A seminar held within the framework of the Ñam Santiago festival brought to the UC Innovation Centre new trends in culinary businesses, food research and social responsibility in the area of culture and economy as the driving force for change in communities.
An invitation to discover the key ingredient to the cuisine of the 21st century was made by the UC Anacleto Angelini Innovation Centre and the Basque Culinary Center
, in the framework of the fÑam Santiago Festival
. It was "Culinary Action"!, which on Friday 17th April presented in the Centre's Auditorium six innovation experiences that are enabling the development of gastronomy in Latin America and Europe.
For the Executive Chairman of the UC Innovation Centre, Alfonso Gómez
, gastronomy is closely linked to innovation, as it combines the atavistic act of eating with the new developments that are discovered on a daily basis from the scientific and cultural perspective: "Science and technology are an important source of innovation, but we have explicitly postulated that it does not come only from there, but rather, we look at design and business models as two major sources of the possibility to innovate, and these are three extremely important sources for gastronomy".
In the same sense, the Director of Masters and Courses of the Basque Culinary Center of Spain, Idoia Calleja
, emphasised that the aim of this institution, based in the Basque Country, is training and research, innovation and transfer of knowledge and technology in different areas of gastronomy, creating value through the work of those who attend its classes.
Social Innovation: driving force for change
The programme firstly considered learning about two experiences of social innovation that are serving as agents to integrate small local communities with the world and each other.
is director of the Melting Pot Foundation
in Bolivia, a project by the Dane Claus Meyer who works on social development initiatives through gastronomy: Gustu (gourmet restaurant and culinary school), Manq`a (food schools in the city of El Alto) and Suma Phayata (training for food sellers of La Paz). Each of these ventures places the corporate responsibility on the business centre "as a way to end the inequality generated by the commercial system", according to Cestari. This way, through the food business, Melting Pot seeks to activate other areas of society and thus work with local communities through policies that promote not only education of young people in places like El Alto, but also eco-environmental responsibility by working exclusively with local producers who they also bring to the market, thanks to a connections with various international institutions.
In Colombia, meanwhile, Juan Manuel Barrientos
is chef of the restaurant El Cielo
, considered one of the 50 best restaurants in Latin America, but which has not only excelled for its cuisine, but also for the creation of the El Cielo Para Todos Foundation
. This body, which at first trained people with hearing disabilities for integration into working life, began to deal with one of the effects of 60 years of armed conflict in Colombia, by creating jobs for soldiers wounded at war and former guerrillas of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army): "The civil population is at the centre. If we manage to get an ex-soldier and a former guerrilla to forgive each other, we leave no argument for the civil population (to continue the conflict)", said Barrientos who organises the so-called workshops for forgiveness, in which he is gradually integrating direct parties to the conflict in the same work and social space. “In El Cielo we are cooking Colombia's peace", concluded the Chef, who has already opened branches of his restaurant in Miami, Medellin and Bogota.
New business models
Passion for risk taking and doing things differently, are two common characteristics of Kurt Schmidt, partner of 99 Restaurante, and Pedro Chávez, president of the Association of Food Trucks of Chile, who spoke about innovation in the business model behind their respective ventures.
At 99 Restaurante
, Schmidt and his partners are characterised for not having a fixed menu of dishes, but for surprising every day those who visit the premises located in Providencia with two menu choices that change daily. The achievement? In nearly a year of operation, they have never repeated any of the main dishes, starters or desserts they offer: “Today being a chef is not only about cooking but also about transmitting. On setting up '99', I wanted to do something different, something that filled my heart. It bears a responsibility, something we want to communicate and which starts as an innovation: informality within a protocol, he pointed out. In this work, which has led them to be certified as a B Company, a key factor has been to incorporate chefs from outside the restaurant and apply permaculture (working with and not against nature) thanks to suppliers like the Ecoprimitiva cooperative, which rescues original Chilean seeds, and the Chefcito project, involving setting up vegetable gardens in schools where they also give nutrition and cooking classes to students and their families.
The history of Pedro Chávez, who lived in the United States for 35 years and returned to Chile with the idea of implementing food trucks as a formal business model, is that of someone who aims to renew the market with a proven formula but who was viewed with suspicion by the national authorities. Therefore, Chávez decided to form the first trade union association on the matter
, understanding that the possibilities of changing the regulations to develop his businesses, were greater the more agents of change he grouped together. In this way, he managed to set up a workbench with the Ministry of Health to update the regulations that prevented its formal operation and generate Standard 74C for mobile kitchen trucks, and he is currently working with the country's municipalities to channel the roaming of this type of establishment and thus allow this gastronomy to travel to different places: "Of the thousand miles that we needed to travel, we have already covered 900. What we want is to form a serious, professional concept; not to be just the cart, but to be big, for everyone to last forever", he said during his speech in the Auditorium of the Innovation Centre.
Science for sustainable communities
, researcher at the Faculty of Agronomy of the Catholic University, closed the day by discussing his experience with the world of gastronomy through research into one of the oldest ingredients in Latin American cuisine: quinoa.
Present from the centre of Colombia to the region of La Araucanía in Chile, this plant has a number of benefits ranging from the ability to grow in desert areas with high temperature variation and saline soils, it can even be watered with seawater, to nutritional properties like having all eight essential amino acids, preventing the spreading of tumour cells and stimulating the production of breast milk.
Fuentes noted that one of the main challenges regarding this grain is that before reaching the market, the product must pass through stages that did not guarantee food safety or standard production in the light of the challenge to do so on a larger scale. Therefore, the researcher at UC, besides working to verify the nutraceutical potential of quinoa as a replacement for other cereals for bread production, developed a genetic improvement plan which, in just under four years, has enabled them to standardise and increase performance of the crops in Colchane, Tarapacá Region, giving the local communities the rights to the genetically improved varieties. This way, it has contributed not only to the scientific development but also to the livelihood of a small town in northern Chile.
Conclusions: Persistence as a driving force of innovation
The activity ended with a panel moderated by the director of Ñam Festival, Rafael Rincon, in which speakers answered questions from the audience and gave their views on the role of innovation in the development of their activity and how each of their experiences can be complementary.
In this sense, persistence appears as a common factor among the speakers, who agreed that, besides a good degree of stubbornness and a capacity to dream, failure and starting again are good lessons to obtain big changes for humanity.