West African chef Fatmata Binta wins Basque Culinary World Prize 2022

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Fatmata Binta
Fatmata Binta

West African chef Fatmata Binta has won the Basque Culinary World Prize 2022 for showcasing sustainable nomadic culinary culture and exploring the diaspora of West African cuisine through her innovative “Dine on a Mat” pop-up initiative.

Originally from Sierra Leone, Fatmata Binta, known as Chef Binta, has become a benchmark in Fulani, nomadic and modern cuisine. Heir to the traditions of the largest nomadic tribe in Africa (with more than 20 million people moving tirelessly through vast territories), she strives to spread the essence of this culture with her so-called “Dine on a Mat” initiative, a nomadic restaurant which has offered across three continents an immersive experience in the ways of eating and interacting with the food of the Fulani. With the pop-up kitchen initiative, launched in 2018, Binta hopes to shine a light on ancestral techniques, including sharing grains, spices, and above all, stories and conversations. “Dine on a Mat” allows her to make the table a valuable source of dialogue and understanding, education and also of sustainable practice.

The Fulani Kitchen Foundation

These interactive dinner experiences are also used to raise funds for community projects. Binta has begun to build a foundation aimed at women and girls from all Fulani regions, the Fulani Kitchen Foundation. Its aim is to meet social, educational and community needs as well as transform ingredients like fonio into sources of income, economic autonomy, food security and employability for these rural communities.

Binta sees this initiative as a platform that provides community development, income creation and education. According to her, more than 300 families from 12 communities as well as 4 regions of Ghana currently benefit from the initiative.

Gastronomy is a transformative force even in the most challenging contexts. For this reason, the Basque Culinary World Prize is a celebration of gastronomy used as a tool to promote progress and transformation in areas ranging from social innovation to food education.

The BCWP, now in its 7th edition, continues to recognise the transformative power of gastronomy by sharing inspiring stories of chefs who are having a positive impact beyond the kitchen. In each edition of the prize, through the winner and special mentions, the BCWP takes the opportunity to send a message to the international community to examine the different areas in which a chef can add value to society. In 2021, the prize highlighted the importance of educating the next generation about healthy eating. Today, the BCWP continues its search for examples of the transformative power of gastronomy.

In addition to Binta, the jury has recognised the work of two other chefs, awarding special mentions to:

· Douglas McMaster (UK) for his continuous dedication to the zero-waste movement in gastronomy and his pioneering initiative the “Zero Waste Cooking School”.

· Edson Leite (Brazil) for focusing on poverty-ridden areas in Brazil and designing culinary training programs and support tailored to serve young people looking for job opportunities through his educational project “Gastronomia Periférica”.

Binta was selected as this year’s winner due to the impact of her initiative on her community and beyond. Conceptualising the kitchen as a safe space, she not only makes these dinners for “guests of the world”, but also aims to carry them out in the communities themselves, presenting them as “peaceful dinners” that can break down barriers.

Responding to her win, Binta has acknowledged with gratitude the BCWP’s decision and has said:

“I want to thank Basque Culinary World Prize for this award. This is such an honour not just for me but for all of the women that will be empowered and inspired to reach their highest potential and this will also shed light on the challenges but most importantly bring about solutions for women.

“Thank you, Basque Culinary World Prize, for contributing towards a solution that will bring about change for a better community and a better world. We can no longer afford to deny the full potential of women. The world needs to tap into the talent and wisdom of women. Whether the issue is food security, economic recovery or peace, the participation of women is needed now more than ever!”

The Basque Culinary World Prize

In 2022, the promoters of this award – created in 2016 by the Basque Government and the Basque Culinary Center – endorse the 7th edition of a pioneering award that distinguishes chefs who take advantage of their knowledge, talent, creativity and strength to be part of systemic changes demanded by our society.

The Basque Culinary World Prize is a unique prize awarded by the Basque Culinary Center, a leading academic institution in gastronomy, and the Basque Government, within the framework of the comprehensive Euskadi-Basque Country strategy. The award recognises the work of chefs with transformative initiatives and has an economic endowment of €100,000 for a programme chosen by the winner.

The winner is chosen by a jury made up of the world’s most influential chefs. This year, the BCWP jury was made up of the members of the International Council of the Basque Culinary Center, chaired by chef Joan Roca (Spain, El Celler de Can Roca) and other renowned chefs such as Gastón Acurio (Peru), Michel Bras (France), Manu Buffara (Brazil), Mauro Colagreco (Argentina/France); Dominique Crenn (France/USA), Trine Hahnemann (Denmark), Enrique Olvera (Mexico), Pia Leon (Peru), Narda Lepes (Argentina), Elena Reygadas (Mexico) and Josh Niland (Australia).

Joan Roca, President of the Jury of the Basque Culinary World Prize, said:

“This year’s award to chef Fatmata Binta focuses on Africa and that it is possible to grow through cooking, the circular economy, culinary knowledge and the preservation of the traditions of a community where the use of these is key. With this, she sends the message to the world that sustainability must be the norm and not something exceptional, based on common sense, reinforcing female empowerment, and the matriarchal base of these communities.”

Bittor Oroz, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Policy of the Basque Government, said:

“One of the scenes where we want the Basque Country to continue to be an international benchmark is gastronomy, because we are convinced of the relevance that this sector can demonstrate. It is understanding gastronomy, as one additional link in the food chain, and as an engine of change that provides a different view of conventional schemes and that seeks solutions to social problems, which ultimately concern us all. The unique and global Basque Culinary World Prize is part of the EUSKADI BASQUE COUNTRY Strategy of the Basque Government, inclusive and ambitious because we know that only through collaboration can we gain our own space in the world. We have the experience and accredited track record of a country that has always been open to the world and we also have our own network of Basque communities abroad that are active and committed to the challenge of internationalising the Basque Country. Through initiatives such as the BCWP, we contribute to the configuration of a new, fairer and more sustainable social model at the service of people.”

Joxe Mari Aizega, General Director of the Basque Culinary Center, added:

“We have been doubly excited to face the election of the winner of the 7th edition of BCWP. After two complex years caused by the pandemic, the jury has been able to meet in person. And we also celebrate that we continue to add new testimonies to the BCWP community which, after seven years, continues to grow and get stronger. We continue betting on transformative professionals, such as Fatmata Binta, Douglas McMaster and Edson Leite who aspire to connect with current needs. Three chefs with inspiring stories and experiences that generate social impact from the kitchen, chefs who have made the most of their entrepreneurial mission, their knowledge and their creativity to influence sustainability, gastronomic education and social integration through various projects and initiatives.

As a new member of the BCWP jury, Narda Lepes said:

“Chef Binta proposes a self-sufficient approach with profits which are reinvested in the community and form the seed of a project that can grow on its own. It does not depend on goodwill but on work. Binta is someone who was born and returned to Africa, who left and returned with economically sustainable solutions. She lives there and that changes everything. It’s a virtuous thing.”

First time jury member Pia León called chef Binta “an evident lover of her country of origin, and promoter of social and economic management with an identity bond. Her vision is to create an industry based on inputs such as fonio and that women can locally produce in order to reinforce the appreciation of what is indigenous while strengthening their economy. Her cooking generates bridges for diners to appreciate and have contact with the land and people.”

Special Mentions Biographies

Douglas McMaster (UK)

Sustainability is at the core of Douglas McMaster’s work as a chef. His first restaurant, Silo in Brighton – which opened in 2014 and has now relocated to Hackney, London – was the first zero-waste restaurant in the United Kingdom and has now become a hub of the “zero waste” movement. This means taking ingredients usually discarded – or even thought of as unfit for consumption – and turning them into gourmet dishes. For example, he has used whey, a by-product of the cheesemaking process that is usually thrown away, as a base for dishes and he has even used Japanese knotweed – the scourge of gardeners – on his menu. Food waste not used for ingredients is fed into a compost machine capable of turning 60kg of organic waste into compost in just 24 hours. Empty wine bottles are ground down and turned into plates. Silo does not even have a bin. He believes that utilising food that would otherwise go to waste does not have to be second class, but can be “luxurious, delicious, elegant and beautiful.”

Before opening Silo, McMaster studied under other chefs in over 20 restaurants worldwide, including The Fat Duck and Noma.  Since McMaster founded Silo, the zero-waste movement has begun to take hold in the United Kingdom, where 6.7 million tonnes of food is wasted per year, which equates to a financial loss of around £10.2 billion. 

McMaster is now working to inspire a new generation of chefs to consider how they can make gastronomy more sustainable. That’s why he recently founded the Zero Waste Cooking School, an online platform where McMaster posts weekly videos to help chefs and culinary enthusiasts alike learn how to cook in a more sustainable way.

Edson Leite (Brazil)

In the favelas (slums), talent is being undermined by poverty, difficulty and marginalisation. Many who want to train and be part of the progress of sectors such as gastronomy are ignored, and Leite is on a mission to turn this around. The school, hosted within his initiative Peripheral Gastronomy, is above all a “methodology”. In the absence of a fixed institutional headquarters, his team moves around different communities on the periphery. They identify a kitchen in which to work collectively and, around it, they investigate the context and the characteristics of the area, in order to propose programs that meet the needs of the people they are targeting.

Edson Leite grew up on the outskirts of São Paulo, in Jardim São Luiz, where the police and crime were in constant conflict. For years, he worked in Portugal and Spain, exploring Mediterranean cuisine. Upon returning to Brazil, he graduated in UNICESP Social Work determined to generate change in the periphery.

Together with psychologist Adélia Rodríguez, he created a social training centre with the aim of “transforming lives through food and defending social inclusion as a universal right”. Online and hybrid courses aim to help young people provide psychological support and opportunities to be employed. This is a chance for these people to explore the possibilities outside the usual violence, delinquency and exclusion. Leite argues that providing qualifications for children not only furthers their economic situation but also raises the level of the industry.

Thanks to his school, a social training centre with the mission of transforming lives through food and defending social inclusion as a universal right, incorporate young people into the job market and offer them psychological support, and nurturing the industry with trained professionals, more than 2000 people have benefited from his free courses; 440 people graduated in 2021, and 118 students have secured a job.

The Selection Process for The Basque Culinary World Prize Winner

More than 1,000 nominations and 700 candidates have formed the axis of analysis of the award referred to by the press as the “Nobel of Gastronomy”, supported by academics and experts of international prestige, including some of the best chefs of our time.

For nearly a month, professionals and institutions from the industry and the sector nominated chefs from all over the planet who demonstrate that gastronomy can become a driver of change in areas such as social integration, sustainability and education, among others. The Basque Culinary Center put together a team which conducted a thorough process of searching and verifying different profiles.

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