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Bauhaus for restaurateurs

By: Reading Time: 2 Minutes

René Redzepi’s already written history. Now he’s moving on to textbooks. Noma revolutionized Scandinavian cuisine by drawing inspiration from a Swedish Army survival handbook; now its owner has his eyes on a very different prize. In 2011, seeking new ways to create real and sustainable change in restaurants across the world, Redzepi founded an organization called MAD. So far, MAD (which happens to be the Danish word for “food”) has held six symposia in Noma’s hometown of Copenhagen. Now Redzepi’s kicking it into overdrive: MAD is planning on starting a new academy for members of the restaurant industry in Copenhagen, with courses like leadership and business, and environment and sustainability.

René Redzepi Mad Symposium

René Redzepi / Image: Ditte Isager

It’s a bright but stormy late-summer afternoon in Copenhagen; the east wind is pushing pedestrians and cyclists from bustling Nyhavn over the Inderhavnsbroen Bridge, to the neighboring island of Christianshavn. The island itself was a lot less busy before the bridge was constructed – most people who ventured out this way had restaurant reservations. Strandgade 93, an old 18th-century dockside warehouse, was once home to the legendary Noma. The impressive building now features restaurant, Barr and the MAD headquarters on the first floor.

René Redzepi launched MAD as a two-day symposium in 2011, when noma was still in this building. That year, Redzepi invited chefs, restaurateurs, servers, and writers to  Copenhagen to discuss the future of food. Recognizing that food is inseparable from some of our most pressing global challenges, MAD—and the symposium’s–attention was the future of the restaurant industry, to make food, and the world, better.

Interdisciplinary thinking

The first MAD Symposium took place in late summer 2011 in a circus tent in the Copenhagen harbor. Around three hundred guests traveled in for the event, including restaurant owners, chefs, producers, academics, and journalists. Everyone who read Redzepi’s “Journal” will remember that a thunderstorm nearly blew away the tent the night before, but the Symposium and its approach turned out to be a huge success.

Mad Symposium Visitors

Image: Jason Idris Alami

After that promising start, the MAD Symposium became an annual event with a growing, interdisciplinary following. The last Symposium in 2018 under the theme “Mind the Gap” counted 600 guests. Presenters at the most recent event included conductor Ture Larsen, who teamed up with a surgeon to demonstrate how non-verbal communication works – a subject equally relevant to commercial kitchen life. Matt Orlando, a Redzepi alumni who now owns and runs restaurant Amass in Copenhagen, shared his zero-waste approach in a workshop held in his restaurant’s garden. And a panel discussion focused on the subject of parenthood – for which the long working hours so common in the restaurant world can pose a significant hurdle.

Mad Symposium Panel

Example of MAD Panel / Image: Jason Idris Alami

A logical next step

Now that the symposia have helped bring restaurateurs, chefs, farmers, manufacturers, and scientists together around one big table, MAD is hoping to expand its sphere of influence even more. Granted, many of  MAD’s talks have been posted online, and they’ve also started MAD Mondays, a smaller, locally organized talk format held more frequently in cities like Copenhagen, New York, London, San Francisco, and Sydney… but Redzepi wouldn’t be Redzepi if he were content to rest on those laurels. MAD’s has started its biggest endeavour yet: 2019 MAD laid the foundation for the MAD Academy, a school that aims to support the hospitality and food industry with tools and knowledge for making positive change. This year, MAD invites anyone and everyone who actively works in hospitality to apply for a spot in one of two different five-day programs taking place in Copenhagen.

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