Alex Atala, the 45-year-old Brazilian chef, straddles many worlds. He hangs out in the Amazon, wading chest-deep into a remote river to hook a massive, prehistoric-looking fish. He works with scientists in laboratories in Brazil to turn the indigenous root priprioca (a cosmetics-industry staple) into an ingredient he can cook with. He meets with politicians, environmentalists and CEOs in service of his new sustainability initiative, Instituto ATÁ, which links small-time food producers with major São Paulo restaurants. And he appears at international chef conferences, spreading his philosophy of food in ways that sometimes reveal his punk-rock roots. Recently, for instance, he killed a chicken in front of a congregation of world-renowned chefs at the MAD Symposium in Copenhagen. (Atala will always impress upon any interested party that food is not just something we eat—it's part of the cycle of life.) He was asked to speak at MAD by this year's co-curator, David Chang, chef and owner of the Momofuku empire. Chang believes that Atala, a former boxer with a foot-high mohawk, who survived an Amazonian kidnapping to become a global culinary superstar, is quite simply the most interesting chef on Earth.