Food is more than just for eating. It holds in it a whole host of social, cultural and ethical issues.
Cook it Raw is a global food movement that brings people together through food and place. It gathers chefs and producers into one specific place and allows them the freedom to engage in the local landscape through the prism of its culture and its cuisine.
Cook it Raw doesn’t only include the chefs that travel and explore a particular place. Those of us who went to Charleston got to meet and engage with a whole host of local people, who told us the story of their environment, their traditions, and the value and role that food places in their culture as a whole. Cook it Raw takes you out of your comfort zone (we hunted alligator in a swamp) and allows you to engage with food in a truly raw and primitive way (skinning and cooking deer in the forest). Alongside this, Cook it Raw allows chefs to foster their creative ways in a group environment.
Throughout the programme for Cook it Raw, I developed an understanding of the particular landscape I found myself in, which in turn, allowed me to return home and revisit the landscape of Galway. Many of the culinary techniques are shared on a global scale – in particular, the ability to preserve food through salt, vinegar or smoke. All of the activities during Cook it Raw highlighted the ways in which old techniques can be made new, that we can develop through a sense of our past, into a new and creative vision of the cuisines of the future.
Part of the beauty of Cook it Raw is that it goes beyond nationality and borders. It looks back into history, at different production techniques and food stuffs, and thinks of ways in which we can renew our present through an engagement with the past. This is in no way nostalgic or romantic; rather it is focused on practises that we have perhaps lost due to industrialisation and modernisation. It’s on a global mission to discover the roots of food consumed in a particular place during a particular time. It goes beyond any naïve understanding of local food (an idea the supermarkets love peddling).
What lessons can be learned from Cook it Raw? That food transcends our local environment; it goes beyond us deep into historical and geological time. We need to appreciate the otherness of our past (our colonial heritage and our trade with many different peoples). We need to reinvest in forgotten ways of preservation. We need to re-engage with farming and fishing practises that go beyond a simple case of productivity and efficiency. We need to make food for people, food that’s worthy of our own landscape. Part of the fundamental crux of Cook it Raw resides in education, in expanding into unknown areas and allowing others to follow us.
Cook it Raw has opened the door on a truly beautiful food experience and I am humbled to have been included in the events that allowed us to engage with food in a way separate from the day to day hubbub of industrial kitchen life. To see the global in the local, history in the present, artisan in the everyday, that’s the purpose of Cook it Raw.
Jp McMahon is the owner of Michelin-starred restaurant Aniar, Cava Bodega, and Eat. He has just returned from the ‘Cook it Raw’ event in South Carolina.