Parabere Forum 2021: Lessons learnt during the pandemic

Community building and technology are empowering female chefs towards change.

“Educate a boy, and you educate the individual. Educate a girl, and you educate the village.” These were the powerful words of journalist and author, Maria Canabal, to open the seventh edition of the Parabere Forum, which took place online on 26 September.


Founded by Canabal in 2015, the annual forum is dedicated to strengthening the influence of women in the food sector and creating a global support network for female chefs. Representation is a core pillar of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy and the plight of female chefs particularly important. The Academy is therefore a proud supporter of the Parabere Forum.


“We are passionate that talent shouldn’t be confined by gender or geography,” said S.Pellegrino International Relations Manager, Paolo Passoni, during the event. “At Parabere 2019, we pledged to increase the rate of female participation in our Young Chef competition. Thanks to engagement with young and senior chefs, results improved from 9% to 27% in our current 2019-2021 edition… But more can be done, and that’s why we’re here.”


This year’s virtual forum was dedicated to the theme of 'community' and connected an audience from 30 different countries with live-streamed content from Paris, Sydney and Buenos Aires. Here are the top takeaways for young chefs:




Nurture and utilise your network


When Paris was thrust into lockdown in March 2020, Soizic Marceau (left) and Maxime Bonnabry Duval (right) from Refettorio Paris, recognised that the needs of the city’s poorest communities would not be met and many would go hungry. So, they mobilised the restaurant community in Paris and launched a logistical platform that prepared and delivered 175,000 meals to people in need.


Together with 70 restaurants, they built a team of some 300 people to prepare restaurant-quality meals on a scale never seen before — in fact, in May 2020, they prepared 5,400 meals in a single day. “We created a link between the broader community and restaurant community without compromising on quality,” Bonnabry Duval explained.


“This was truly a community effort and proves that, together, we develop the strength to go further.”



Create personalised experiences


Despite the challenges of the past 18 months, award-winning bartender and entrepreneur, Inés De los Santos (pictured centre), transformed her business and even opened a new bar, Cochinchina, during the pandemic.


In conversation with chef and food activist, Narda Lepes, live from Buenos Aires, De los Santos explained how she harnessed her past experience and knowledge to launch a cocktail delivery service.


“The pandemic forced us to act and to change… and to learn how to use digital tools. The hardest part was bringing the hospitality sensibility to the digital world,” she said. “Where service is usually delivered with a smile, now we have to capture people while they’re scrolling through their smart phone.”


To overcome this challenge, she created highly personalised experiences for each and every client. “Everything was handmade, all labels hand-written and ribbons hand-tied. From the moment of clicking ‘buy’ online, to the point of delivery, the entire customer journey was personalised,” she explained.


The idea of experiential design extends to Cochinchina, where, in the absence of travel, an Asian-European fusion menu offers patrons ‘the feeling of being away on holiday’.


The bar was launched in just 11 months and created 25 new jobs.




Get to know your growers


Chef, farmer, and owner of Sydney’s Chat Thai restaurant group, Palisa Anderson (pictured right) spoke to editor and events director Joanna Savill about the importance of connecting with the land.


The chef-turned-farmer tends 107 acres of land just north of Byron Bay at Boon Luck Farm to supply her restaurants with organic produce. She stressed the importance of provenience and buying produce from ‘human farmers’ rather than ‘Big Ag’ corporate farms.


“There are so many chefs, cooks, and restaurants, but farmers are disappearing. They need us just as much as we need them, and that’s a wonderful thing,” she said.


She advised chefs and restaurateurs to question how food is farmed, and what it means to steward the land in a way that builds the soil because “there’s a community in the soil and it’s an important community”.


Anderson also shared how she has regenerated and ‘rewilded’ her paddocks — so much so that native bird species have returned to the area.


During Australia’s on-again, off-again lockdowns Anderson provided meals for staff and the greater community, and pivoted her restaurant business in order to send meals and fresh vegetables to consumers via online delivery platforms.




Use your voice for positive change


Gender disparity continues to be an issue in the world of gastronomy. In the US, more than 60% of American women have worked in the restaurant industry and 50% of culinary school graduates are female, but less than 7% of head chefs and restaurant owners are women (US Labor Department). In the UK, less than one in five chefs are women (Office of National Statistics).


According to Parabere’s Canabal, issues such the gender pay gap (a difference of approximately 25% in the hospitality industry), lack of recognition of women, and workplace harassment need to be addressed. In a session hosted by Fine Dining Lovers, Canabal spoke to S.Pellegrino’s Passoni about what brands can do to affect change.




Referring to the Academy’s mission and online community, Passoni said: “Chefs are now visionary leaders and will have greater influence outside the kitchen in the future… now there is a focus on issues like sustainability, so why not gender equality? We need to talk loudly about this topic.”


Passoni also invited Canabal to share her thoughts and expertise with Academy members in a dedicated seminar — an invitation she gladly accepted.


At the conclusion of the event, it was announced that Parabere Forum 2022 would be held in Palma, Mallorca.




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