Meridian Global Leadership Council Salon Series: Culinary Diplomacy, with His Excellency Martin Dahinden, Ambassador of Switzerland

The Honorable Ann Stock (left) moderates the discussion on culinary diplomacy with Mr. Jay R. Raman, Dr. Ashley Rose Young, and Ambassador Martin Dahinden. Photo credit Stephen Bobb Photography.

On January 30, 2019, His Excellency Martin Dahinden, Ambassador of Switzerland, hosted a dinner for the Meridian Global Leadership Council to discuss the value of culinary diplomacy. The Honorable Ann Stock, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, moderated a panel discussion that included Ambassador Dahinden; Mr. Jay R. Raman, director of the Cultural Programs Division in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the Department of State; and Dr. Ashley Rose Young, historian of the American Food History Project at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and host of the Smithsonian’s demonstration series “Cooking Up History.”

As a diplomat, Ambassador Dahinden has lived and worked in cities around the world that are celebrated for their cuisines. When planning events and gatherings, whether formal or informal, he said he takes careful note of the message conveyed by the meal, and what will provide comfort or interest to the guests. This attention to detail and desire to represent Swiss cuisine authentically inspired him to author a cookbook, Beyond Muesli and Fondue: The Swiss Contribution to Culinary History.

The discussion touched on several topics, from American food history and Swiss recipes to the role globalism is playing in the current culinary climate. Now more than ever, countries are funding formal campaigns to share their cuisines and expertise. Dr. Young shared her experiences with the demonstration series “Cooking Up History,” which presents chefs with a platform to tell stories of their food and culture that may not be represented in other museum exhibits. In 2018, the Smithsonian program brought Haitian celebrity chef Jouvens Jean onto the stage, where he was able prepare a Haitian recipe while sharing the traditions behind its ingredients and culinary techniques. Mr. Raman discussed some of the many ways that food can influence diplomacy, arguing that understanding the cuisine of a particular region will help one better connect with its culture. He praised the programs that the Department of State champions to introduce U.S. chefs to the rest of the world and highlighted the ambassadorial role that American cuisine, even brand name fast food, can play.

In his closing remarks, Ambassador Dahinden highlighted food as a tool that can be used to create cross-cultural understanding and strengthen international relations, reminding guests that since the dawn of time, humans have shared meals among families, clans and larger communities as a way of building social bonds and breaking down barriers.

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Project summary

Meridian Global Leadership Council Salon Series: Culinary Diplomacy, with His Excellency Martin Dahinden, Ambassador of Switzerland | January 2019
Number of Attendees: 60
Regions: Europe and Eurasia
Countries: Switzerland
Impact Areas: Cultural Diplomacy, Education, Food Security, Public Diplomacy
Program Areas: Culture, Global Leadership
Partners: Diplomatic Corps