By Jan Kjær
Outside it’s five degrees and heavy wind and rain over the Copenhagen harbour. Inside 28 year old Vannessa Barron and 22 year old Mauricio Lopez are busy in the catering department of renowned Danish gastronomy entrepreneur, Claus Meyer. Together with their Danish colleagues, the two Bolivians are preparing food for the many x-mas parties in Denmark.
It is hard work, but they don´t complain.
Vanessa and Mauricio have been chosen among a lot of other young Bolivian chefs to spend three months in Denmark training in gastronomy. At first they spent a month in the famous restaurant, Noma, twice voted best restaurant in the world, then they are trained in catering , and at the end of their stay they will spend two weeks in Claus Meyer’s restaurants in Copenhagen.
Before x-mas they return to Bolivia to train marginalized and poor indigenous countrymen to become good cooks and thereby create a way of living.
I love this project
Vanessa and Mauricio are already well educated in gastronomy in Bolivia and have had jobs as chefs.
“I was very good at my work as a chef in my country,” Vanessa says.
She has worked 6 years in La Paz and Santa Cruz. However, she had no doubts when faced with the possibility to go to Denmark to learn more and later help the youth back in Bolivia.
“I love this project. l love the idea of helping my people,” she adds.
For Mauricio, the idea of the project makes very much sense.
“Food is a good and fast way to improve your way of living. If the young people are good, I believe they can become really successful.”
A respectable profession
The stay in Denmark has been an eye opener for the young Bolivians, both professionally and personally.
“I learn so much being here in Denmark. Not only in regards to my profession, but also the way I live,” Mauricio explains.
He respects his choice of career much more now and the reason is simple.
“Here in Denmark gastronomy is a respectable profession. It is also much more efficient.”
Mauricio also discovered that he is very devoted to his job.
“I found out that I love working in a kitchen and I love food. I also know that if I want to accomplish my goals in food industry, I have to work hard. Everything here is hard work.”
It is not a complaint, just a statement.
“Nothing is easy in life. You don’t become the best by doing nothing. You need to work hard and love what you do,” Mauricio explains.
“At the end of the day I will go home with a smile. Tired maybe, but happy!”
Being good is not enough
Vannessa is also excited about her time in Denmark.
“It has opened my mind. I think differently. Here you learn to be perfect. Being good is not enough. I changed my perception while working in Noma,” she says.
“I think that I am a better person now. I am also stricter. In Bolivia a lot of people believe cooking is easy. It is not. It is stressful and very hard work. Maybe you are tired and angry, but it has to be like that if you want to be the best chef,” she explains.
Vanessa and Mauricio have not yet met the young marginalized Bolivians they have to teach, but they are sure that their stay in Denmark has been of great importance.
“We can change their way of thinking,” Vanessa says.
Believe in Bolivia
Mauricio finds that many Bolivians feel that they are unlucky because they are born in a poor country. Not having the right tools is often used as an excuse.
“But they should believe in themselves and in Bolivia. Noma is not French Cuisine. It’s Danish or Nordic,” Mauricio points out.
“In Bolivia we have excellent products and I believe we have got the potential. What I will bring to the young people is that they can do it!”
Mauricio and Vanessa are invited to Denmark by famous Danish cook and entrepreneur Claus Meyer and his Melting Pot Foundation. Together with the Danish NGO, IBIS, he has set up the cooking school in Bolivia to help marginalized young people and develop a new Bolivian Cuisine.
IBIS has worked in Bolivia for 20 years especially committed to education and the rights of indigenous people. Vagn Berthelsen, secretary general of IBIS, explains:
“It is incredibly important to generate jobs for young people in Bolivia. There is so much energy and so much talent, but too few are getting a chance. Bolivia is characterized by enormous inequality and many indigenous people, in particular, are poor and have no job opportunities.”
Soon Vanessa and Mauricio will be back in Bolivia to help creating jobs in the culinary industry for some of them – with a taste of Denmark.
Jan Kjær is a journalist and consultant specializing in development. Owner of Better-World.dk
Facts about the Melting Pot cooking school in Bolivia
The cooking school in Bolivia is workshop-based. The goal is to open a bakery, a deli/coffee shop, a gourmet restaurant, a food court with a farmers’ market, a micro-brewery, and to establish a large vegetable garden.
The training is practical, similar to the classical apprenticeship that emphasizes vocational talent with supplementary theoretical teaching in subjects related to food and entrepreneurship.
The employees will be poor and uneducated young people from the La Paz-El Alto area aged between 15 -19. They will be recruited locally with the help of a number of Bolivian charity organizations.
Facts about Bolivia
Bolivia is one of the most culturally diverse countries in South America being home to 36 indigenous groups. 60 percent of the population lives in poverty and Bolivia’s indigenous population is among the poorest in the country.
Facts about DFC and Melting Pot
Danida Fellowship Centre (DFC) finds the cooking school project very relevant as it focuses on youth, employment and the development of the private sector – all priorities of Danida. Therefore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs agreed that DFC could support the project by facilitating the young Bolivians’ stay in Denmark.
Sources: Ibis.dk, clausmeyer.dk, Melting Pot Foundation