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07 June 2023

Turkish chef Ebru Baybara has been named the 2023 Basque Culinary World Prize winner for utilising gastronomy as a powerful force for integration, empowering women from both Turkey and Syria, dismantling prejudices, and showcasing the riches of cultural exchange. From distributing hot meals to thousands after the Turkish- Syrian 2023 earthquakes to championing local grains and marketing regional products to managing waste, she's a culinary force of nature. With an unwavering humanitarian spirit, she transforms communities through culinary expertise.

Hailing from Turkey, a cultural crossroads straddling Europe and Asia, Ebru Baybara Demir uses her culinary prowess as a catalyst for social change. She tackles pressing sociocultural issues, focusing on multicultural integration, employment training, and environmental sustainability. In the aftermath of devastating earthquakes, Chef Baybara Demir stepped up, providing hot meals to thousands through the "Gönül Mutfağı" network. 

For over two decades, she has tirelessly diversified her methods to generate impactful change. Collaborating with international organisations, local governments, public-private entities, and local cooperatives, she has left no stone unturned. In Mardin, a city brimming with tourism but lacking in dining options, she ingeniously merged culinary arts with tourism and development. Encouraging local women to establish their own kitchens in historical homes to cater to foreign visitors, she not only created job opportunities but also bolstered the tourism industry.

Culinary Humanitarian Extraordinaire

The devastating earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey in early February caught the world's attention, and even after three months, the urgent need for aid persists. Baybara Demir, hailing from "Gönül Mutfağı," saw this as a chance to continue her ongoing humanitarian efforts by providing hot meals to thousands amidst the chaos. Chef Baybera’s use of gastronomy to both empower women and to help integrate Syrian refugees through the UNHCR project, Harran Gastronomy School, has uniquely placed her to combat the challenges caused by the earthquake.

Since returning to her homeland of Mardin, she has worked not only to revitalise the province’s culinary scene and tourism but also to provide employment opportunities, especially for women, in the region. She is currently supporting From Soil to Plate, an agricultural development cooperative, as part of which Mardin-based volunteers focus on increasing the production and consumption of local, ancestral grains such as sorgül, in addition to making products like soaps and jams, all being sold online. She is involved in biodegradable waste management for farmers’ markets in Diyarbakır. The goal is to take advantage of discarded fruits and vegetables to produce agricultural fertilizers.

The Basque Culinary World Prize (BCWP), now in its 8th edition, is a unique €100,000 award, created by the Basque Government and  Basque Cullinary World Prize that remains dedicated to recognising the transformative power of gastronomy by sharing inspiring tales of chefs making positive impacts beyond the kitchen. With each edition, through the laureate and special mentions, BCWP urges the global community to explore diverse avenues where chefs contribute to society. In 2022, the prize highlighted the significance of preserving African culinary traditions and leveraging gastronomy as a force to combat climate change. This event is a part of the "Euskadi Japan 2023" year, a multi-sector initiative that aims to give visibility and intensify relations between the Basque Country and Japan, and promote Euskadi Basque Country in Japan. The aim is to strengthen relations and generate new projects and collaborations in the institutional, business, cultural, gastronomic and tourism fields.

In addition to Ebru, the BCWP jury also recognised the work of two other chefs, granting special recognition to: 

●      Nicole Pisani (UK) for her dedication to advocating for the vulnerable, revolutionising catering in schools with her visionary initiative Chefs in Schools. Through immersive culinary experiences, vegetable gardens, and her acclaimed cookbooks, she empowers children and transforms the way they think about food.

●      Heidi Bjerkan (Norway) for her integration of sustainable approaches such as a circular food system in her restaurant Credo and her visionary initiative, Vippa, which provides a platform for aspiring entrepreneurs, with a particular focus on immigrants and young Norwegians, breaking barriers through diverse culinary creations.

Responding to her win, Ebru said:

“I am incredibly honoured and thankful to the Jury who deemed me worthy of the Basque Culinary World Prize, considered the Nobel of the gastronomy world. This recognition emphasises the significant impact of food and cooking on people's lives and societies. I learned this valuable lesson 25 years ago in Mardin, where a remarkable group of women believed in me. Ever since, my journey has been dedicated to initiatives that benefit individuals, the environment, and society, covering the entire food cycle from soil to plate and back again.”

Joan Roca, President of the Jury of the Basque Culinary World Prize, said:

“Ebru is an extraordinary example of humanity, commitment and strength. In addition, her connection with the different realities involved in gastronomy highlights the importance of the soil as how our ingredients are nourished, as well as the importance of biodiversity as a defence against the advance of climate change. Her work highlights how food can be used to integrate refugees and displaced people, and its ability to generate development opportunities. Her efforts also demonstrate the role of food in creating space for dialogue between different, and even contentious, cultures. For the past twenty years, Ebru’s work has been answering questions on these matters, and consistently and persistently showing how central connection, collaboration, and synergy are in addressing collective problems”

Michel Bras, Jury of the Basque Culinary World Prize, added:

“I was incredibly impressed by all of the finalists. I am reminded of mothers and the role that they play in the countryside. As a son of the countryside, I believe that all three deserve great praise. I was particularly moved by Ebru-we are living through a period of wars, and it becomes too easy to forget or ignore this fact. I believe that there are two battles within wars: there is, of course, that of the men who fight on the front line with their weapons. But there is also the often ignored battle of the mothers to nourish and feed, looking after the young and the old. Their job, which they do in the shadows, is truly noble.”

Dominique Crenn, Jury of the Basque Culinary World Prize has congratulated the winner and said:

“A true social entrepreneur, Ebru has risen up and served her community in times of humanitarian crisis and disaster. Not only is her work an example for all of us, but her intention and purpose for humanity are also the ultimate gifts.”

Joxe Mari Aizega, General Director of the Basque Culinary Center, added:

“We have taken on the selection of the winner of the 8th edition of BCWP full of enthusiasm; the enthusiasm of continuing to add testimonies to the BCWP community, which continues to grow and strengthen. Eight years ago we created the BCWP award to promote the social dimension of gastronomy. During this time we have received nominations from 800 men and women from 42 countries around the world, seeing as this is a global movement. This year we are continuing our commitment to professionals who aspire to connect with today's needs, women like Ebru, Nicole and Heidi. Three chefs with inspiring stories and experiences that generate social impact from the kitchen and who have taken advantage of their entrepreneurial vocation, their knowledge and their creativity to influence social integration, sustainability and gastronomic education.”

Bittor Oroz, Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the Basque Government, mentioned:  

“This award is an important component of the Basque Country’s EUSKADI BASQUE COUNTRY Strategy, aspiring to associate values shared by Basque society–– such as inclusivity, determination, and collaboration–– with the image of the Basque Country, making it our calling card on an international level.  Through this prize, we further our global presence and strengthen Euskadi as a gastronomic leader. Gastronomy, when seen as a crucial link in the food chain, delivers transformative change by bringing forth fresh perspectives and tackling societal issues that affect us all. The Basque Country aims to become an agent of change, uniting efforts and contributing to the global pursuit of sustainable human development.”


The Basque Culinary World Prize

Created in 2016 by the Basque Government and the Basque Culinary Center, the prize continues to recognise chefs who take advantage of their knowledge, talent, creativity, and strength to be part of systemic changes demanded by our society.

The Basque Culinary World Prize is a unique prize awarded by the Basque Culinary Center, a world-leading academic institution in gastronomy, and the Basque Government, within the framework of the comprehensive Euskadi-Basque Country strategy. The award recognises the work of chefs with transformative initiatives and has an economic endowment of €100,000 for a programme chosen by the winner.

The winner is chosen by a jury made up of the world's most influential chefs. This year, the BCWP jury composed of members of the International Council of the Basque Culinary Center convened in Tokyo, Japan. The 2023 BCWP winner was announced at Traditions in Motion, a gastronomy summit co-hosted by the Basque Culinary Center, Basque Government and Yoshihiro Narisawa. The jury was chaired by chef Joan Roca (Spain, El Celler de Can Roca) and other renowned chefs such as Gastón Acrio (Peru), Michel Bras (France), Manu Buffara (Brazil), Dominique Crenn (France/USA), Trine Hahnemann (Denmark), Pia Leon (Peru), Narda Lepes (Argentina), Elena Reygadas (Mexico), Josh Niland (Australia), Yoshihiro Narisawa (Japan) and Thitid “Ton” Tassanakajohn (Thailand).


Special Mentions Biographies

Nicole Pisani (UK)

Renowned British chef, Nicole Pisani, is not only the accomplished author of books like "Salt, Butter, Bones" and "Magic Soup," but also a passionate advocate for ending child food poverty through her #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign. Formerly the head chef at London's esteemed NOPI restaurant until 2014, Pisani shifted her focus to school lunches and co-founded "Chefs in Schools," a groundbreaking project based in London that revolutionises collective catering in primary schools.

The London-based project focuses on improving the quality of school canteen meals, which many school pupils, especially disadvantaged children, depend on for adequate nutrition. This is achieved through running “intervention” programs in canteens, with the charity working with 80 schools and reaching around 30,000 students on a daily basis.


Heidi Bjerkan (Norway)

Bjerkan stands as a prominent figure in the Norwegian culinary scene, leading the way in sustainability. Through her successful integration of various approaches into her projects, she has activated a circular economy within the food system, bringing the discourse of sustainability to life. Notably, her special relationship with local farmers in the Trondheim area, strong advocates for organic food, sets an inspiring example. She incorporates them into her renowned Credo restaurant and fosters symbiotic relationships that facilitate the exchange of knowledge and opportunities.

Since 2017, Bjerkan has played a pivotal role at Vippa, a social incubator-accelerator empowering individuals with limited resources to establish their own small food businesses. Housed in a converted fish warehouse in Oslo's port, Vippa is a bustling indoor market offering culinary delights from around the world. Aspiring entrepreneurs submit proposals, and if accepted, they are granted a stall for a year to consolidate their business. Bjerkan and her team evaluate the projects' viability beyond the Vippa market, nurturing new talent and cultivating the city's organic and sustainable offerings.


Jock Zonfrillo

Following receiving the heartbreaking news of Jock Zonfrillo's untimely passing, the beloved and inspiring chef and recipient of the Basque Culinary World Prize 2018, Joxe Mari Aizega, General Director of the Basque Culinary Center has said:

“We mourn the tragic loss of Jock Zonfrillo and are committed to carrying forward his profound legacy: encouraging chef to utilise their expertise and resources to protect and nurture communities. We will continue to highlight the transformative power of chefs worldwide whose innovative mindset extends beyond the kitchen, fostering significant and positive transformations within their communities.”


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