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An Interview with Ali Khurshat Altinsoy of MAD Symposium, Copenhagen, Denmark

Ali Khurshat Altinsoy of MAD Symposium
Geeta Bansal

The annual MAD Symposium, instituted by Chef Rene Redzepi of Noma, is a not for profit grass roots event held in Copenhagen Denmark that focuses on topics pertinent to the advance of the restaurant and food community worldwide. The speakers and topics come from all walks of life and varied disciplines including chefs, biologists , anthropologists, artists, thinkers, scientists, social activists, and writers, and the focus varies from "Appetite", "Vegetation", "Guts" to this year’s discussion on "What is Cooking." The audience consists of chefs and restaurateurs from around the world and speakers such as Ferran Adria, Alain Ducasse, Andoni Aduriz, and David Chang.

The 35 year old Redzepi, with the top restaurant in the world according to Restaurant Magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World, has a very enthusiastic and talented group of people on his team to facilitate the organization of this annual event held under a red big top on the Refshaleoean island in Copenhagen. Rene Redzepi is a patron chef of Noma, founder of the Nordic Food Lab and MAD. This year Rene Redzepi's “A Work In Progress” won a James Beard award for photography and the team included Altinsoy along with Redzepi, Ditte Isager, Lars William, and the rest of the Noma team.

Ali Khurshat Altinsoy is the curator of the annual MAD Symposium held in Copenhagen, Denmark. Ali entered the food industry while working as an investment banker who invested heavily (personally) in dining experiences which included 20 at Noma itself. This Warwick university graduate of Turkish/Cypriot heritage wears many hats, contributing to food publications, traveling the world to eat and meet chefs and cooks, organizing the symposium, vetting the speakers, and is also Rene Redzepi's right hand since 2011. Being avowed food enthusiasts we constantly bump into each other at Tickets in Barcelona one day and Quintonil in Mexico a few weeks later.

MAD symposium, or MAD4, is taking place on August 24th and 25th this year and is one of the most highly anticipated food related events of 2014. It is no surprise that the limited tickets are sold out within days of going on sale. In a recent conversation with the London born and bred Altinsoy and his clipped British accent we spoke about the preparations for the upcoming event and its organization.

How are the preparations going this year? Are you ready?
It’s hard to say sometimes I think we are ahead compared to last year and sometimes I worry we are behind but in reality we are in a good stage of readiness. I am not worried about being ready and I do think it’s going to be great.

We know that Alex Atala of D.O.M. Brazil is one of the co-curators, but is the rest of the speaker list finalized?
Right now we are finalizing the speaker list. We are not releasing it till that Sunday morning! (The 24th of August, 2014)

How do you go about finding speakers and presenters?
It's a very complicated and arduous process. We look at the theme and that dictates who will be on the list. We do have half chefs and half non chefs which makes it interesting for our audience instead of having mainly chefs. The great thing about having non chefs is that it opens up the discussion in other directions. Our audience is exposed to ideas they may not come across in the normal course of their lives.

I personally feel that we come away with ideas that we keep absorbing and reflecting on. Is this what you are aiming for?
We want to motivate and inspire people and hopefully they take away new ideas to their work places.

A lot of people refer to this as a cult gathering since it is open to a very limited audience. Is that true?
I know we have been called a chefs club etc. and that is unfair. We only have a limited space as you have seen and can only accommodate a small number of people. It’s just the way it is but what is important about MAD is that it is an interactive experience for the audience and we want to keep it small and sustainable. To make it bigger will only take away from the event. To combat this elitist tag we have the MAD Feed and everything on line including MAD Monday’s where 50 or so places are open to everyone on a first come first serve basis.

Why is it so hard to get tickets?
It's because so many people want to come there now and it's strange because in the first year we could not give tickets away and it was so hard to get people to come.

How would you explain the difference between huge events like Mistura or Gastronomika and your symposium?
Those cater to a different audience and they all offer something of interest we are trying to fill a gap and just bring people together to expose them to new concepts and ideas. We have a specific intent and a specific way in which we like to do things and which separates us from other events.

So you are following your own philosophy and an idea and sticking to it?
Yes we are and we have a few strong opinions for example we don't have any food or beverage sponsorship. The event is completely clean and there is no advertising or marquees. We want to take care of people who come here, feed people well since it’s a food event so we have breakfast and lunch every day and a dinner on the last evening which is a kind of party and celebration. We have snacks and drinks on site the whole two days and we try to be as generous as possible in taking care of people.

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