Please welcome Gabriel Ulla, the latest addition to the MAD team. he joins us from New York City, where he most recently served as Features Editor at EATER NYC. He will be joining the MAD team just in time for our third Symposium as Editor of our own MADFEED.
MAD: Tell us a little bit about where you come from.
GU: I was born and raised in New York City. I grew up uptown and went to a school on 62nd Street for thirteen years. My graduating class was made up of fourteen kids. For college, I stayed in New York, since I wanted to finally see what downtown was like and figure out if I could handle becoming an adult at a huge school, smack in the middle of the big city. It ended up being a completely different world. Pretty challenging and wonderful.
I always thought I’d end up either in academia or the arts as a career, since my parents are creatives, and film and music were always a major part of my upbringing. I studied romance languages and film production at NYU, I spent time at an artist management company, I worked as one of Wynton Marsalis’ assistants for over a year— everything pointed to me being involved with those worlds in some way.
MAD: Then how did you get into food?
GU: There wasn’t a single poetic revelation. Instead, it’s been a gradual accumulation of good experiences and opportunities that have made it clear this is what I want to be doing. From growing up: I remember vividly the meals my Cuban grandmother would make me when I would spend time with her in Miami. I was a pudgy little kid, and those dinners were the highlights of my summers. Despite how annoying it can sometimes be to accommodate different agendas, I’ve always taken pride in being the guy who manages to get everyone together to share a meal. It sounds extremely cheesy, but I’ve found no better way to connect with people than that. I’m addicted to it.
But the food thing really kicked into gear towards the end of college. I had interned at Eater New York for a bit during my sophomore year, and while I was living in Madrid, the owner of the company, Lockhart Steele, randomly sent me an e-mail asking if I’d like to take over his travel website while living abroad. It ended up being perfect, since it gave me the opportunity to write about guys like Iñaki and Andoni while I was also eating their food. I realized more and more that just as with auteurs in cinema or some of my favorite bands, there were chefs all over the world trying to express themselves in their kitchens in really interesting ways.
I began to see that there were events like MAD and Gastronomika, where chefs would come together to share their ideas, get to know each other, and advance their craft. There’s a good number of people who say that this trend is silly and that chefs should just put their heads down and cook — that aspiring to be artistic or engaging in “greater” debates boils down to navel-gazing and self promotion. That might be true in some cases, but I think there’s actually overwhelming evidence to suggest we’re at a time when food might be the most exciting form out there. It’s funny: rock stars and artists are beginning to admire chefs, and not the other way around (food will never, ever be the new rock, though).
I decided I would like to play a role, no matter how insignificant, in pushing those debates forward and seeing where it could lead. When I was fresh out of college, Steele took a huge risk and offered me the job of Features Editor at Eater National — I hadn’t done any work like it before — and I got to talk to chefs around the world and write about test kitchens, conferences, and people that were doing really interesting stuff. I met Enrique Olvera, my brother, and helped him put together the first two Mesamérica conferences. Now, I’m here.
MAD: What do you hope to bring to MADFEED?
GU: MAD Symposium is a very special event, but only a few hundred people are able to make it out to Copenhagen each year. Plus, it only goes for two days. With MADFEED, we hope to extend the conversation throughout the year and reach more people.
I’m excited to see what happens with the site once we all get together in Copenhagen later this month and start to really bounce ideas around and argue with each other. Ultimately, though, I think the goal is to make it a place where we, our friends, and people we admire can share ideas and arguments without worrying about being safe or adapting their work to reach a particular audience. They should be themselves and not hold back, even if they risk sounding silly sometimes. As is the case with the symposium, the Feed should be a place where contributors really think and stick their necks out. A year from now, I’d like for someone — be it a chef, a farmer, a journalist, or a person who simply likes eating — to be able to scroll through the site, learn something and get a vivid idea of where food is today and where it might be going in the future.
So, we’ll have interviews, we’ll have long essays, we’ll have profiles of people we think you should know about, and we’ll have updates from us and from kitchens around the world. We’ll also be pointing people in the direction of stories and issues we think are important, and you can count on some whacky, silly items to appear on the blog, as well.
I should point out that the content will not be limited to those auteurs I mentioned or to haute cuisine. We’re just as eager to write about the BYOB place in Chinatown with free Sprite and Coca-Cola on the table. The point is, our goal is to celebrate deliciousness and the magical and sometimes absolutely fucking crazy things that can happen when people sit down at a table together.
Gabe will be blogging and updating you throughout MAD3 in Copenhagen, August 25 and 26, 2013. See the full line-up for this year’s symposium on the MAD website.