Basque Culinary World Prize 2018 Announces 10 Finalists

The 10 finalists for the Basque Culinary World Prize 2018 were announced today in New York City, with chefs and culinary figures from around the world vying for  €100,000 ($116,000 US). The winner will be announced July 24.

The prestigious prize, launched three years ago, aims to reward "a project or institution that expresses the ethos of the prize: to transform society through gastronomy," according to a release. Nominees this year include Anthony Myint, the San Francisco chef and restaurateur whose restaurant The Perennial aims to prioritize sustainability; Ebru Baybara Demir, a Turkish chef who started a program to train economically vulnerable Turkish and Syrian women for a career in the kitchen; and chefs and culinary activists from Congo, Spain and Peru.

The past two winners of the Basque Culinary World Prize were María Fernanda Di Giacobbe, who won in 2016 for her Cacao de Origen project in Venezuela, and Colombia's Leonor Espinosa, who won in 2017 for her Funleo project, a foundation that promotes "Gastronomy for development."

The ten top finalists for the 2018 Basque Culinary World Prize are Anthony Myint (US); Caleb Zigas (US); Dieuveil Malonga (Congo/Germany); Ebru Baybara Demir (Turkey); Heidi Bjerkan (Norway); Jock Zonfrillo (Australia/Scotland); Karissa Becerra (Peru); Marc Puig-Pey (Spain); Matt Orlando (Denmark, US); and Virgilio Martínez (Peru).

The jury will decide the winner, who will be announced July 24 at a meeting in Modena, Italy, home to one of the judges, Massimo Bottura. Juan Roca of Spain is the chair, and other jurors include a who's who of revered chefs such as Gastón Acurio (Peru), Manu Buffara (Brazil), Mauro Colagreco (France), Dominique Crenn (USA), Yoshihiro Narisawa (Japan) and Enrique Olvera (Mexico).

Here's our Food Republic Today podcast featuring an interview with Enrique Olvera in which he discusses the Basque Culinary World Prize and why he's committed to it. Scroll further for descriptions of each of the 10 nominees, provided by the Basque Culinary World Prize.

Anthony Myint. USA 

Based on a scientific and innovative approach, Anthony Myint demonstrates that restaurants can provide an example in the fight against climate change. A key figure in San Francisco's gastronomic scene through Mission Chinese Food, he is co-founder of ZeroFoodprint, a non-profit organisation that advises food businesses on how to minimise – and even eliminate – their carbon footprint.

ZeroFoodprint assesses all the restaurant operations that generate greenhouse gases, including the type of ingredients used, their transport and handling, the use of energy and waste management.  Based on this diagnosis, it proposes a plan with alternatives to improve their efficiency without economic losses. Teaching by example, in 2016 Myint opened The Perennial, a restaurant designed from the ground-up to avoid a negative environmental impact. In 2018, 178 restaurants around the world committed to this movement by offsetting their emissions on Earth Day. Anthony Myint was also a finalist in the Basque Culinary World Prize 2017.

(Environment – Sustainability – Research)

Caleb Zigas. USA

Zigas is the executive director of La Cocina, a social incubator that for more than a decade has allowed the transformation of people with low-incomes – mostly immigrant and African-American women – into owners of their own business in San Francisco. With a five-year training and follow-up programme, La Cocina has helped establish 30 micro-businesses and provided support for around 90. His work promotes a more inclusive industry in a country where only 33% of restaurant owners and 21% of head chefs are women, and where immigration has become a more sensitive and  divisive issue. A pastry chef by profession and graduate in Globalisation and Culture from the University of Michigan, Zigas learnt about microfinance by collaborating with ProMujer, a Bolivian social enterprise that empowers women and their families in Latin America.

(Entrepreneurship – Training – Migration – Gender)

Dieuveil Malonga. Congo/Germany

Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and raised in Germany from the age of 13, this young chef took advantage of the fame he achieved through participating in Top Chef (France) to showcase and support African gastronomic talent. With his Chefs in Africa platform, founded in 2016, Malonga advises chefs and apprentices and puts them in contact with companies, academies, hotels and restaurants that might recruit them or offer grants. Its objective is to offer an opportunity to all young people with a vocation for cooking, so that they can overcome the barriers they currently face, such as lack of training, employment and discrimination. More than 4,000 chefs from African countries or in the diaspora have joined this network. Institutions such as the World Tourism Organisation and UNESCO support its work.

(Activism – Professional development – Social inclusion – Fight against discrimination)

Ebru Baybara Demir. Turkey

In Turkey, the country that has taken in more Syrian refugees than any other (more than 3.5 million people), this indefatigable chef uses gastronomy as a tool for integration. Through her initiatives, Baybara Demir empowers women of both countries and dismantles prejudices, enhancing the richness of the cultural exchange. Her latest project is being carried out in the border province of Mardin, where she aims to revitalise the battered agricultural system to create a base to combat the high female unemployment and protect traditional farming techniques. Until last year she was one of the principle educators in the "Harran Gastronomy Project", a UNHCR project in which 160 people, mainly Syrian and Turkish women, were trained and 108 were hired to cook in the refugee camps. Ebru Baybara Demir was also a finalist in the Basque Culinary World Prize 2017.

(Migration – Gender – Social inclusion – Agriculture)

Heidi Bjerkan. Norway

An important figure in the Norwegian culinary scene, this chef defends a restaurant model that is in harmony with its surroundings. Her restaurant, Credo, operates in a circular system with the farmers in the Trondheim area. From them she receives organic food, the waste from which is then converted into fertiliser for the same fields. In 2017, this former chef of the Norwegian royal family launched Vippa, a social accelerator which provides training and work opportunities for refugees and immigrants. Bjerkan converted an old fish warehouse in the port of Oslo into a bustling street food market.  Vippa participants cook and serve their dishes from stalls to mainly young people that comes to enjoy an experience of multicultural diversity.

(Sustainability – Entrepreneurship – Professional integration – Migration)

Jock Zonfrillo. Australia/Scotland

This Scottish chef is preserving memories of food that is fading away: that of the native peoples of Australia. He has dedicated the last 17 years to discovering and defending this ancient culture, which is largely excluded from the national culinary identity.

During this time, he has visited hundreds of remote communities and captured the gastronomic riches that their inhabitants have shared with him.  He has included these riches on the menu of his prestigious Orana restaurant and presented them on his television programmes. In 2016 Zonfrillo launched the Orana Foundation, practicing the philosophy of  "giving back more than you receive". His objectives range from supporting indigenous communities in the production and fair marketing of their products to the documentation of more than 10,000 native ingredients and the investigation of new uses.

(Research – Biodiversity – Tradition – Economic development)

Karissa Becerra. Peru

Karissa Becerra is a chef, writer and designer but, above all, she is an activist who seeks to transform the relationship we build with food from childhood. Trained in philosophy and anthropology, Becerra teaches children and adults to think while they eat. Her most ambitious project is La Revolución, a non-profit association with a catalogue of creative activities aimed at finding out about what we eat and also at generating an emotional connection between people and food. With the funds raised by these workshops – in which thousands of children, parents and educators have participated – Becerra is taking food education to low-income schools and pressing for its inclusion in the curriculum of Peruvian public education.

(Activism – Food education – Sustainability)

Marc Puig-Pey. Spain

A member of the revolutionary kitchen team of elBulli for almost two decades, Puig-Pey decided one day to put his creativity at the service of science and health. Responsible for the Cooking Area of the Fundació Alícia in Barcelona, the chef studies and creates food solutions so that children and adults with dietary restrictions can eat food that is as healthy and as tasty as possible. His leadership has been fundamental to the success of projects that have improved the daily lives of sick people. He has designed recipes for patients who can only eat modified textures and has been involved in the production of educational video games and also, more recently, in proposing culinary preparations for people undergoing treatment for different types of cancer. These guides are free and available to the entire population online.

(Health – Innovation – Research)

Matt Orlando. Denmark/USA

Matt Orlando is one of the most influential chefs in the fight against food waste. For Orlando, everything that a product offers has potential and it is the job of the cook (not the ingredient) to reveal this. In his restaurant Amass in Copenhagen, this American promotes an environment of healthy competition among his team to find new solutions and techniques, combining research and the tools of haute cuisine. Amass uses exclusively organic products and has managed to reduce its waste by 75% in the last three years. Former right-hand man of Rene Redzepi, Orlando turns his restaurant into an educational resource, with workshops for urban children to learn how to grow, cook and eat vegetables.

(Innovation – Food waste – New restaurant models – Education)

Virgilio Martínez. Peru

The work of Virgilio Martínez links innovation, research and development with ecosystems and ancestral knowledge as a common theme. Together with his sister Malena, the chef of the renowned Central Restaurante, he leads an interdisciplinary team at the Mater Iniciativa biological and social research center. It is building a documentation, exchange and experimentation platform from which it can promote a particular vision of issues such as biodiversity (both environmental and social).

With MIL, a new restaurant at an altitude of over 3,500 metres facing the Inca ruins of Moray, he consolidates an inspiring model of catering and interaction with indigenous communities, promoting sustainable agricultural practices, knowledge exchange and the multicultural dialogues. In addition, Virgilio is committed to strengthening ties among Latin American countries, promoting opportunities for the new talent to meet.

(Research – Innovation – Biodiversity – Tradition)