonality; we wanted to restore the missing link
between cooking and nature; we wanted wonderful food
to be compatible with healthiness. The reality, however,
was that we were on a suicide mission. Our colleagues in the restaurant business,
they warned us, they said, “How in hell can you run a restaurant
relying entirely on local produce when nothing can be harvested
in this place in winter time?” They even made fun of us. They said that they would be serving seal penis, rotten intestines
of arctic birds and baby whales
and other endangered species. I can assure you that a dinner invitation
for Noma in those days sounded more like a threat. (Laughter) A few months after the opening
of the restaurant, we invited the gastro-intelligentsia
to a Nordic Cuisine symposium. The basic idea was to invite chefs
and farmers in all Nordic countries, small and big companies,
politicians and private people around a common vision. A manifesto was worked out and signed by the, until then, 16 most Francophile
top chefs of our region. The meaning of Noma was never to be
the best restaurant in the world. And the meaning
of the Nordic Cuisine Movement was not to build an introvert brotherhood reserved for biodynamic farmers
and wannabe Michelin chefs. What we wanted more than anything was that the values
from the Nordic Cuisine Manifesto would live in people’s everyday lives
and in their hearts. Today, nine years later, cabbage is worshiped
and rye is the new black. Wild herbs are being collected
and sold in supermarkets, and festivals celebrating our own food
emerge all over Scandinavia. Nutritionists and chefs cooperate in order to democratize the culinary
principles of the fine restaurants. Thousands of young, vibrant
food companies have been born, and a handful of Nordic top restaurants have entered the list
of the world’s 50 best, and all over the world, people say, “What the hell is going on up there?” So then, why did it all happen? Well, firstly, I think it was important
that from the very beginning we thought of this movement
as nothing but a benign virus, an informal, consumer-driven movement. Despite the obvious
commercial opportunities, we were never, first and foremost, propelled by the short-term
profit potentials but by the joy of learning more
and of building value together. Openness, democracy and inclusion
have been key words. Anyone could always step in
from nowhere and contribute; anyone could benefit. There is no answer book, no logo,
no president, no rules to obey, but only a very appealing set of values
in harmony with the global zeitgeist, but changing dramatically
the game of gastronomy. The new Nordic Cuisine is not just
a search for clinical culinary excellence; it is an attempt to come up with solutions to some of the greatest
challenges of our time. No surprise that most stakeholders
wanted to join the journey, and of course, finally, you cannot
overestimate the impact of Noma. Let’s take one concrete example from our attempt
to change our food culture. It’s about bread, as some of you
might have guessed. As you’ll see in a minute, the only thing you need to get
the ball rolling and start a movement is some imperfection to challenge,
some sense of urgency, a win-win, win-win scenario, something in it for everyone. It is, indeed, a problem
that we’re all eating too much meat. It would be great if we ate more grain, especially if it was organic whole grain. An excess intake of white refined flour seems to be one of the top three reasons
for the epidemic proportion of diabetes and obesity
in the modern Western world. And add to that, that for each kilo of great bread
made from organic flour that we eat, we protect the ground water
from contact with pesticides. One kilo of bread equals
200 liters of ground water. This was the best selling bread
in Denmark a couple of years ago. Take a look at it! It contains 16 different ingredients, (Laughter) and no less than
five artificial additives. It can rest 15 days in that bag,
and it costs a fortune. Four euros a kilo! Is this real bread? (Audience) No! I can’t hear you. Is it real bread? (Audience) No! No, it is bread – the notion – taken
as a hostage by the bread industry. (Laughter) (Applause) (Cheers) With some of my colleagues,
a couple of years ago, we went to the Roskilde Music Festival
with a Street Food Project. We wanted to serve roast pork
sandwiches with crackling skin and pickled red cabbage as an excuse to set up
an organic whole-grain bakery because what we really wanted was to teach 80,000 people
the fundamentals of baking. We wanted to share the belief that a great bread can be one
of the most magnificent luxuries on Earth, and that anyone can learn to make
such a bread oneself at a fraction of the price
of the lethal bread I threw out before, with the best flour in the world. Take a look at this little video. [This year we at Roskilde
with Meyer’s Bakery and Deli as a protest against the global
fast- and junk food conglomerates] [and I would like
to tell you, very briefly, a story about how your bread will turn
better than any bread you have ever made] Rule number one: White bread is shit! We have to include some bran and a little
bit of wholemeal flour in the flour] [Rule number two: You must
put more water in the dough!! You must put more water in the dough.] [The problem is that all bread recipes … More water in the dough!!!] [Rule number three:
You must knead like mad!! You have to knead
for about 10 to 15 minutes.] [And the next thing is:
let the dough sit for a long time! Usually the recipe tells you
to use 50 grams of yeast] [and then you let
the dough sit for two hours while you go to the toilet
and then you bake the bread. It’s a lie!] [It’s impossible to make
a good bread in two hours! You must plan the whole thing
and give it the eight hours it requires] [or sixteen or twenty four. So rule number 5 is: You must
lower the amount of yeast! Lower the amount of yeast.] [One – two -three] [The crowd goes:
Lower the amount of yeast.] [One – two -three] [The crowd goes:
Lower the amount of yeast.] [Because when you lower
the amount of yeast, you extend the amount of time
the dough needs to sit.] [And the extended sitting time makes the bread create
lactic bacteria in a natural way.] [And the great thing about lactic bacteria is that they make the nutrients
of the grain accessible to the body.] [Is it a good idea
that the nutrients of the grain are made accessible to the body?] [The crowd goes: Yeeeeah!] [The last rule is actually just that you
must bake your bread in a hot oven. Many recipes say 180 degrees,
190 degrees, 175 grader] [The oven must be hot! At Imerco
you can buy a stone plate for 198 kr.] [That’s all I had for today,
thank you for being here, thank you for supporting us down here –
and now there is free bread for everyone.] (Applause) (Cheers) Thank you very much. (Applause) Thank you very much. It is so easy to get trapped
by your own [longing] life. Noma was never meant to be
an end in itself, and the Nordic Cuisine Movement
was never meant to become a regional branding project
for our nations or governments. We all know that the Vikings
burnt down the European villages and raped their women. I’d like to believe
that the Nordic Cuisine is different. (Laughter) It its not a crusade
against the boeuf bourguignon, Japanese sushi or Italian pizza. If our movement is a threat
against anything, then it is the international
junk and fast food industry dominated by massive corporations that ruin our health,
undermine our independence and potentially damage the planet. (Applause) (Cheers) The best part, though,
the best part is that if this fairy tale – bearing in mind the state
of our food culture 10 years ago – could happen in Denmark,
then it can happen everywhere. We’ve come to the conclusion that we maybe did not see the full scope
of this idea in the beginning, and we have found that you can remove the word “Nordic”
from the Nordic Cuisine Manifesto. We’re actually trying to test
that thesis in Bolivia this month. Bolivia is the poorest country
in South America with more than 25% suffering from hunger. But it is also one
of the countries in the world with the largest and richest diversity in term of agricultural
produce and people. Bolivia encompasses more than
four different climate zones and more than 36 distinct Indian tribes. We’re setting up in
the capital of Bolivia, La Paz, as a non-profit organization,
a fine dining restaurant, a bakery and a bistro, including a cooking school for underprivileged,
young, indigenous future chefs. The idea is to turn
those marginalized young people into culinary entrepreneurs and, in a close cooperation
with all major stakeholders in Bolivia, to form the Bolivian Food Movement. This symposium is being held in La Paz
from the 12th to the 14th of October, and lunch is definitely on me
if you drop by. (Laughter) Bolivia could turn out to be the biggest
failure in my professional life, but, what do I have to lose apart from a little bit of time
and a little bit of money? And who says that
what you get back from life does not depend on what you have
the courage to give away yourself? The essence is that if we succeed in sharing our experience from Noma
and the Nordic Cuisine Movement with the Bolivian people, then it’ll mean more
to the destiny of that nation than the Nordic Cuisine has ever meant
and will ever mean to anyone. I believe that you can
find God everywhere. If I ever met Him, it was in a bakery in Gascony,
when I was 20 years old. My heart was open; I was young;
the bread was damn good. Under your seat,
there is a bag with a recipe, with freshly ground flour
and some sourdough, and I kindly ask you to share
that sourdough with a friend. (Applause) (Cheers) Actually, I just have
a couple of words to tell you – So take your time and bake a bread. You are the movement. Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers)

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12 thoughts on “Unfolding the potential of indigenous food cultures: Claus Meyer at TEDxCopenhagen 2012”

  • Man.. How much truth can really be spoken in 21 minutes? DAMN hes pushing the limit of awsomeness!!! BRAVO!!! sir bravo!

  • Muchas gracias a CLAUS MEYER  DE TODO CORAZON!!!! , por la visión, su gran sueño !!!! por su AMOR AL BUEN HACER !!! , profesionalismo y excelente calidad humana!!!. Mil felicitaciones a todo el equipo desde el primero hasta el último porque lo hicieron posible , grandes embajadores!!!! Viva mi amada BOLIVIA, agradecidos a la vida por todos los logros que esta teniendo este hermoso país , cuyos habitantes son todo corazón y tienen un gran espíritu de lucha !!!!!!!

  • Thank you very much for CLAUS MEYER OF ALL HEART !!!! For the vision, his dream !!!! for his LOVE TO DO GOOD !!! , Professionalism and excellent human quality !!!. A thousand congratulations to the team from the first to the last because they did it possible, great ambassadors !!!! Let my beloved BOLIVIA, grateful to life for all the achievements you are having this beautiful country, whose people are wholeheartedly and have a great fighting spirit !!!!!!!

  • Food is so my thiiiing! Good food, Local food, cultural food, ethical food! You took the words right out of my mouth. Thank you for the best food talk i have seen sofar!

  • Altså helt ærligt Claus min mor arbejde også og jeg voksede også op da du gjorde og jeg kan overhovedet ikke relatere til det du siger og jeg er chokeret over din temmelig negative holdning til dansk mad bare fordi du boede i en familie du sviner til foran et amerikansk publikum bare fordi st du får penge for det ! Det er pinligt og du ser helt idiotisk ud !