María Fernanda Di Giacobbe from Venezuela has been announced winner of the Basque Culinary World Prize, an award for chefs whose projects have improved society through gastronomy.
She was chosen from a final 20 by a jury of the world's most respected chefs and culinary experts; the result was announced today at the Museo Balenciaga in Guetaria, a Basque coastal village. Entries came from over 30 countries worldwide, and a total of 110 chefs were nominated for their projects surrounding innovation, education, health, research, sustainability, social entrepreneurship and philanthropy, and the preservation of local cultures.
Di Giacobbe was chosen for her work with social projects including Kakao and Cacao de Origen, through which she has cultivated education, entrepreneurship, research and development in farming communities around Venezuelan cacao. And amid the complex political situation in Venezuela, she has provided opportunities for women in economically vulnerable conditions. In collaboration with Simón Bolívar University, she founded a Cacao Industry Management programme from which 1,500 have graduated - 94% of whom are women.
She said: "From now our work will take on a new dimension. We will bring the transforming power of trade to many more women ‘chocolate entrepreneurs'. This award is a reflection of hundreds of entrepreneurs, producers and chocolatiers and their learning, enthusiasm and hard work. It allows us to set new goals and open up new ways to connect with the world. We in Venezuela are tremendously grateful that the Basque Culinary Prize has placed this trust in us."
Di Giacobbe will be awarded €100,000 to devote to a project or institution of her choice that demonstrates the wider role of gastronomy in society. The Basque Culinary World Prize is organised and promoted by the Basque Culinary Center (BCC), a world leading academic institution in gastronomy, and the Basque government under the Euskadi-Basque Country Strategy.
The judges, chaired by El Celler de Can Roca chef Joan Roca, included former El Bulli chef Ferran Adrià, proprietor of the Fat Duck in Bray Heston Blumenthal, chef patron of the three-Michelin-star Osteria Francescana in Italy Massimo Bottura and the first female chef in the US to earn two Michelin stars Dominique Crenn. Chef at Pujol in Mexico Enrique Olvera and Yoshihiro Narisawa, owner of the two-Michelin-star Les Créations de Narisawa in Tokyo, were also judges.
Judge Roca said: "Today's recipient of the Basque Culinary World Prize reflects how gastronomy can take a leap from craft to consciousness. Maria Fernanda uses cacao as a gastronomic symbol that has a positive impact on the entire food chain. This is an inspiring project that exemplifies the great reach of gastronomy. Chefs can make a difference."
Joxe Mari Aizega, head of the BCC, said: "We wanted to share inspiring testimonies of how gastronomy can help improve society. The winner is a tangible example of this - of the sense of responsibility that being a chef can involve nowadays. Though there are many culinary awards in the world, the Basque Culinary World Prize recognises practical and transformative projects, whatever their scale and whatever the public reputation of the chef behind them."
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