MAD Academy as an initiative started in 2019 in collaboration between Danish Government and MAD. The goal of gathering young chefs and people related to hospitality industry has been taking a truly holistic approach. Throughout 5 days of intense 8 hours-long meeting, the students (including me) were presented a wide variety of subjects related to sustainability and responsibility for the environment.
A lot of emphasis was laid on the fact, that narrowed perspective and the right vocabulary used for facing particular challenges can make a difference in terms of the intended impact. The part I really enjoyed was the structure of the workshops, considering of a mix of theoretical lectures and practical excercises. 17 participants came from all around the world. Work in groups allowed us to get to know each other and find balance among individual strengths and points of view.
On the first day we were given the most comprehensive introduction towards the subject of hospitality from an economic perspective. The lecture by Ed Romein included the characterization of different actors (stakeholders) within the food scene. The most relevant game-changing socio-economic events (including the Brundtland report, the Earth Summit and the Paris Agreement) were explained and showed from the factor-result perspective. We were introduced to over 50 sustainability-related terms that one should be aware of and acknowledge, when getting into the subject.
The theoretical explanation and the exercise on scenario-making allowed for creating different narratives with multidimentional approach towards particular case study (hospitality industry in 2050). During this day we were also introduced to the case study that we would be working on for next five days – the task of turning a French brasserie restaurant into a more envorimentally-conscious and socio-economically sustainable business. Based on the materials gathered in the “treasure box” (including annual financial reports, building blueprints, food menu and the wine list, actual artifacts such as cutlery, napkins and chefs jackets, customer reviews and many more). This project would be the one letting us enhance the learning process and help in the evaluation of the outcomes of the Academy at the end of the week.
On the same day In the morning we were also provided with delicious lunch from Tigermom restaurant – Cambodian cod in curry with bottomless jasmine rice, smoked sour cream, charred asparagus, crunchy red quinoa and Chinese citrusy ferment.
The day ended with creative exercise, stretching our ability for visual thinking with a use of Lego blocks. Individual creations ended up as a complex construction representing group’s vision of the restaurant from the case study, indicating how the perspective can be altered with a right theoretical background.
During our second day we went on a field trip to a very unique place outside of Copenhagen. We met Jørgen Peder Steffensen, a passionate glacierologist from the Section for Physics of Ice, Climate and Earth of the Niels Bohr Institute. Jørgen has been collecting and studying samples of ice sections (think a long icicle dug out from a glacier) from the most remote site of Greenland for over 20 years. It turns out that ice, similarly to tree trunks, is built of layers that can be analyzed and showcased in a graphical form, strictly related to the events (even the recent geopolitical ones) that took place on our planet in the past thousands of years. Ice age has been presented as a scientific fact and the “climate change” as a consequence of human actions taken into a question. The visit to his sample room (humongous freezer with steady -30C filled with huge styrofoam boxes) and the VR expedition to the research center gave us an empirical impression of how tough but also rewarding his job is.
After returning to the city, we were served taco sets from Hija de Sanchez and some avocado ice-cream for dessert. After that we met with Douglas McMaster – the founder and mastermind behind Silo – the first zero-waste restaurant in the world (situated in London). His presentation filled with great examples and graphs explaining the approach allowed me to have a glimpse of how to open a food venue of this kind. The preventive mindset should be incorporated in place of the reactive one. I was glad to hear that sustainable fermentation (scrap kimchi, waste garums) is a part of the practices at this “punk loophole for everyone” as Douglas likes to call it. Waste is a byproduct of human imagination but only human imagination can paradoxically lead to the reduction of it in a long term. Cradle-to-cradle approach, menu displayed from a projector instead of paper print-outs, cut out middle man in the supply chain and the philosophy of “embracing what used to be broken” are only a few of the example from daily operations of the restaurant. Zero-waste approach is a system with no loose ends.
The rest of the day was dedicated for further brainstorming and research sessions on our case study. Exhausted but happy we were able to push the work forward to later enjoy a glass of wine at La Banchina after the whole day of tough work.
Engaging in their stories is one of the best ways to experience the passion and affection that resonates from certain kind of people. The third day of MAD Academy allowed me to acknowledge this in its purest form. The field trips around the whole Zealand island introduced us to seaweed producers, the concept of foraging and a passionate farmet fighting the effects of globalization from the very bottom level.
First stop of our trip was in a small town of Moseby where DanskTang is situated. This seaweed company is the first of a kind provider of both fresh and dry products in Europe, delivering for some of the finest restaurant in Denmark, exporting also to Germany and Sweden. Claus and Simon Marcussen, the two founders, are harvesting natural resources in the least invasive way possible. Seaweed as a nutritious and very versatile product gains popularity in the hospitality sector, opposite to the industrial trends continuously focusing on the landfills from centuries. Direct trade allows them to tell the whole story of the business and deliver to private customers, health stores and restaurant, while operating on CO2 negative premises. They even harvest eel grass and use it as a feeler in the packaging instead of shredded cardboard.
At the waterfront not far from their facilities (which btw used to be a psychiatric hospital) we listened to a lecture about circular economy presented by Melina Shannon-DiPietro, part of the MAD Academy crew. Lunch was provided by Slurp Ramen from Copenhagen – seaweed beachside broth with fish and crustaceans. Afterwards we were introduced to Mikkel-Lau Mikkelsen – a forager from the capital, a founder of VildMAD – an app serving as a foraging guideline and cookbook for everyone. From his perspective foraging is more than a trend – it’s a philosophy to be regenerated in peoples’ minds (after all gathering plants and herb was the very first practice that allowed humankind to survive on our planet). A short demo of how to read the landscape by understanding its build off more than “seeking particular plants” will be a very useful tool in learning about nature around me and the healthy relationship with it. Replanting, taking just what is needed and being resourceful with what is found are the three main principals of sustainable foraging.
The last part of the field trip took us to a 3000 citizens town called Lejre. We met with Johanne Schimming from Hegnsholt– an ex-economist who moved there 17 years ago with the whole family and for the last 7 years has been building a farming system that is in resistance to the current trends of globalization. With over one thousand free range chickens and 120 open field pigs, she is trying to make a difference by teaching local communities, connecting with metropolitan restaurants and shaking the systemic status quo. In her eyes the transparency of the production, circular practices (nearly 100% of the stock feed being sourced from Copenhagen’s brewers’ spent, old sourdough and other nutritional “waste”) and a human touch are what can lead to a greater good for the customers and the nature itself. Johanne‘s case showed us how healthy attitude fueled by passion and nobel cause can affect the top level of our societies. She was a part of the reason why new legislations regarding reusing egg packaging and the rejection of the mandatory feed testing took place. She is also trying to convince the lawmakers to put eggs out of the fridges and to the shelves, saving a lot of energy and lowering the overall environmental impact.
After returning to our workshop headquarters we had some fresh sourdough baguettes from Lille Bakery with eggs from Johanne’s farm. I was very happy to be offered some of the finest Danish kombuchas and water kefir made by a new addition to our local fermentation scene – a duo from Table Ferments. As in the last days we continued researching local market and working on our case studies for the rest of the afternoon.
Over last days we’ve learned a lot to distinguish what is important and what to focus on in transforming organizations, restaurants and food joints into more sustainable work places. But did you ever consider how the change would be perceived by end users and people working in the company? Or more importantly – how should it be communicated?
Well, luckily Thursday morning was just what we needed to find the answers. We met Kelli Hayes, a global communication manager from Chr. Hansen – the most sustainable company in the world in 2019, specializing in microbial growth and the creation of the most important bacterias responsible for making yoghurt. Kelli run a workshop on the internal and external communication of companies goals. We were introduced to the “opposite test” and the SMART concept and put to work on our own case study analysis. Different rules for both channels resulted in interesiting insights.
Next stop – restaurant Amass, where we had a tasting of waste products developed by R&D chef, Kim Wejendorp. Head chef and owner of Amass – Matt Orlando told us about the importance of the right mindset, emphasized in the practices of every person involved and related to the restaurant. In his eyes, it is crucial to switch from telling the employees to execute “cause I told you so” to explaining the reasons and purpose of taken actions. Considering individual steps, the perception of ones doings as a “life time project” might not be enough for big changes to appear. Lesson taken – not all of the ciruclar project are worth pursuing, some might not reflect financial value for the company, others should be put aside for later to explore. After a great presentation we were served with Amass Fried Chicken for lunch.
Back at the headquarters, Line Gordon was already waiting for us with her presentation “Food for a resilient and sustainable biosphere”. Line, a professor at Stockholm University, is one of the figures responsible for EAT Lancet report. Her presentation, filled with visual explanations and practical examples from Sweden brought me closer to understanding of the importance of healthy diet, balanced waste management and environmentally conscious agricultural practices. We were reminded of the role of finding socially and economically sustainable and resilient pathways in own practices. The uncertainty will always occur – it’s important to learn how to work within planetary boundaries and make choices that are more reasonable for the nature and people living on our planet. According to the presented research studies it should be possible to feed the growing population of the world with a more balanced approach to what seems to be a shaken status quo.
Our last day focused on presenting the outcomes of the case study and some plenar feedback regarding the programme. After the presentations we went to restaurant Møntergade for traditional Danish Smørrebrød and Aquavit Snaps. The rest of the MAD Academy team joined us for lunch. It was great to meet the invisible heroes without whom the project couldn’t exist.
MAD Academy was a great way to introduce environmental perspective to each element of the entire food/supply chain within the hospitality industry. Choices made on a daily basis by large-scale manufacturers and local food venue owners but also the employees and every customer can lead to a long-term change that is so important for next generations to come. I left the workshops very inspired, filled with many ideas and great new contacts. I realized that it is way easier to build a responsible business from scratch than to convert a running machine into a more sustainable one. Academy’s director, Magnus Nilsson, and the rest of the team took great care of building comprehensive syllabus and solving the logistics of the project. Thank you MAD crew for a great week. I am very grateful for the opportunity you gave me and the skills you put in my hands.
For you, who are not sure or still too shy to apply – DO IT! A week with MAD will change your perspective and help you become more skillful hospitality person.