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Spanish chef Xanty Elias wins Basque Culinary World Prize 2021

The award, which celebrates the social impact and transformative power of gastronomy, was awarded to him for his foundation Fundación Prenauta, which empowers children by teaching them to cook and to enjoy healthy, traditional cuisine.

Can a restaurant transform a community? Spanish chef Xanty Elías thinks he can do this and more. So when his old restaurant Acánthum, in the Andalusian province of Huelva, became the first in the Spanish province to achieve a Michelin star, he knew his journey was just beginning.

Chief Xanty began to devote his imagination, influence and energy to driving social projects for the benefit of Huelva, which has the highest unemployment rate of any province in Spain. In 2017, he co-founded Fundación Prenauta, partnering with local businesses to provide advisory services and promote economic growth in the community.

The Fundación Prenauta also works with companies and institutions in Andalusia to teach students traditional recipes and educate them on healthy eating. With this program, where chefs go to schools to give masterclasses, the foundation has reached over 6,000 children in more than 100 schools in Andalusia, and now plans to expand nationwide.

For his impact as an agent of change, Xanty has just won the Basque Culinary World Prize 2021. The BCWP, now in its 6th edition, celebrates gastronomy as a force of transformation, by rewarding chefs who add of value to their community and beyond.

The winner of the € 100,000 prize, created in 2016 by the Basque government and the Basque Culinary Center, is chosen by a jury made up of some of the most influential chefs in the world: this year it included Ferrán Adrià (El Bulli Foundation) , Elena Arzak (Restaurant Arzak), Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn) and Yoshihiro Narisawa (The Creations of Narisawa).

Excerpts from an email interview with Chef Xanty

Why is it important to educate children about food, and what is the most powerful and memorable way to do it?

Well, for the same reason that they are educated in other subjects, so that knowledge and culture evolves for the benefit of human beings and the environment around them. Math is used in everyday life, like eating. Both are basic and necessary.

We have found a way to reach the depths of children’s consciousness, through their emotions and senses. Cooking is the best way to transform the food we eat, and we all have a responsibility to do it in a healthy way.

Chef Xanty Elias during a children's masterclass on traditional cuisine

The program focuses on teaching traditional Andalusian recipes to students: why did you choose to do this?

Because it is the basis of our identity. We are what we eat and our food makes us feel connected to one society or another.

The food we eat reflects our personality, our climate, our respect for our environment. This in itself is part of the magic of the project, as it can be replicated anywhere in the world. Part of this education is teaching children about the culture of each region, thus strengthening the identity of each individual.

The recipes are salads, gazpachos, traditional stews, with rice, fish and meat, all of which are part of the staple of the Mediterranean diet.

This generation is grappling with obesity more than their grandparents ever did. How do you encourage kids to eat fresh, healthy food when packaged snacks are designed to be delicious and addicting?

Our behavior has changed, due to technological advances and globalization. Before, people had to move more during their day; we now have vehicles, machines and tools that make work easier and generate fewer kilocalories consumed.

The key to reversing it, I think, is to adapt our diets to the pace of our lives. Our work is not based on indoctrination of children, we want them to generate their own ideas.

We believe in the responsibility of every human being, and we base it on knowledge. We believe that each person can decide for themselves what is best for their body. We have already seen that it works, nothing replaces the education and the empowerment of the conscience of the human being.

How will winning this award help you to continue and expand your work with Fundación Prenauta?

We hope that winning the Basque Culinary World Prize will increase our visibility internationally. This recognition will help us open the eyes of decision-makers and politicians and act before it is too late.

Your latest project, the upcoming opening of Finca Alfoliz in Aljaraque, will focus on sustainability. Is it harder and more expensive to build a responsible restaurant? Why do you think it is important to do this?

It certainly has a higher cost. All evolutions and disruptions increase costs. However, it is a matter of personal and social responsibility.

Now it is difficult because sustainability does not interest big companies and investment funds, but it is a future that is here now! In tomorrow’s world, a restaurant is either sustainable or it doesn’t exist, and that’s the new reality.

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