A partnership between MAD and the Yale Sustainable Food Program, the inaugural 2016 MAD Yale Leadership Summit granted scholarships to chefs from three continents and six countries to envision the food systems of tomorrow. In an intensive week of cross-disciplinary study, chefs Alex Atala, April Bloomfield, David Chang, Jessica Koslow, Kylie Kwong, René Redzepi, Olivier Roellinger, Rosio Sanchez, and Michel Troisgros came together with students and scholars from Yale University in unprecedented dialogue, exploring their own leadership potential inside and outside the kitchen.
The MAD Yale Leadership Summit drew on the university’s rich and varied programming in food studies. The Yale Sustainable Food Program, established in 2001, stewards two teaching farms on campus, and supports a range of curricular and extra-curricular study. The program connects students from across academic disciplines to opportunities for study and practice in food, health, and the environment.
The relationship between MAD and Yale began when Chef René Redzepi visited Yale’s campus in 2011 and met Chester D. Tripp Professor of History Paul Freedman and Yale Sustainable Food Program Director Mark Bomford. Together, the groups worked to put together a program that challenges chefs and other food leaders to take principled action on issues of sustainability, ethics, and justice.
Academics whose work takes food as a pivotal axis spoke at the inaugural Summit: Jim Scott spoke on the shift from hunting and foraging to agriculture; Krishnendu Ray spoke on the ethnic restaurateur and the American city; Maria Trumpler spoke on women, food and culture; and John Wargo spoke on environmental law and health. Leaders in the food world who call out the externalities of remaining within the status quo shared their advice: Danny Meyer’s no-tipping policy paves the way towards living wages for restaurant workers; and Smita Narula’s scholarship and activism surrounding the right to food powerfully questions prevailing strategies for “feeding the world.” And finally, Yale students presented research on topics ranging from food justice and indigenous foodways, to the political economy of gender, and led discussions with the group of chefs.
World-class chefs and Yale University may seem an unlikely juxtaposition at first glance. Yet it is in the discourse between experts in seemingly disparate fields that we can find new solutions to complex and systemic challenges. Ahead of the inaugural Summit, the chefs shared the most pressing questions they have about the food industry and the role they play in driving change. One asked: “How do you build a restaurant that is socially and environmentally responsible and financially viable? When is growing the business the right thing to do?” Another questioned: “What is our responsibility as chefs and as business owners, and to whom?” One posed: “The kitchen is at the intersection of society, public health, environment, and culture. How can we work together to create better and just food for all?” And finally, one put it simply: “How do you know when to ask for help?” Difficult questions like these demand transformative answers found within and outside of the kitchen walls, and in an amalgam of theory and of practice. The inaugural MAD Yale Leadership Summit provided opportunities to begin tackling these important questions at these crossroads.