My Top 5 Moments from Copenhagen’s MAD Symposium

Chef Matthew Britt (front row, left) and other attendees at MAD6 in Copenhagen.

The MAD Symposium (“mad” means food in Danish) attracts top chefs from around the globe, all looking to move the world of food forward. Landing a spot takes effort and isn’t cheap, yet if you can manage to score a ticket, the takeaways are huge. The best way for students to get involved is to sign up as an intern. So save your money and get to Denmark — you might just change the world.

1. The Ambiance
One might think that a global food symposium would require a grand setting — imagine an opulent European hotel with crystal chandeliers and white-gloved servers passing hors d’oeuvres.

But that is not the case with MAD at all. Now in its sixth year, the symposium has retained its simplicity by keeping its iconic red circus tent and using interns, dressed in sweatshirts and boots, to pass trays of ice cream to hungry attendees. The setting somehow combines the feeling of camping in the woods with that of eating in a major city — there is a level of elegance without any pretentiousness. Food is served to 600 people, family style — and one would never question whether the integrity of the food has suffered, even given the makeshift setup of the kitchen.

"Save your money and get to Denmark — you might just change the world."

2. The Message
MAD, often referred to as the G20 of the food world, has consistently highlighted emerging industry trends, ranging from plant-based cuisine to sustainability. This year’s theme, “Mind the Gap,” aimed to address the gender and racial inequalities that have plagued kitchens for years.

A difficult subject to discuss, and there were important and emotional moments from speakers affected by the actions of those now being held accountable and by those advocating on their behalf. Truly a safe space, the conversations included questions and solutions from those attending looking to bring change back home with them.

3. The Speakers
The speakers at this year’s MAD included chefs, academics journalists, artists, athletes and philanthropists, all connected to the world of food.

At the center was Chef René Redzepi of Noma, who surprisingly spoke very little. Redzepi has an ability to surround himself with the brightest minds of the day and let their wisdom elevate the stage.

Kim Severson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter from the New York Times, led a panel addressing the recent cases of big name chefs and restaurateurs who, after years of abusive behavior, are now being held accountable. LGBT activist and former NFL player Wade Davis and chef Lisa Donovan spoke of solutions for those looking to make change.

The symposium included outside-the-box presenters, like Michael Miller, who led a group meditation session — the idea being that, with a little more peace in our lives, the food industry might be less hostile. Composer Ture Larsen’s demonstration on how to lead an orchestra emphasized the parallels to leading a kitchen — and served to illustrate that one doesn’t need to yell to demand respect.

New England-based chef Dan Giusti — formerly the head chef at Noma and the founder of Brigaid, a nonprofit looking to transform the way students eat — spoke of his decision to leave fine dining and pursue a more self-fulfilling purpose of improving school lunch programs in the US. Giusti mentioned how leaving the best restaurant in the world was a no-brainer when considering the millions of children being served unhealthy food because that’s what fits the budget.

4. The Networking
Organizing chefs is like herding cats, and the bigger name the chef, the more difficult it can be. But MAD attracts major players almost effortlessly.

Without intentionally planning for it, you may find yourself sitting next to Magnus Nilsson of Faviken during a keynote presentation. A break-out session led by Chris Ying, formerly of cult food mag Lucky Peach, will be crashed by David Chang, yielding one of the better conversations on food I can ever remember. You may even stumble upon Attica chef Ben Shewry DJ’ing an afterparty under a bridge in downtown Copenhagen. MAD even brings together New Englanders — for example, when you bump into Rhode Island chef Jake Rojas from Tallulah’s Taqueria.

5. The Food
Copenhagen is a serious food city. Don’t stress if you can’t land tables at Relae, Amass or Noma, all considered some of the best restaurants in the world. Just being at MAD will fill your Instagram feed on its own. Lunch by Hija de Sanchez chef Rosio Sanchez proved — as if there was any doubt — that legit Mexican food doesn’t have to come from Mexico. And late-night chicken sandwiches from Australian Chef Morgan McGlone (Belle’s Hot Chicken) will make you question every other sandwich you’ve ever had.

Follow the MAD Feed on Twitter. The next MAD Symposium is planned for 2020.