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I first became aware of the Cook It Raw food competition several years ago when it was featured on the eighth season of Anthony Bourdain’s show, "No Reservations." Seeing the creation of such innovative dishes, made from ingredients that the chefs harvested themselves, was so inspiring that Cook it Raw has been one of the driving factors behind my wanting to be a food journalist. The annual event not only showcases some of the best chefs and international cuisine, but also highlights regional food culture and environmental awareness.
Cook it Raw was first conceived by Alessandro Porcelli, while he was a marketing representative for Noma, the world’s top restaurant. Porcelli partnered with the Danish government to create a cooking competition that, in addition to showcasing talent, would also use minimal energy in food production as a nod to the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. In a 2011 Wall Street Journal article, Porcelli recalls “I had this idea of organizing a food event linked to environmental issues — a sort of mixture of a workshop and a conference.”
It is no small wonder that this competition has its roots in Copenhagen, the birthplace of Scandinavia’s burgeoning food movement. Referred to as the new Nordic cuisine movement, this Scandinavian culinary renaissance started with chefs like Rene Redzepi (head chef at Noma) who, discouraged by the emphasis placed on foreign cooking styles, turned to their homeland for inspiration. The use of local, seasonal and often foraged ingredients is the heart and soul of the new Nordic cuisine. From this school of thought came the Cook it Raw competition, a way for chefs to explore regional cuisines, collaborate with like-minded individuals and highlight the guiding principles of food’s connectivity with nature.
The competition is an exercise in culinary exploration, and boasts some major gastronomic juggernauts. For several days, chefs like as Albert Adria and Momofuku’s David Chang are required to search for ingredients by foraging, harvesting or hunting, in addition to speaking with local experts on the regional culture and cooking techniques. After the exploration phase has ended, the chefs come together to offer their take on the flavors of the location, and collaborate on some truly unique plates. One attendee of 2011’s Cook it Raw, held in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan commented on how Chef Magnus Nilson served him “the forest floor” after being presented with a plate of raw, foraged greens and mushrooms.
2014’s Cook it Raw has been aptly named “Off the Grid and On the Road,” and will consist of a series of week-long excursions in the Mayan region of Central America from April through November. Named after the Jack Kerouac novel, the theory behind the seventh annual competition is to inspire chefs with moving landscape and give them the chance to experience a spectrum of culture that a static location just wouldn’t allow. In an April press release Porcelli stated, “Like Sal Paradise in On The Road, I am motivated by a relentless questioning, a desire to find meaning in a most fundamental way. For me, it is to ask the question — how are we to live?”
Photo by Fotolia/FomaA