Paola Antonelli is the Senior Curator of Architecture & Design at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, where she is also Director of Research and Development. One of the 100 most powerful people in the art world, she is interested in how design interacts with and influences all aspects of life.

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For MAD4, we published a book of essays titled the MAD Dispatches. These fifteen texts were designed to complement the live talks of the symposium and explore the What is Cooking? theme from as many angles as possible. In the essays, which we’ll be publishing from today, you’ll find discussions concerning the past and future of cooking; how progress happens in the kitchen, and whether it ought to; the ideas and people worth carrying forward into memory; and how cooks, purveyors, and writers stand to influence how we’ll feed ourselves in the decades to come. We hope that the writings will make readers want to dig deeper into the question of why standing behind a stove, or sitting around a table with friends and family, is important to them.
We’re kicking things off at the beginning: the first essay of the book, which explores how harnessing fire and cooking was crucial to mankind’s evolution. It’s by Stefano Mancuso, a former MAD speaker and founder of the study of plant neurobiology. His work investigates how plants are complex ecological structures and communities that can gather, process, and share important information. He is a professor at the University of Florence, Italy, and a co-founder of the LINV (the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology).
[[MORE]]Sad was the life of man before cooking. For 98% of the 3,200,000 years that separate us from Lucy, our little—she was 1.2 meters tall—Australopithecus ancestor, man survived without being able to control fire. Sometimes, as a blessing, a thunderbolt would fall from the sky and flames would appear as by magic, darting through the grass of the savannah. In rarer, luckier situations, lightning would hit a tree, securing hours or even days of light, heat, and protection from wild animals. With the exception of these natural fires, man managed for millions of years without the most powerful weapon in the struggle for life: fire.
No one knows the precise moment this extraordinary technological advancement took place. The indications are conflicting. For some authors, man started using fire around one million years ago, but the evidence is not conclusive. We do know that the first remains of hearths appeared around 350,000 years ago at sites in what are now France, Hungary, and China, although they seem related to the use of natural fires. People were capable of finding fire, but not producing it autonomously. For this massive leap, we need to look 50,000 years in the past, when, almost simultaneously in a number of sites in Africa and the Middle East, we can see unmistakable signs of the ability to use fire.
At the site of Jabrud, in Syria, for example, where layers upon layers of human deposits have been continuously stacked since the first Paleolithic Age, there is no trace of fire for hundreds of thousands of years. Then, suddenly, at the fateful “Level 14” (approximately 40,000 years ago), fire materializes so powerfully that all remnants of artifacts found from that level on are distorted by heat. It is an epochal change with vast consequences: the Neanderthal man, not in possession of this technology, was quickly swept away from the history of human evolution.
With fire, people can keep warm, defend themselves more effectively, build new tools, and forge metal. But perhaps the most important point is that fire allows people to cook their food and greatly expand the number and type of nutrients, especially of plant origin, with which they feed themselves.
Why was applying fire to plants so crucial? Don’t experts often say that raw foods, especially plants, are healthier, richer in nutrients, and even tastier? In order to familiarize ourselves with this complex subject, we should step back and talk a bit about how plants work. as we tend to grossly underestimate them; plants are far more complex than what most of us perceive. In many languages, “vegetating” refers to a total lack of sensitivity or calculation capacity. This is completely wrong. Plants are sophisticated beings with characteristics and behaviors that are sometimes significantly more refined than those of animals.
Take the issue of sensitivity. How many of us would guess that a plant is capable of sensing its surroundings in an extremely accurate way? Very few, I’d say. The reality is that plants are far more sensitive than other creatures. When an unexpected noise, a sudden rise in temperature, or an approaching predator comes into the equation, an animal always has the formidable weapon of escape at its disposal. This is such an important response that it doesn’t even need to be activated by the brain. It happens automatically when the potential danger arises. 
But plants, as everyone knows, cannot move. Well, it would be more correct to say that they cannot shift from the place where they were born, since they actually do move a great deal. Let’s not dwell on these nuances and move along: if a plant can’t run away, how can it survive the constant changes that occur in its environment? How, frankly, have plants escaped extinction, given that they can’t move away when it gets cold, find shade when the sun is at its worst, or run off when a herbivore wants to eat them? How is it that there are so many still in good health? Despite our continuous attempts on their lives, the amount of plant life on Earth is astounding. Plants account for 99.5% of the biomass on our planet. 
Plants may not be able to flee, but they are able to anticipate changes in the environment superbly. Plants can adapt to these shifts anatomically and physiologically. They also have remarkable defense capabilities. There are the obvious mechanical defenses, like sharp spines, thick trichomes, and robust barks, as well as the refined strategies that require alliances with other animals. This is the case with many species that have relationships with ants. The plants provide the ants with food (small fruiting bodies specifically designed to meet all the dietary needs of the ants), housing (huge hollow thorns in which the ants can multiply and thrive), and drink (the so-called extra-floral nectar, rich in sugars and other substances), in exchange for effective defenses from any predator—even a giraffe or elephant—that dares to approach the plant.

Stefano Mancuso: “The Unexpected Plant – Beyond the Animal Model” from MAD on Vimeo.
The defense that most interests us this weekend, as we discuss cooking, is the potential plants have to produce toxic chemicals for protection. These commonly are secondary metabolites, chemical compounds that the plant purposely produces to repel or deter animals. There’s something for everyone: irritants like saponins that produce foam and are present in about one hundred families of plants; the hemaglutinins that annihilate red blood cells; irritating oils based on cyanogenic compounds produced by the cabbage family or cassava or the cocktail, present in the hairs of the nettle, that is made with acetylcholine, histamine, moroidin, leukotrienes, and formic acid; enzyme inhibitors such as the protease inhibitor present in a number of species; and the remarkable substances in legumes that induce favism and the cholinesterase inhibitors produced by the plants from the tomato family.
Some families of plants are particularly expert in the fabrication of toxic substances. This is the case of the Ranunculacaee family, where it is virtually impossible to find a single species unable to produce poisonous toxins to animals. Among these is aconite, generated by several species of Ranuncolacee and lethal in infinitesimal doses (one milligram can be enough to kill a man). Even species much closer to our food culture, like the Solanaceae, are rich in lethal alkaloids. Thus the deadly nightshade (Atropa bella-donna) produces large quantities of atropine, scopolamine, and nicotine, while the henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) creates a highly toxic alkaloid as the hiyosciamine; even the leaves of the common potato are highly poisonous. Also in seemingly inoffensive families, like the Liliacaee, whose members include onion (Allium cepa), garlic (Allium sativum), leek (Allium ampeloprasum), and chives (Allium schoenoprasum), we can find many poisonous species. The gentle lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) is extremely toxic, containing saponin and a steroid called convallarin with toxic effects similar to that of digitalin. The same is true for the tubers of tulip (Tulipa) and hyacinth (Hyacinthus).
Toxicity is an intrinsic part of the plant world and it is generally not possible to know at a glance whether a species contains a toxic substance. Throughout the course of evolution, animals have of course developed countermeasures to defend themselves against these substances. The cabbage butterfly is able to metabolize the toxic compounds in cabbage. 
But man? To navigate this treacherous terrain, man developed cuisine. With a cultural trait, not an evolutionary process, man managed to overcome myriad restrictions to its diet. Through cooking, many enzyme inhibitors, often proteins or polypeptides, are denatured by heat and rendered completely inert. Many toxic substances are oxidized by heat in non-hazardous substances, or are diluted in water when boiling; solubilized; and safely discarded. 
The moment when humans learned to produce and dominate fire—to cook—was an authentic revolution. Yes, with fire we improved our means of defending ourselves, staying active in darkness, and creating tools. But these are not the most important advances that came with Level 14. The most essential one was cuisine. With cooking, mankind won the most vital of wars, the one for food. With fire and cooking, man was ready for agriculture and the birth of civilization.
 
 

 

For MAD4, we published a book of essays titled the MAD Dispatches. These fifteen texts were designed to complement the live talks of the symposium and explore the What is Cooking? theme from as many angles as possible. In the essays, which we’ll be publishing from today, you’ll find discussions concerning the past and future of cooking; how progress happens in the kitchen, and whether it ought to; the ideas and people worth carrying forward into memory; and how cooks, purveyors, and writers stand to influence how we’ll feed ourselves in the decades to come. We hope that the writings will make readers want to dig deeper into the question of why standing behind a stove, or sitting around a table with friends and family, is important to them.

We’re kicking things off at the beginning: the first essay of the book, which explores how harnessing fire and cooking was crucial to mankind’s evolution. It’s by Stefano Mancuso, a former MAD speaker and founder of the study of plant neurobiology. His work investigates how plants are complex ecological structures and communities that can gather, process, and share important information. He is a professor at the University of Florence, Italy, and a co-founder of the LINV (the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology).

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Julian Baggini is a UK-based writer and philosopher. He is the Founding Editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine and has contributed to several publications, including the Guardian. His most recent book is The Virtues of the Table: How to Eat and Think.

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Olivier Roellinger is a Breton chef who opened the restaurant Maisons de Bricourt in 1982. He became known for a style of cooking heavily influenced by the spice trade, drawing from cultures around the world, which earned him three Michelin stars. He gave the stars back in 2008, after coming to the conclusion that he was physically unable to cook anymore. 

At MAD4, Roellinger explained his life—growing up by the ocean, how a Clockwork-Orange-style beating put him in a coma and made him realize he wanted to be a chef, and how he eventually became enamored by spices and travel. He took the audience on a journey, not only explaining the philosophy behind his cooking but also outlining what he sees as the duties of today’s chefs. According to Roellinger, these include everything from breaking up the monotony of haute cuisine to being stewards of the environment. You can watch his impassioned speech in the video above. There’s also a complete transcript below:

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To continue the video releases from MAD4, we present Paul Freedman’s “Celebrity Chefs, Past and Present.” Freedman has been a professor of history at Yale University since 1997, where one of his areas of focus is the history of cuisine. In 2007, he edited Food: The History of Taste, an illustrated collection of essays about food from prehistoric to contemporary times.

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Last sunday, chefs Christian Puglisi (Relae and Manfreds, Copenhagen), Niklas Ekstedt (Ekstedt, Stockholm), Isaac McHale (The Clove Club, London), and Gabriela Cámara (Contramar, Mexico City) took part in a MAD discussion at the annual Food Festival in Aarhus, Denmark. The discussion was moderated by British journalist Joe Warwick. We now have audio of the entire conversation, which you can now listen to here: 

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The first video we’re releasing from this year’s Symposium is the segment that opened the event: a demonstration of soba-making from Tatsuru Rai, the chef and owner of Hokkaido’s Rakuichi Soba. Tatsuru operates the 12-seat restaurant, considered one of the world’s greatest soba houses, with his wife Midori. He mixes, kneads, and cuts all of the buckwheat to order. 

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After 5 hours inside a tent listening to a dizzying array of talks, it’s a special thing to walk outside during the first break of the day and get assaulted with deliciousness. That’s exactly what happened over the two days of MAD, when three forces from Brazil cooked lunch on day one, and former MAD speaker Roy Choi prepared a feast for day two. 

Some background: on day one, we had Rodrigo Oliveira, whose everyday eatery outside of Sao Paulo, Mocotó, is anything but ordinary; Thiago Castanho, of the restaurant Remanso do Bosque in Belem; and David Hertz. Joining them were members of Gastromotiva, an organization founded by Hertz that offers disadvantaged youth in Brazil free courses in the craft and business of cooking. 

For those who may be unfamiliar, Choi is the rising star chef from Los Angeles who first gained notoriety by serving Korean-inspired tacos from a truck all over his city. Last year, he gave one of the most impactful talks of MAD3, and this year, he returned to cook lunch and announce a new fast food project with Daniel Patterson that aims to bring nutritious, thoughtful, and delicious food to those who normally don’t have access to it.

Here are some scenes from both of the meals, including the menus: 

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Yesterday we thanked the speakers, attendees, and volunteers of MAD4, and today we want to shift our focus to those involved in the coffee and beer programs for the symposium. The beverage offerings have become such an important part of the event over these last few years. It’s the result of painstaking work from some of the brightest people in this industry. 

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In the lead-up to MAD4, we chose not to reveal the names of those who would take the stage during the symposium. It was our hope that this would allow guests to enter the tent with an open mind, ready for a surprise and focused on the theme, “What Is Cooking?” 

MAD4 has now come and gone, and very soon, we will start posting all the content from the symposium, including the essays from the MAD Dispatches book we published for the event. Before that, though, we want to formally give the speakers who traveled from far and wide their due. Below is the full lineup of the event, including biographical information. We thank the speakers from the bottom of our hearts for joining us this year.

We would also like to express our gratitude to all of the volunteers and cooks involved in the production, and, of course, to the attendees. The fact that so many people take time out of their schedules and spend money to travel to Copenhagen every year is never lost on us. Without it, there simply can be no MAD.

Please keep your eyes on this space, as well as our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages, in the coming weeks. There’s a lot of content coming your way. 

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Just a few moments ago, Daniel Patterson and Roy Choi took to the stage at MAD4 and announced that they will be launching loco’l, a concept that aims to supplant the fast-food chains and convenience stores that separate our youth from the taste of real food. The first branch will launch on the west coast in the spring of 2015. Here’s Patterson on a few details. Stay tuned for more news on this collaboration and its efforts:

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Two weeks after our annual symposium, we’ll be hosting a discussion at the Food Festival in Århus, Denmark. The topic: “Originality and Idea Theft in the Kitchen.”

Entry is free, as long as you have a ticket to the festival, but you must register on our site, madfeed.co, on this coming Monday 18 August at noon CEST to secure a place. To buy a ticket to the Food Festival, please visit the official site. Three-day passes are 150 DKK, while single day entry is 75 DKK.

Below you’ll find a description of the topic, as well as information on the panelists.

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We continue to look forward to MAD4 by looking back at notable speeches from years past. Time for a classic: Ben Shewry’s “Cycle of Love.”

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"I’ve never been good at anything so, naturally, I ended up being good at advertising," said the author and ad exec Knud Romer at the beginning of his speech at last year’s MAD. The relentlessly self-deprecating Romer, who insists he knows nothing about food and most recently moderated a MAD Monday on the future of food criticism, presented a largely autobiographical talk at MAD3 about the guts it takes to be honest.

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In the weeks leading up to MAD4, we’ll be sharing videos from the last three symposiums to refresh people’s memory and get them in the mood for what’s to come in August. Today, we unearth three very different presentations from MAD3: the talks of author Jon Reiner, glaciologist Jason Box, and Aboriginal forager Josh Whiteland.

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