Chef Margot Henderson, captured by photographer Gabriele Stabile at MAD3.
Watch video of her presentation at the symposium here.
Today we release Margot Henderson’s presentation from MAD3, in which the chef discusses the importance of simple, instinctive, regional cooking and tackles the question of why there aren’t more female chefs running kitchens around the world. The speech was adapted from an essay. You can read it below, as well as in the recently published “Guts” mini-magazine that’s tucked inside the latest issue of Lucky Peach.
Margot Henderson’s “The Passion, the Probe, and the Problem”
When I was a young chef, I liked nothing better than the creative, steamy, competitive, hard atmosphere of the kitchen. The more shifts, the better; the more there was to do, the better; and I still seemed to have so much energy that I could carry on into the night with my kitchen mates and still be fresh for the next morning’s work.
Despite my enthusiasm, for a long time I lacked confidence. I spent many years not taking bigger jobs that called for greater responsibility. Finally, one New Year’s Eve, I said, “Come on, Margot,” and I made it my resolution to push myself into the unknown, into a place I knew I could and should be. Because after all, I was ambitious, and still am.
As soon as I made that resolution, everything fell into place. From that moment on, I have always said, “Yes, you can,” instead of “No, you can’t.” And that first year I went for it, I was given the opportunity to run a kitchen and was made head chef at a new restaurant opening in Notting Hill.
I had no idea what I was doing but I knew that I had to put together a team, and that’s exactly what I did. We all went for it: Peter Gordon, a great force and a calming influence; Catherine Barraclough — she had a gentle touch and her food was always delicious. I read like crazy, a lot of women writers whom I still read and love and cook from: Elizabeth David, Stephanie Alexander, Alice Waters, Mary Sue Milliken. It was inspiring to read about women who were succeeding not only as cookery writers, but as chefs. There were also a few blokes, but I was definitely gravitating to cooks who cooked simply and allowed their ingredients to speak for themselves.
Elizabeth David changed the world of food in Britain, along with Marcella Hazan. They bought European regional food to Britain and introduced aubergines and haricot beans to a land that was eating sliced white bread. I was very inspired by these women, and looked up to them, and they helped me move forward in more ways than I can say.
A few years later and one day there was this gorgeous, generous man sitting opposite me and we knew very quickly we were destined to run a restaurant together. I knew he was wonderful and sensed his brilliance with food instantly, so I suggested we open a restaurant. He said, “I don’t know why we hadn’t thought of it before” — we’d known each other about four days — and so it happened that Fergus and I opened the French House Dining Room.
The quails came in and I, being a cook of the eighties, started boning them out, and of course Fergus said, “No, we will cook them whole.” It was giddy times of love and cooking together. We did battle away over the menu but it was a partnership over the stove.
Then Fergus went off to open St. John and I stayed on at the French and that’s when Fergus and I started having children. Children, as we all know, take your world, your love, and, in my case, they took my food. It took quite a few years once I came away from looking after small children to find my courage again. I am still rebuilding. It’s a little like the Bionic Woman: “We can rebuild her. We can make her better than before. She will cook again!”
But this time it was even harder than the first time, and that got me thinking. I was terrified all the time, and at first my fears just seemed to be the normal ones: Am I good enough? Can I prove myself? Can I cook that dish well enough? Will I fuck it up? Will I be screamed at? Will they like it?
Then I began to realize there is another problem. Women don’t need the same courage as men. They need more. They face an extra difficulty.
I am always interested in why there are not more women running kitchens. Women love to cook! But they aren’t around. They’re missing from our public cuisine. They’re not in charge. They are still the outsiders.
And there’s a reason. This is my theory, and I’m going to risk saying it: there are actually two kinds of cooking. There is a difference between men’s and women’s approaches to food. A really great restaurant is aware of both and finds a way to combine them.
I think it’s ancient. I think it goes right back to the Stone Age. Women produce food; men provide food. In other words, we breast-fed while the men went out and hunted. Both were necessary. We needed both to survive. And both are still in our instincts. Our anatomies decided that.
But today in the big picture, in the food industry and in the restaurant industry, I think the male approach dominates and the female one is overlooked. Food in a lot of kitchens is treated as a problem to be solved, something to dominate, something that has to give up its secrets. Kitchens are turned into laboratories, filled with tools and weapons: vacuum packers, sous vides, probes, and all the other stuff. Sometimes the instinctive part gets lost. It almost makes me weep to be told that to confit a duck leg in plastic underwater is just as good as to confit in duck fat.
The loving, nurturing side of the trade, the instinctive side — and I would say the feminine side — is being forgotten.
Think of the food industry as a whole. We all know terrible things happen out there — battery farming, genetic modification so that we can drench crops in pesticides, and so on and so on. The hunter had to go out and make war on nature. When this approach dominates and obscures the other side — working with nature — it leads to disaster. Anyone in their right mind could tell instinctively that feeding rendered, dead sheep to cows wasn’t a good idea. But oh, no, the money boys and the scientists and the lab rats, they knew best. And in England we had this terrible Mad Cow crisis and people died.
We need to find a place for the gatherer as well as the hunter.
And that is why I want to ask the question again: Where are all the women chefs?
Melanie Arnold and I have been business partners for nineteen years. There are not many female partnerships like ours in our trade. Why not? Is it because we are too scared, we have been kept out? We’re afraid? Do young male chefs not want to listen to us? Or is our approach just out of style?
I can’t help noticing the food that women love: regional, instinctive cooking that is not being celebrated in the Top 50 lists. Where is regional cooking going? It needs to be celebrated. I feel we will lose the old ways—the delicious, simple ways. I worry for all the young men who want to be superstars and have a probe in their pocket and have forgotten what their grannies cooked.
New technology can be great. The male intellectualization of food can be great. But there must be a balance. The kitchen must welcome the gatherers as well as the hunters, and it’s good to be able to acknowledge that some of our most cutting-edge kitchens already do. The foraging movement is part of what I’m talking about, and is one part of the answer as to how.
Now I’ve told you what I don’t like. What do I like? What am I passionate about? What I like is when platters are groaning with unctuous flavors. What I like is when things are sticky and oozing and people are not afraid to gnaw on a bone. What I am passionate about is when food is cooked as a celebration of the uniqueness of the occasion, a coming together of the season and the location. I love to celebrate the moment. That moment when there are piles and piles of food whose beauty is natural and simple and time-honored and just waiting to be savored, and not contrived or distorted through tricks and manipulation. I am happiest when the ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves.
Like it or not, women do tend to cook in a different way from men, and the way we respond to food is often different, too. But the aim, the ultimate purpose, is the same: nourishment, eating, the pleasures of being together.
Video: Michael Twitty on Culinary Injustice at MAD3
The culinary historian Michael Twitty has dedicated his career to celebrating the people whose culinary and agricultural contributions to America have been misappropriated throughout history. In August, Twitty spoke at MAD, imploring the audience to take an honest look at our gastronomic past, so that we might be able to bridge “pseudo-boundaries of race”, as well as restore “the emotional and ethical tone” of the food that we make.
For Twitty, it all starts by acknowledging culinary injustice. At a time when the gastronomy of the American South is in the global limelight, for example, Twitty wants to remind us that there is culinary injustice in the fact that the slaves who made those food ways possible haven’t gotten enough credit. According to him, an even deeper injustice lies in the fact that, to this day, the descendants of those slaves can’t benefit from the seeds and traditions their ancestors brought to the States. “We brought over 20 different crops and animals from Africa,” he says, “but not one young black man in Charleston can lay claim to any of the fields that made the first millionaires in the country.”
But Twitty doesn’t want to waste his time dishing out blame; he’s focused on reconciliation and progress. His goal is for the descendants of African slaves who positively transformed American culture (“From feijoada to gumbo, enslaved people always end up influencing those who enslave them”) to have sovereignty over their traditions. It is a way to a better future for all.
Twitty called on chefs to have the guts to be “advocates of the terroir of memory.” Because for him, it’s not enough for chefs to simply work with a sense of ecological integrity. “They must have a sense of ethnographic and historical respect,” he says.
Watch the full video of his presentation above.
Spread the word
Over the past two weeks, our friends at London’s Clove Club (Daniel Willis, Johnny Smith, chef Isaac McHale) have put together a campaign to get restaurants in their city — and around the globe — to help the Haiyan Typhoon relief efforts.
The way it works is simple: an establishment gives customers the option of adding £1 to their bill for a contribution to the cause, which, if accepted, the restaurant will match. Funds go to the Disasters Emergency Committee, a group that brings the 14 main UK aid agencies together at times of crisis.
So far, the effort has spread throughout London’s best restaurants and is starting to catch on outside the city. The group is organizing several attractive dinner auctions to raise funds, as well.
If you’re interested in learning more, visit Haiyan Aid’s website.
For restaurateurs outside of London who’d like help out or implement similar efforts in their cities, please reach out to Daniel and the gang via Twitter.
Video: Chef Barbara Lynch at MAD3
Barbara Lynch grew up in the housing projects of South Boston. She never met her father. He died just before she was born, and as she was growing up, her mother had to sometimes work as many as three jobs to provide for the six children in the household.
It’s not surprising to see how Barbara, the youngest of the kids, has always considered “I’m not scared” to be her guiding dictum. Growing up, it allowed her to take on any dare, whether it was stealing a city bus or moonlighting as a bookie. She never finished high school.
At MAD3, Lynch explained how that same principle, the one that could have been her undoing, is the reason she now owns eight of the most acclaimed restaurants in Boston. During her talk, she explained how, on her own, she developed a sense of guts that was anchored by humanity, humor, and vision.
Lynch first entered the world of cooking when she was twenty-two, by weaseling her way into a dinner cruise job. She may not have had the necessary skills when she landed the gig, but she made sure to teach herself the essentials by the time she had to step up to the plate. At one point, that meant poring through French cookbooks with a French-to-English dictionary by her side.
Some years later, in 1998, she decided to strike out on her own. But her business partners in the first restaurant didn’t see her as anything more than a chef who needed to stay behind the stoves and keep her mouth shut. They would handle the money, the management, the big decisions. In the same way she taught herself how to cook, Lynch quickly picked up a couple of books and altered this reality. She learned how to be a manager and kicked the initial “collaborators” out of the project.
The result of this unwavering sense of discipline, or “balls,” as she refers to it, is Barbara Lynch Gruppo, a restaurant group that pulls in $24 million a year and prides itself on limited staff turnover. The result is also a driven leader that no longer dreams of being Alain Ducasse or Joël Robuchon.
These days, she’s just as thrilled to be Barbara Lynch.
David Chang, René Redzepi, and Alex Atala, the co-curators of next year’s #MAD4, are on the cover of the latest issue of Time magazine international.
The accompanying article by Howard Chuo-Eoan, about the new camaraderie amongst chefs across the world, is available to subscribers online. There’s also a behind the scenes video chronicling the cover shoot with photographer Martin Schoeller.
The feature article also appears in the U.S. edition.
Our friends at Lucky Peach have just announced their next issue, Chefs & Cooks 2.0, and we’re particularly thrilled that there’s going to be a magazine inside the magazine. And it’s entirely devoted to MAD Symposium.
In the sixty-page mini-mag, you can expect a selection of speeches from MAD3, beautiful portraits from Gabriele Stabile, recipes, and all kinds of other good stuff from Chris, Peter, Rachel, Dave, and the rest of their team.
It hits newsstands November 26. Can’t wait.
By popular demand, Lucky Peach #9 is our second Cooks & Chefs issue—aka Cooks & Chefs 2.0: once more, with feeling.
Francis Lam pays a visit to the lauded but elusive Alex Lee; Peter Meehan talks life (and how it happens to a cook) with legendary pastry chef Claudia Fleming. Daniel Boulud and Michael Anthony school us in the art of omelet-making. Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer Jonathan Gold and funny-as-hell artist Lisa Hanawalt hop on board as new columnists.
And there’s a magazine inside the magazine, like a Russian nesting doll: with content culled from René Redzepi’s annual MAD food conference, which Lucky Peach had the honor of co-curating.
Cooks & Chefs 2.0 hits newsstands November 26th.
Video: Pascal Barbot at MAD3
"Why do we repeatedly put ourselves in danger in the kitchen of my restaurant?" was the question chef Pascal Barbot posed at the beginning of his talk at MAD3. At a time when it seems like most high-end restaurants put a premium on their kitchens’ ability to consistently execute dishes — some of which may have taken months to produce — Barbot strives to keep things spontaneous. The chef of Paris’ three-Michelin-star L’Astrance described how changing recipes on the fly and encouraging a spirit of risk-taking during service are essential to his happiness as a chef, and the success of his restaurant.
At L’Astrance, Barbot communicates with the front of house (run by Christophe Rohat) to get a feel for each table, so that he may adapt the cooking to their preferences. Are these guests on a business lunch? Is it part of a honeymoon? Does one diner want to drink white wine and the other only red? Are they gastronomes ready to put themselves in the hands of the kitchen or do they have specific preferences? These are all the things Barbot takes into account before creating bespoke menus, à la minute, for each person in the dining room. It is, in many ways, the kind of instinctive cooking you can often see from the chef’s countrymen, like Pierre Gagnaire and, of course, Alain Passard, whom Barbot worked under years ago.
Although Barbot’s restaurant only serves 25 clients per service, which makes this approach more manageable, the philosophy still comes with an undeniable level of risk. But Barbot says that it’s actually quite fun and pleasant; it makes his kitchen freer, more in the moment, more intuitive. “It’s about taking all the knowledge and skill that you have,” said Barbot, “and using it to channel your feelings.” Hell, he’ll even force it upon the freshest members of his staff: “Sometimes I’ll take someone who is young, new, and nervous and completely change their mise en place,” he said. “I like to provoke, so that people in the kitchen can react and cross their own boundaries.”
It’s all done with one goal in mind: “We need to please our guests.”
Video: Roland Rittman at MAD3
Today we turn to the MAD presentation of Roland Rittman, the Swedish forager who transformed Restaurant Noma. As René Redzepi explained at the symposium, some years ago, the restaurant had found itself with a depleted pantry in the middle of a merciless winter. Noma’s goal is to cook from the landscape, and it seemed, for the first time, that there was nothing left to draw from.
Then appeared Rittman, looking just like Father Christmas (the staff at the restaurant refers to him as Santa Claus to this day), with a van filled with so many goodies, it seemed like a mirage.
Today, Rittman provides restaurants throughout the region with an array of herbs, mushrooms, berries, and flowers. There’s not a time when Rittman’s van pulls up and isn’t swarmed by a bunch of cooks eager to see what he has in store.
At MAD3, Rittman spoke of his passion for the earth and for “the most ancient of sacraments,” eating. He called for those who love the table to fight for a better food system. He said that “Chefs [especially] have an opportunity to tell stories about food, its origin, history and the environment — don’t miss that chance, because people need it.”
"When guests are paying the bill, ask them to go home and help the planet," he added.
The concluding portion of his presentation explained the title of the speech, “Go Wild!” Rittman quoted Rousseau and explained how important it is for people to reconnect with nature in a world that is becoming more and more urban.
In the final moments of his speech, he kneeled before the audience and delivered the following words:
Our gastronomic, culinary, cultural and revolutionary movement needs a rite of passage, an initiation ceremony, some ritual event that marks a person’s transition from one status to another.
Go to the beach or to the woods or to some part of nature, that you have made your own. Kneel on the ground. Humbly bend your head. Take a bite from a rooted plant. Graze as the animal you are – and contemplate, with universal empathy – our critical impact on this wild symphony of existence.
Thank the Sun for giving us energy, green plants, animals and life! Infuse your identity with The Earth.
You can watch his presentation above and also view the full text of the speech at Rittman’s website.
Alain Ducasse’s 12 Core Values
A few days after the release of Alain Ducasse’s talk at MAD3, the chef’s team in Monaco sent over the booklet that illustrates the 12 Core Values of his restaurant group. These tenets are something Ducasse referred to several times at MAD, most notably when he explained that at least one out of every ten decisions the company makes should be a failure. If not, according to Ducasse, they aren’t taking enough risks.
Holding the book in your hands it becomes clear why Ducasse Entreprise doesn’t really circulate these online: they want their staff to hold them and keep them. Ducasse may have restaurants everywhere from St. Petersburg to Doha, but he wants everyone to be on the same page — and to see this as a bit more than just corporate pablum. He’s even included a notebook in the back of the booklet for employees that want to bring it along to work with them.
It’s not hard to see why Bill Buford would refer to Ducasse as a “fusspot.”
We can’t help you out with a printed version, but here’s a glimpse at the book and a list of the twelve core values:
1. Passion — Just love… and the rest will follow.
2. Pleasure — To delight our guests is our mission each day.
3. Sharing — Every day learn a little more.
4. Harmony — Act in harmony to deliver a flawless ballet.
5. Leadership — Be the first one… Sky is the limit.
6. Rigor — Reach perfection with rigorous practice.
7. Curiosity — Always keep our eyes open to the world around us.
8. Melting (Diversity) — The melting pot of cultures is a treasure.
9. Excellence — Strive for excellence through the slightest detail.
10. Respect — Respect your peers… You’ll never walk alone.
11. Audacity — Do not fear to undertake.
12. Origins — Remember your roots to know where to go.