Words by David J Constable

Quique Dacosta was back in London last month, three months after opening Arros QD, his first restaurant outside of Spain. Arros – the Catalan word for rice – promises a fine dining “evolution of paella”, and, following a € 4.8 M investment, is set to make the Valencian peasant dish the new star of London fine dining. This finely tailored chef – in monogrammed, carnation white shirt and a neatly-barbered beard – is the latest in a line of Spanish superstars to try their luck in the UK capital – Eneko Atxa, David Muñoz and Elena Arzak having established themselves with varying degrees of success – and is setting his sights on taking paella upscale.

Arros QD – the kitchen
Photo credit: Kalen Armstrong

The image of Spanish rice abroad has for too long been that of a lurid, yellow mass of paella – actually the name of the pan it’s cooked in rather than the dish itself – studded with tough chicken and prawns. “Paella is one of the best-known dishes around,” the chef tells me, “yet it is also one of the most mistreated”. Paella, according to Dacosta, has lost its way, bastardised across the globe and mass-produced on a depressing scale. “When you put paella on the table, things become more friendly,” he tells me over a large “Paella Valenciana” consisting of rabbit, chicken, garrofon beans, rosemary and traditional aioli. “Paella is a celebration, a sharing plate, but it has lost its identity”.

It’s difficult to argue. Supermarkets churn out their ghastly fake-styles, passing them off as classic and traditional paella, and creating a sort of Frankenstein-concoction between jambalaya – a pot of red rice loaded with smoked andouille, chicken, shrimp and a sofrito-like mixture known as the “holy trinity” in Cajun cooking, consisting of onion, celery and green bell pepper – and Valencian paella. In what Dacosta calls “an unforgivable decision,” Jamie Oliver further corrupted the recipe by suggesting that chorizo be added. Dacosta bulks at the idea. “Would you put chorizo in fish and chips?” he snorts. I shake my head in agreement, but am not entirely sure myself.

Paella cooking
Photo credit: Kalen Armstrong

A self-taught chef who operates on the gastronomic cutting edge and hold three Michelin-stars, Dacosta blends respect for tradition with a desire to innovate. Arros in paella has initially been a celebratory Sunday dish, and according to Dacosta, should take up to two hours to cook, including vegetable preparation and a stock made from scratch. When complete, the dish sits in a spectrum of rice dishes ranging from soupy arros caldosa to stew-like arros meloson. But in his Dénia research kitchen, Dacosta has created tessellating steel trays called chapas that can cook rice in an oven as well as on an open flame and can be arranged in patterns on the table. “The fire is our guide,” he says. “But it’s not just the heat, it gives an aroma. It’s like an extra ingredient. The way you manage the fire, it has a bit of magic.” When he posted a video on social media of him using a pre-made stock, it made the Spanish papers.

Full vegetables paella
Photo credit – Kalen Armstrong

The focus of Dacosta is to project rice into the high-end gastronomy scene. As one of the most recognised experts in the field of rice and paella, he seeks to challenge preconceptions and restore Valencia’s rice culture to its rightful place, while introducing the technique of true and authentic paella to London and the world. “Bringing our tradition and gastronomy to London is an exercise of commitment and responsibility, which fills me with excitement. The thing that was important for us,” he continued, “was not just to bring the recipe itself, but also the methods, the tradition.” Perfect rice, Dacosta stresses, isn’t stirred like the Italian risotto. It also has a crust, something that must be scraped from the pan, called socarrat. “If you don’t have any knowledge about this, you might think it’s burnt, but that’s where all the flavour is.” I can attest, the blackened, crispy socarrat is a delight and certainly worth fighting over, and the two paellas I sampled, the best I’ve had – despite no chorizo.

Chef’s table
Photo credit – Kalen Armstrong

ARROS QD

64 Eastcastle Street

London W1W 8NQ – UK

Tel: +44  0 20 3883 3525

www.arrosqd.com

Words by Bruce McMichael

Photos by Slow Food Archive (Photo Cover by Alessandro Vargiu)

Greedy, curious hands grab tiny pieces of diced cheese stalls displaying the Cheese 2019 logo before bringing these taste bombs to the mouth to chew and swallow, imagining new pairings and recipes. Along with 200.000 visitors, the natural cheese world descended on Bra, Piedmont – the town famous for being the birthplace and spiritual home of global activist movement, Slow Food. Every two years over a long September weekend the town is given over to cheese. Roads and car parks are closed; dozens of gazebos installed; street bars set up and household fridges cleared and cleaned ready for chunks of smelly cheeses, and this year charcuterie, craft beer and natural wine. Behind the festival stalls stand heavily bearded cheese makers hipsters, tousled haired shepherds from the mountains of Sardinia and Sicily, and cheese mongers wearing national costume. Cheese rounds from Switzerland, Sweden and Russia compete for attention, while tired palates are refreshed with local wines, sour fruit beers and cups of bitter espresso.

@Slow Food Archive – Paolo Properzi

Food politics and natural cheese are natural partners. This year, controversial issues such as PDO and PGI labels sparked fierce debate, while Sardinian farmers talked about how their protests and campaign to achieve fair milk prices and boost the value of their island’s major export, Pecorino Romano cheese. The festival celebrated 12 years of getting the world to appreciate the skills, traditions and flavours of cheeses made with natural (unpasteurised) milk. Governments and consumers around the world are nervous about eating products created with non-pasteurised milk.

@Slow Food Archive – Alessandro Vargiu

One attention grabbing cheese was Salers, a semi-hard product from Auvergne, central France. Only milk from Salers cattle that graze ancient volcanic soils on mountain pastures between April and November is used. The grass is full of wild flowers including gentian and blueberry that flourish in hot summers months nurturing a strong tasting, pressed semi-hard cheese. Younger rounds offer fresh buttery aromas before maturing and transforming into gentler scents into pungent, woody and smoky notes. Its making requires great skill from the herdsman and cheese-maker, but is very much worth the effort.

@Slow Food Archive – Alessandro Vargiu

Festivals such as Cheese2019 help raise awareness of natural cheeses, with their funky flavours, surprising texture, ranging from soft to runny and from firm to chalky depending on seasons, milk and how the cheese maker presents his terroir, so a Camembert-style cheese distinctively tastes of the fields and milk of Normandy, France; British Columbia or the grass growing in New Zealand.

@Slow Food Archive – Alessandro Vargiu

Intriguing flavour pairings were introduced to cheese enthusiasts such as pairing buffalo mozzarella and buffalo ricotta with oysters and seawater in dish created by Italian chef Vittori Fusari. The meal was paired with the flinty, fresh white wines made Nascetta and Timorasso grape varietals native to Piedmont. Nomadic cheese maker Trevor Warmedahl had just left the Mongolian cheese where he was taught ancient ways of making cheeses using yak milk, and was on his way to a mountain pastures in Styria, Austria to learn more techniques He says he had ”never tasted so many complex and diverse cheeses in one place. The taste and flavours of cheese made using different, natural starter cultures is so much better and interesting that industrially produced cheeses. I knew this intellectually but I fully understood its importance after my sensory experience here at the festival”.

@Slow Food Archive – Alessandro Vargiu

Slow Food’s Cheese festival takes place every other year and a key part of the recruiting students to follow a Masters in Raw Milk and Cheese course starting in January 2021 (www.unisg.it). Applications open next year for those who want to know their Salers from their Pecorinos.

By David J Constable

Cover by Azzurra Primavera

My trips to Italy have been some of the most effervescent and liberating of my life. The food, the wine, the art, the women – fashion is credited rather too much. It isn’t merely the escape of Brexit Britain that thrills me, the will-we-wont-we mess of it all, the cabinet shuffle and reshuffle and frustrating merry-go-round of our leaders, but the fact that Italy is a glimpse into another purgatory. Nothing gets done in Italy, either. That, of course, is part of its pleasure. Doing something new would mean undoing something old and that would be a mistake.

Laura Gilmore Bottura and the staff from Casa Maria Luigia in Modena
Ph by Azzurra Primavera

And yet, there are some Italians who continue to innovate, their contrivances centring around pleasure: the food, the wine, the art, you get the gist of it. They created the Slow Food movement for extended lunches, and then, encouraged by its perennial success, widened it to a slow city movement. They flung open the doors to Eataly, a Circus Maximus promoting everything from manzo to mozzarella. There are 18 Eatalys in the country and a further 22 around the world, flogging pappardelle from Boston to Moscow. None of this is news to Italians, but to a visiting Brit brought up on a diet of bangers and bubble & squeak, it’s fresh and ingenious.

Salvatore Tassa prepares his Cacio e Pepe in tovaglia, Viviana is craving it
Ph by Azzurra Primavera

So it was that I returned to Italy and to Milan, visiting Eataly Smeraldo and the new restaurant of Viviana Varese. I’ll admit to having little knowledge of Viviana, other than she was a pocket-rocket chef, who accumulated techniques from across the globe, marking off stages in some of the world’s most celebrated kitchens. Then came her meeting with Sandra Ciciriello, which led to the opening of Alice Ristorante in Milan in 2007 and a Michelin-star in 2011. Other accolades followed, and now I’m here, in Milan, for something altogether different; for the rebranding, reopening and revolutionising of a common space but an unfamiliar name.

Alice Ristorante is no more, replaced now by VIVA. Viviana has used the opportunity to reopen to redecorate, installing artworks that bring a splash of dappled colour to dinner. Bright canvases adorn the walls, and multi-coloured perspex plastic hangs in front of the open kitchen and above a Kauri wood table, approximately 30,240 years old. The opening party at VIVA continued the creative theme, with Marco Nereo Rotelli’s luminous installation illuminating the Piazza XXV Aprile with the words “sustainability”, “sharing” and “synthetic city” bouncing off the walls. Viviana was somewhere in the kitchen, wrapped up in the revelry of it all, lost among chefs, friends who had travelled to Milan to support her. In total, 30 chefs took to the kitchen and various stationed stoves situated on the upper level of Eataly. I’m told later, that 8,000 bowls of food were served during the party and at least six times as much Champagne. As for the amount of Negronis, well… I had eleven, at the last count.

Ritu Dalmia & Viviana Varese
Ph by Azzurra Primavera

Walking this journey with Viviana is Ritu Dalmia, owner of the Italian restaurant Diva in Delhi and Cittamani and Spica in Milan. Together they present a formidable partnership, driven by an enthusiasm for flair, what Viviana calls “creative and operational synergy.” The formation of the new company VIVA was assisted with help from Ritu who, as part of the Riga Food Srl company with Analjit Singh, holds 20% of the shares, while Viviana controls the remainder. Both are driven by a recovery of ancient flavours, renewed in a contemporary style. They understand that food is about exciting the senses, representing each of their cultures through a lens – music, art, food, colour – and rotating ingredients in accordance with the seasons.

Khao suey, a spicy coconut soup with noodles (left) and Keema pao (right)

Ph by Azzurra Primavera

Both VIVA and Spica affirm the tight alliance of the chefs, with a menu at Spica rooted in the Indian-Italian-Peruvian-Mexican… cultures, celebrating the nostalgia of home and presenting the diner with a peek into the culinary lives of both, whether it’s a Keema pao from Mumbai or a Khao suey, a spicy coconut soup with noodles from Myanmar. The results are stories told through food; stories of a chef’s life, travels, inspiration and their journey up until now. The menu at VIVA reflects Viviana’s passion for quality produce from her vegetable garden, changing according to seasons like the Barbecued pumpkin and bay leaf ice cream dedicated to artist Kusama. I found the Spugna di mare: mussels in acidulated beurre noisette, Noto almonds and tarragon a particular highlight during the dinner at VIVA and Insuperabile: fine spaghetti with smoked broth, cuttlefish, clams and powdered tarallo a bowl that made me long for another, and another.

Omaggio a Kusama: barbecued pumpkin and bay leaf ice cream

Ph courtesy of VIVA
Spugna di mare: mussels in acidulated beurre noisette, Noto almonds and tarragon
Ph courtesy of VIVA


In this instance, doing something new for both chefs means a breakaway from the past, but not entirely forgetting about the past. There are lessons in the folds of history, lessons that propel you forward. Sometimes change is good, sometimes, change is necessary to evolve. But it isn’t always about going it alone, forging your own path; sometimes, having a friend on the journey with you can lead to unimaginable results. And here we have two chefs with two new restaurants from two very different backgrounds: two friends with everything ahead; united by creativity, by fun, by food, by art, by the challenge of it all. Two friends giving it a shot, inviting you along for the party – and what parties they throw!

Ph by Azzurra Primavera

VIVA Viviana Varese Ristorante

Piazza Venticinque Aprile, 10

20121 Milano (MI)

Tel: +39 02 4949 7340

www.vivavivianavarese.it

Spica Restaurant

Via Melzo, 9

20129 Milano (MI)

Tel: +39 02 8457 2974

www.spicarestaurant.com

by Jean-Pierre Gabriel

You have until September 30 to apply to become one of the Foundation interns created by Andreas and Sarah Caminada, one of today’s greatest, chefs from restaurant Schloss Schauenstein. First of all, the name Uccellin comes from Romansh, a language spoken by 60,000 people in the Swiss canton of Graubünden… and Andreas Caminada’s family.

Created by Andreas and supported by Sarah, his wife and mother of their two children, Fundaziun Ucellin aims to provide training in 20 weeks to young chefs (under 35) and dining room staff members through the best restaurants of the world. “Fundaziun Uccelin was founded to foster ambitious talents within the gastronomic industry with the long-term goal to secure highly skilled and passionate professionals for our wonderful crafts”, explains Andreas Caminada.

“In a few words,” explains Sarah, “through the contacts we have established with our network of chefs and producers, we want them to have access to the entire activity. Internships alternate chefs and producers. It is important to let them understand all the upstream work needed to bring a langoustine or a beetroot in the restaurant’s pantry”. Since its foundation in Switzerland in 2015, the initial engagement has grown into a global network with over 60 of the world’s most successful restaurants and producers as partners for the foundation’s internship program. Talents who have been accepted for the 20-weeks-scholarship are allowed to choose their individual itinerary out of these partners. Since March 2019, Sergio Herman has become the first international mentor of the Fundaziun Uccelin. «Sergio is not only authentic and successful in business. He is also a highly respected model for the next generation and connected to our target group” explains Sarah.

The foundation provides three specific training programs – one for promising young Swiss chefs, one for their international peers and one for talented waiting professionals. The foundation alsoprovides scholarships towards further education and training. All three training programs sharethe same modular structure over a period of 20 weeks which comprises several individual on-site assignments,hosted by a network of selected producers and restaurants. “All expenses are covered,” explains Sarah, “which leads us to a budget of about 15,000 Swiss francs per person, including pocket money of 500 francs per month. When a trainee joins us, he receives a kind of travel notebook, with the places of training. We “mother” him; we book his transport, where he will stay, etc.

Do you want to turn your dreams into reality?Written applications for scholarships can be handed in twice a year, in March and September,via the Foundation’s website, www.uccelin.com. The current application cycle runs until September 30, 2019.

It’s time to hurry up!

Andreas Caminada & Sergio Herman

Hai tempo fino al 30 settembre per candidarti e diventare uno dei tirocinanti della Fundaziun Uccelin, creata da Andreas e Sarah Caminada. Innanzitutto, il nome: Uccellin deriva dal romancio, lingua parlata da 60.000 persone nel cantone svizzero dei Grigioni… e dalla famiglia di Andreas Caminada, uno dei più grandi chef di oggi del ristorante Schloss Schauenstein.

Creato da Andreas e supportato da Sarah, sua moglie e madre dei loro due figli, Fundaziun Uccellin mira a formare, in 20 settimane, giovani chef (under 35) e membri dello staff della sala, attraverso i migliori ristoranti del mondo. “La Fundaziun Uccelin è stata fondata per promuovere talenti ambiziosi nel settore gastronomico con l’obiettivo a lungo termine di garantire professionisti altamente qualificati e appassionati per i nostri meravigliosi mestieri”, spiega Andreas Caminada.

“In poche parole”, spiega Sarah, “attraverso i contatti che abbiamo stabilito con la nostra rete di chef e produttori, vogliamo che abbiano accesso all’intera attività. Gli stage alternano soggiorni presso chef e produttori. È importante far loro capire tutto il lavoro a monte per portare uno scampo o una barbabietola all’interno di un ristorante”. Dalla sua fondazione in Svizzera nel 2015, l’impegno iniziale è cresciuto fino a diventare una rete globale con oltre 60 tra i ristoranti e i produttori di maggior successo come partner per il programma di stage della fondazione. I talenti che sono stati ammessi per la borsa di studio di 20 settimane possono scegliere il loro itinerario individuale tra questi partner. Da marzo 2019, Sergio Herman è diventato il primo mentore internazionale della Fundaziun Uccelin. “Sergio non è solo autentico e di successo nel suo business. È anche un modello molto rispettato per la prossima generazione e collegato al nostro gruppo target ”, spiega Sarah.

La fondazione offre tre programmi di formazione specifici: uno per i giovani promettenti chef svizzeri, uno per i loro colleghi internazionali e uno per i professionisti di sala. Inoltre la fondazione fornisce borse di studio per portare avanti l’istruzione e la formazione. Tutti e tre i programmi di stage condividono la stessa struttura modulare per un periodo di 20 settimane che comprende diversi incarichi individuali in loco. “Tutte le spese sono coperte”, spiega Sarah, “il che ci porta a un budget di circa 15.000 franchi svizzeri a persona, compresa una paghetta di 500 franchi al mese. Quando un tirocinante si unisce a noi, riceve una sorta di quaderno di viaggio, con i luoghi di studio. Lo coccoliamo come mamme, prenotiamo il suo trasporto, dove alloggerà, ecc.

Vuoi trasformare i tuoi sogni in realtà? Le domande di iscrizione per le borse di studio possono essere consegnate due volte all’anno, a marzo e settembre, tramite il sito web della Fondazione www.uccelin.com. L’attuale ciclo applicativo dura fino al 30 settembre 2019.

È ora di sbrigarsi!

Intro by Gabriele Stabile

Text by Roberta Virgilio

Video by Ari Takahashi

Gabriele says

When Mazzo and Roberta Virgilio first gave me a hint of a new joint effort I was immediately curious. I had seen chefs turning closet sized restaurants to fried chicken shacks before but after all this is Italy and in the kitchen we do it better. The crumb mix Francesca, Marco and Roberta came up with has the power of conjuring up memories of lost childhood and the excitement of modern day refreshment. Food, sometimes, can be reassuring and comforting and relevant and exciting at the same time. This is one of those times. If you make it to Legs ( please open one downtown, or an ape truck, I can drive! ) you’ll probably go for the fried chicken sandwiches ( featuring dark meat ), but also the wings and the fries ( old fellas they pick themselves ) are equally satisfying. Great beers and all in all, solid summertime hang. 

Roberta @ Legs

Legs, as often happens, has its birth from nightly chats at a counter between friends, friends belonging to the world of food, to the world of beer, but also – luckily – able to be completely transversal to different sectors, worlds and passions. It seeds in a relationship with the guys of Mazzo, Francesca and Marco, built up in the last two years to a friendship, made of evenings in Via delle Rose 54 imagining worlds and ways of contaminating and nourishing the sphere of cooking with other interests and paths.

So while Francesca and Marco outlined the idea of the tour and of Mazzo Invaders, we talked about what could happen of Via delle Rose 54, how many transformations it could undergo and how it could become the scene of other and different catering realities. We imagined ghost restaurants, deliveries but also the opportunity to say goodbye to the space that had hosted the lucky 6 years of Mazzo and its life. Then one day they talked to me  about the idea-meeting Mazzo&Artisan, good beer and crispy fried chicken, and, given my experience, it was completely natural to turn ideas and images into numbers, procedures and methods that could be realized even without their hands.

That’s how the possibility of translating this new Mazzo&Artisan combo into Legs was born. Since the definition of the idea I played the role of Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar offering a different point of view from that of both, planning  operationally and numerically the sustainability of the format.

It was very interesting to take a dish that is a symbol of Mazzo and the Italian spirit , which belongs to their cuisine and has always been made according to the highest quality criteria, and making possible for  it to be reproduced in almost total fidelity without compromising its replicability and standardization, over time and with the idea of opening it in different stores and therefore locations.

So, in addition to having studied with them a business plan that could make them imagine what life they could expect in Via delle Rose 54, I had the opportunity to express the two main souls of my training and my life choices: food product engineering and the procedure definition 

I also had the pleasure of helping Francesca and Marco with my presence in Rome, while they took off and landed with the first stages of Mazzo Invaders. Respect and mutual trust did the rest.

Afternoons of overdosing on fried chickens and marinated cabbage were the scenarios of the discussions, if you can call them so, on what techniques and tricks could make life easier for Legs. And so we arrived to the choice of boned thighs, the famous and juicy brown meat, tastier and with a more interesting texture compared to the breast  (among other things already in the process of being included  in the offer for other uses, as well as the skin – because the philosophy of nose-to-tail-eating remains fundamental – to name one of the places of the heart that I share with Francesca and Marco). We selected suppliers of potatoes that could give us  old potatoes which have the right moisture content and perform best in frying.

We studied what we shared as one of the elements that most of all bore the identity of Mazzo and the Italian identity of Legs: bread for the coating. It has been produced by hand for years by Marco to obtain a coarse grain but perfectly balanced with its finest components, the breadcrumbs used to coat  Mazzo’s fried chicken was also included as a souvenir in the tote bag of gifts of the 5th anniversary of Mazzo, seasoned with the historic onion powder that gives it a spicy note. How to make it in quantity and in a more agile way was one of our first concerns  and then the epiphany in a memory: as a child my mother made me use the meat grinder to make  breadcrumbs at home. And so, between amarcord and tradition, the trick was done

Standards, procedures, replicability, many words that often move away from the concept of quality, freshness and fun. Not for me; in fact I imagine and see a path in the opposite direction in these same words.  I aim to apply these concepts to projects aimed at  sharing and quality, without forgetting fun and economy, sustainability in all its forms.

Video by Ari Takahashi who, after a recent visit at Legs, came with me for a centocelle shoyu ramen. More on that soon, hopefully. 

Legs

Via delle Rose, 54

00171 Roma (RM)

Tel: +39 06 6496 2847

Words by David J Constable

Photos by Richard Haughton

Authentic cheddar, consumed with voracity around the world, is made by only a handful of artisan producers in the south-west of England, passionate cheese-makers who keep the ancient traditions alive, satisfying the cravings of ardent cheese connoisseurs.

HOLY COWS

It’s a beautiful spring morning in the south-west of England. The sun is shining (a rare thing to happen here), and the cows move across the plains in slow, purposeful movements. I can see a multitude of breeds, predominately robust and healthy British Friesian and Swedish Red-and-Whites. These thick-set, wide-hipped, large-breasted females appear perfectly in tune with the rhythm of the countryside; eating, sleeping and farting merrily.

Returning to the fields from their morning milking, the heavy-hanging udders wobble like a fat man’s chin, emptied of their milk they are now ready to swell-up all over again. These cows are the starting point for so many things we enjoy every day, from milk, butter and yoghurt to ice cream, eggnog (ewwww – blame the Americans) to, of course, cheese. So, let us move over to the cheese part of the story.

Yes, beautiful, wonderful, delicious, varietal cheese in all of its many forms. Cheese. Cheese. Cheese. It’s one of the great culinary evils, and I can’t stop eating it. Who eats a little piece of cheese, ey? Have a think, I’ll wait. No one, you see. I eat slice after slice after slice, before realising that I’ve eaten the whole fucking wheel. If I’m not cutting chunks and eating it directly, then I’m grating it on my morning eggs, melting it in soups, baking it in the oven. I dip my bread in it, dip my finger in it, I even stick my tongue in it, licking up all of the deliciously gooey, addictive drug that is the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, booty-shaking, earth-quaking, goddam fucking joy that is CHEESE. And it’s these beasts in the field, these fat, sleeping, farting, cows we have to thank for that.

This is the idea: I wanted to work in reverse. Beginning with a single wheel (or truckle) of cheese, I’d take the necessary steps backwards to discover its origin; back to the curd, the churning, the milk, the milking, the cows, the fields. I wanted to go behind-the-scenes of the cheese-making process. I wanted to meet the cows, the farmers, the cheese-makers, so I decided to travel to one of the oldest dairy and cheese-making regions in the UK, to Cheddar in Somerset. Here I’d visit the ancient caves where wheels of cheese are aged, and I’d visit those people responsible for making it, the people who keep the old traditions alive. If you’re going to explore and write about cheddar, there’s only one place to start.

A JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF CHEDDAR

Richard (my travelling photographer companion) and I took a road trip to Somerset, a rural county of rolling hills, famous for the Glastonbury Festival, its cider and its  cheese. Province is essential; in fact, it’s everything. Think balsamic vinegar of Modena, Chianti Classico of Siena and Florence, Sabina oil of Lazio. In terms of Italian cheeses, there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, all proudly bound by province and their DOP status, but the story of cheddar is different. Yes, there is a place and a cheese called Cheddar, but it is not about the province, but the process. Still, to learn the full story there is only one place to go, and so

There are many stories about how the now iconic cheese came into being. There’s the one about the milkmaid who left a bucket of milk accidentally in the caves, returning to find it had transformed into something more interesting. Another, that the Romans may have brought the recipe to Britain from the Cantal region of France. What is known about the area of Cheddar is that it has been at the centre of England’s dairy industry since at least the 12th Century, with the earliest references to cheese dating from 1170. With the absence of refrigeration or adequate transport, there was a problem with surplus milk. That problem was solved by turning milk into cheese. Cheese-makers discovered that if you pressed the fresh curd to squeeze out the moisture, the cheese lasted much longer. This method of cheese-making along with other refinements was perfected in the Cheddar area, and so the first authentic cheddar cheese was born.

THE CAVES

Our first stop on this cheddar pilgrimage, was to the famous caves, a place of ancient myth and quite possibly the birthplace of cheddar itself. It was in these caves that the oldest complete human skeleton ever found in Britain was discovered; aged at around 9,000 years old. He was named, rather appropriately as “The Cheddar Man”. 

The Caves of The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company

The caves themselves are located in a vast gorge, a long, narrow valley between the mountains, which weaves its way like a flowing river through the Somerset countryside. The area is underlain by Black Rock slate and formed by meltwater floods during the cold periglacial periods. Of the many caves, the two most accessible and open to the public, are Gough’s Cave and the smaller Cox’s Cave – which are said to have inspired Helm’s Deep in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers (1954). Luckily for us, it’s after-hours, and the tourists and school buses have departed, leaving the caves open for discovery.

Along with our guide, John Spencer, Managing Director of The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company – a family-owned, independent small artisan producer, and the only company making cheddar in Cheddar – we enter through a wide passage, into the cold, dank, grotto-like cavity. Sharp, pointy stalagmites and stalactites hang from the ceiling, dangling above me like shark’s teeth. On the walls, dark splotches of mould help to create an environment John describes as “perfect for maturing cheese”.

Cheddars aging inside of the caves at The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company

The influence of the cave environment is remarkable in terms of texture and taste; creating the perfect temperature, with zero interference. The cave-ageing treatment has been used for hundreds of years, although, in more recent times, maturation and ageing rooms closer to the dairy have taken over. The use of the caves to aid in the maturation process was reintroduced by the company in 2006 and resulted in the cheese developing a deeper creaminess and a flavour profile that sets them apart.

We walked deeper into the cave and further into the darkness. It’s eerie, almost impossible to see except for a few small bulbs that pop on like stars in the milky way. A series of tall cages become visible towards the rear, each housing truckles of cheese, wheel upon wheel upon wheel, wrapped in muslin to protect any foreign bacteria coming into contact and messing up the perfectly balanced probiotic cycle. On closer inspection, I can smell the slightest tinge of ammonia mixed with a nutty scent, and it reminds me of winters in London and the men who roast chestnuts on Westminster Bridge. Up close the round truckles are blotchy with mould, splatters of green, grey, purple and orange. It’s a beautiful display of vivid colours, like ink splashed across a canvas or an art installation honouring Jackson Pollock.

Cheddar Moulds

The wheels are only a few months old, having been produced in the dairy by The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, down the road. Upon leaving the dairy, they are taken to the maturation room where they’ll be stored for 12 weeks, before moving to the caves, where they are aged for six months (Mellow Cheddar); 12 months (Mature); and between 18 and 24 months (Vintage). By the time we depart the caves, stepping back out into the light, my nostrils have been consumed with the smell of old cheddar. We make our way down the gorge towards the process room, where the milk arrives each morning before being turned into curd and eventually, cheese. Around 70 tonnes is produced annually – a small figure compared to the bigger, corporate cheese producers – and last year won prizes in The British Cheese Awards, The Global Cheese Awards and The World Cheese Awards.

While the likes of Montgomery’s, Westcombe and Keen’s – who together, created one of the first UK Slow Food Presidia, for ‘Artisan Somerset Cheddar’ – are the only three producers in Somerset making farmhouse cheddar, The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company are the only people making and selling cheese in Cheddar itself. Producers the world over follow a similar recipe, but the differences between their cheeses are vast, and the style and quality labelled as cheddar vary greatly, with some processed cheeses being packaged as “cheddar” while bearing little resemblance.

CHEDDARING


Coagulation – cooking the curds during the manufacture of cheddar cheese. The curd is stirred constantly during this step to avoid uneven cooking or overcooking.

Returning to province, we have established that there is a place called Cheddar, but that the cheese itself does not hold PDO status. Instead, I learn that “West Country Farmhouse Cheddar” can be applied to those cheeses that have been produced from local milk within Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, and manufactured using traditional techniques. The techniques required include ‘cheddaring’, and it is this process which has become the most essential and defining process of producing cheddar.

Taking all of the above into consideration, none of it has stopped other countries making cheese and labelling it “cheddar”. In 2007, a French-owned cheese company based in Scotland called Lactalis McLelland was named as Supreme Champion by the British Cheese Awards for their “Seriously Strong Cheddar”, beating 867 kinds of cheese. Those in the aforementioned English counties using local, unpasteurised milk and applying the ‘cheddaring’ process are the only cheese-makers who can officially call their product authentic.

To witness the cheddaring process, Richard and I make our way over to Keen’s and their Moorhayes Farm. When we talk about cheddar today, the first name that springs to mind is Keen’s. Here you have a proper, bonafide cheese-making family, five generations of award-winning producers who have been making unpasteurised cheddar since 1899. In 2013, they won the UK Supreme Champion at the World Cheese Awards, although they were already popular and well known to cheese connoisseurs prior to this, the award thrust them onto the world stage.

We’re meet by George Keen, the man responsible for the day-to-day operations of the farm and who, along with his brother, Stephen, and his son, James, continues the traditions of the family who have made cheese on these premises for decades. Their mother, Dorothy, learnt cheese-making at the Somerset Farm Institute in Cannington, and it was their Great Aunt Jane who pressed her first truckle in 1899 and set the wheels in motion for the family business. The farm itself presents a careful process of bovine care, with large cattle shed set up like a day-spa with soft-hay sleeping partitions, bountiful troughs of food and designated massage areas where the cows can press their rumps against spinning brushes.


Draining the curds – The curd is broken into small granules then whey is removed from the curds by allowing it to drain out of the vat. When most of the whey is gone, the curds are raked to either side of the vat, allowing whey to drain down the middle of the two piles.

George and James work in a happy, symbiotic partnership. It’s a process and a routine they have done over and over. The farm and dairy give off a relaxing atmosphere – once you get past the smell of cow shit – and offer a happy-go-lucky environment nestled in quiet seclusion within the Somerset countryside. For instance, cows are not urged to leave their pasture, but instead, return to the dairy for milking whenever they feel. It’s a simple, mechanically run operation in which the cows approach a machine themselves for self-milking. Each cow is fitted with a 5G smart collar which controls the robotic milking system and records the time and volume of milk so that everything is monitored and recorded. I watch as they install themselves for self-milking – it takes 250 litres of milk to make one whole cheese – while others sit sprawled across hay, a farting choir of cows producing a loud morning chorus. The milk here is not stored or transported. It is not tampered with at all. Only unpasteurised milk will do. This can sometimes mean the milk is difficult to work with and unpredictable, which is why it is even more essential that the cheese-makers at Keen’s are experts at making excellent quality cheese.

Cheddaring – Cheddaring is a unique process in making Cheddar cheese that involves the cutting and stacking of curd to squeeze additional whey out. It is a multi-step process that reduces whey content, adjusts the acidity, adds characteristic flavour and results in a denser and sometimes crumbly texture.

James demonstrates the all-important cheddaring process, during which the curds are cut and pressed together into slabs. The slabs are stacked on top of each other, the weight of each pressing out any moisture. They are then cut, pressed into slabs again and re-stacked. The process continues until almost all of the whey is expelled. When the ‘cheddaring’ process is over (it takes about an hour), the curd is passed through a mill to cut it into smaller, even-sized pieces. Salt – another crucial ingredient – is added to stabilise the curd and to stop bacteria growing. Then, the cheese is put into moulds and left to drain before it is pressed for three days, bathed in hot water and then smeared with hot lard and wrapped in three layers of muslin, a permeable coating that allows air to get to the cheese and moisture to evaporate. As James testifies it’s a long, tiresome and laborious process, a gruelling workout, day-after-day-after-day, like lifting weights in the gym. The result is James having shoulders like a battering ram and biceps that pop like Popeye on steroids.

Cheddaring –The curd is constantly cut and turned in a repetitive process that lasts one hour.

As the cheese ages, the surface becomes gradually colonised by those wonderful splotches of multicoloured mould. Looking at a well-aged cheddar cheese, you could be forgiven for thinking that its looks rather rank and is well past human consumption; however, some of the most prized cheddars are aged over 18 months, covered in mould and dark spores. The ideal maturation time, according to George, is between 10 and 12 months, though cheese here can mature for up to two years. Keen’s also produced a 29 month aged that has a nutty flavour and long finish – something I could quickly develop a severe habit for. “What we don’t want is a sharp, acid cheese,” George explains. “The cheese should promote the intricate range of flavours that exists in a raw milk cheese.”

Milling the curd – The mill will cut the cheddarised curd into about 1.3 cm pieces. During this process, the milled curds are constantly stirred to avoid re-matting.

THE GREAT CHEDDAR BOOM

Back at The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, John takes me to the back of the processing room, where a small museum is dedicated to the history of this special cheese. Black and white photographs adorn the walls and show the old men with medieval farming tools alongside off-duty workers enjoying cheese sandwiches and drinking milk from sloshing jugs. I’m able to gain a better understanding here, not just of cheese-making, but the importance of farming in the region and how it contributed to the industry, both in Somerset and across wider Britain.

Salting the curd –Then, salt is added to the curd slices and stored by hand in order to distribute the salt evenly.

Central to the modernisation and standardisation of cheddar was the 19th century Somerset dairyman, Joseph Harding. For his technical innovations, promotion of dairy hygiene and volunteer dissemination of modern cheese-making techniques, he has been dubbed “The Father of Cheddar Cheese”. Harding stated that cheddar cheese is “not made in the field, nor in the byre, nor even in the cow, it is made in the dairy”.

It was Harding and his wife who were behind the introduction of the cheese into Scotland and North America. His sons, Henry and William Harding, were responsible for introducing cheese production to Australia and facilitating the establishment of the cheese industry in New Zealand, where today, it is still produced en masse. Cheddar had gone global, competing with big cheeses on the international scene. What better way to stick two fingers up to the French, than be rivalling them and their egotistical, nouvelle nonsense fromage.

Packaging and pressing – The curds are placed into moulds lined with muslin cloth that will be used to press the curds and form the blocks of Cheddar. This is to ensure that the last of the whey residue and any water retained is reduced.

In more recent times, Britain has moved to the very top of the international league table of cheese producers, overtaking France. As of 2018, the UK was producing 750 varieties of cheese, 100 more than France, despite the French eating twice as much. According to a United States Department of Agriculture researcher, and a 2014 article titled “The Biggest Cheese” in The Boston Globe, cheddar is the world’s most popular cheese and the most studied type in scientific publications.

Before the 19th Century, however, cheddar was already having an influence, notably in the courts of kings. Both King Henry II and Charles I publicly announced their adoration for the stuff with administrative records showing that both kings made purchasing the very first batches of its production a priority, wanting to ensure that it was only available through them. These kings were, it would seem, the supermarket buyers of their day, the upper-crust suppliers and go-to cheesemongers of Britain.

James & George

Even the great writer Daniel Defoe wrote of the cheese in his book A Tour of the Islands of Great Britain (1724), describing it as “the greatest [cheese], and best of its kind in England.” Defoe wrote, “It is called our English parmesan and brought to the table with the mites so thick around it that they bring a spoon for you to eat the mites with, as you do the cheese.”

And, the British explorer Captain Scott took 3,500lbs (nearly 1,600 kg) of cheddar with him on his famous expedition to the Antarctic in 1901. Enduring months of freezing temperatures, Scott and his men, along with English cheddar, also dined on seal meat, penguin blubber, turtle soup and drank pints of lime juice. Cheddar was becoming a necessity for many and was an identifier of England, becoming one of the essential products the English produced and consumed. Here was a cheese growing in status, building on reputation, collected and consumed by writers, poets, explores and even royalty. Not only was it growing in popularity, but it was symbolic, a defining slice of English and British culture. All cheeses are nationalistic when you think about it; they are nation-defining artefacts: English Cheddar, French Camembert, Swiss Gruyère, Italian Parmigiano.

Aging – The aging room of the Keen’s: they press the cheddar for 3 days, then smear with hot lard and wrap in three layers of muslin, before taking the truckles of cheese to the ageing room.

ALL HAIL CHEDDAR

What was once all farmland and dairies in Somerset, is now only a few farmsteads, as land is sold to overseas investors and the profession of farming appears less than appealing to a new generation. Hundreds of cheese-makers dwindled to only a few, a few select people who work to preserve and keep ancient traditions alive. While cheddar continues to be produced and consumed across the world, only a small number can be found in Somerset. As for those cheese-makers producing cheddar actually in Cheddar, only one remains.

Cheddar is a hard cheese though, literally and metaphorically, one that will fight the fight and continue on its journey. It has already led a fascinating history, influencing the lives of writers, explorers and royals. Even now, it creates buzz and excitement, and has the cheese-world talking. Now, it’s moves forward, forging t a new future and a new story, one that began all those years ago, by accident, in the caves of Somerset, within the Gorges of Cheddar, to eventually ending up on kitchen tables and cheese boards around the world.

George inside Keen’s aging room

The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company Ltd.

The Cliffs

Cheddar

Somerset BS27 3QA – Regno Unito

Tel: + 44 1934 742810

www.cheddaronline.co.uk

Keen’s Cheddar Ltd

Moorhayes Farm

Verrington Lane

Wincanton BA9 8JR – Regno Unito

Tel: + 44 1963 32286

www.keenscheddar.co.uk

Words by David J Constable

Photos by Suzan Gabrijan

An exploration of the Soča Valley – a place of sleepy villages, dairy farms and rolling fields – proves a happy hunting ground for Ana Roš’ new cheese-centric menu.

Just as you can’t choose your family, you can’t choose your neighbours either. Bad neighbours can lead to Shakespearean dramas, dissent going back decades. But, if you’re fortunate enough to have good neighbours, then your life can be positively rosy and both sides of the fence benefit. Take Slovenia. The tiny speck of a country in Central Europe, entangled by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, sees neighbours positioned often miles apart. It is a place of sleepy villages and dairy farms, of spring-sprung meadows, dense forestry and crystalline rivers. Communities are made up of half-timbered houses and family-run operations. Slovenians produce an impressive amount of victuals: stockpiling mulberries, collecting pollen, turning over gallons of homemade beer and buckling cellar shelves under the weight of Alpine cheese. There’s a robust agrarian mentality, an understanding that the land is part of nature, a slice of everyone’s life.

For Ana Roš, everything is here. She draws the bedroom curtains to reveal a bulging allotment, spilling over with produce. It’s this that influences her and what will play a pivotal role in the new cheese-centric menu at Hiša Franko. The current menu consists of around 70% cheese already, but she has plans to up this percentage to create a 100% cheese and vegetable menu. “It’s a natural move,” Ana tells me during a visit in April, “this garden-to-table approach is what Slovenian people do, it’s not a gimmick or a trend. This isn’t new for us. It’s our life story”.

Ana Rôs e Valter Kramar

The cheese story begins in Slovenia’s villages, where families breed dairy cows – predominately the Braunvieh breed – and pass cheesemaking habits down the generations. “I know all of our suppliers personally,” Ana says. “If I need some of this stuff or extra of that, then I’ll speak to them directly. It’s a community of fisherman, butchers and cheesemakers. Dairy is so important in this part of the country, and the quality of the cheese is so high because the landscape is so green and healthy. We have products you can’t find anywhere else in the world, and that is something to be celebrated. My kitchen team knows how to stretch an ingredient and use it to its maximum, and cheese is so versatile. We use Bovec sheep cheese, produce fermented cottage cheese and house-smoked our own salami cream.”  

Such was their interest with cheese, that Ana and husband, Valter Kramer, rechristened the honour at home, which just so happens to be Hiša Franko. They buy around a ton of local cheese and age it in their cellar for up to five years. As well as Tolminc and ricotta, the cellar features formaggio di fossa, a pit fermented cheese Valter is taking to Emilia Romagna, where he ages it for four months in underground pits with the assistance of Joško Sirk – a Slovenian restaurateur at the helm of the Michelin-starred La Subida trattoria in Friuli, near the Italian border with Slovenia – then brings it back to Hiša Franko. “It was always a dream of mine to have a cheese cellar,” says Valter, who also ages meats and salamis. “I can have fun down here in the cellar and experiment. Fun, food and family, right? That feels like a pretty good life to me”. The restaurant’s website posits that the cheese in Valter’s cellar is “Not only the most important part of our local diet” but “the GIFT for all the people of the Soča Valley.” It’s no surprise that along with vegetables, the cheese will play such an important role in the Hiša Franko menu because it plays such an important role in the day-to-day life of each and every Slovenian. “It’s about infrastructure and knowing your strengths” Ana tells me. “We struggled to survive, but it was about education and perseverance. This teaches you to be humble. Application is key, knowing what you have around you and how to apply it means we can use a product to its full”.

Using a product to its full potential is how Ana builds her menus. In this mountain region, nothing is sown before May 1st when the threat of snow is finally over. By June, it is hot and humid. The farmers will then move their cattle into fresh pasture where they make cheese. Ana’s food is heavily influenced by the seasons and is flavoured by the wild; from summer flowers and pollen to garden vegetables from her backyard plot. In fact, more than 90% of the Hiša Franko menu uses garden ingredients, pushing Ana to the fore of the Slovenian culinary movement in which she is almost solely responsible for elevating the country as a gastronomic destination. “We have the Alps, Mediterranean and the lowlands,” says Ana. “Some of the most beautiful and unique ingredients come from my backyard, so why not use it! If you take all of that away from me, you take away my expression, my voice”. The creation of a purely cheese and vegetable offering to diners, however, is a brave one.

That said, she also produces fermented cheese lollipops. It’s fair to say that those who know Ana, know that she’s not a person to shy away from a challenge. Moving to a solely cheese and vegetable menu could be her biggest challenge. But name a great chef who never took a risk. I’ll wait… “Creativity is finding your way out,” said Ferran Adrià. For Ana, she has all of the tools of her trade around her. Cheese is a high value product in Slovenia and along with her neighbours and local farmers, she and Walter have their own stock too! Indeed, you could say that Hiša Franko is built on cheese, a castle of dairy, a restavracija of deliciousness. It seems only right that the menu pushes and promotes homespun cheese. When it’s this damn good, why keep it for yourself?

Hiša Franko

Staro selo 1

5222 Kobarid – Slovenia

www.hisafranko.com

Words by Redazione Cook_inc.

Photos by Food On The Edge

The international launch of Food On The Edge 2019 took place on the last Monday (May 20th) evening at Robin Gill’s newly-launched Darby’s restaurant in London. The event saw the announcement of the 2019 venue, the themes and list of speakers to date, as well as the launch of the Food On The Edge Ambassador Programme.

ABOUT FOOD ON THE EDGE

Food On The Edge is the much talked about two-day global convention that has taken place annually in Galway City, Ireland. The fifth Food On The Edge is taking place on the 21st and 22nd of October 2019, again in Galway. A coming together of international chefs to listen, talk and debate about the future of food in our industry and on our planet. Previous speakers have included Elena Arzak, Albert Adria, Massimo Bottura, Ana Rôs, Magnus Nilsson and many more visionary, change-promoting chefs. More than 600 people attended over the two days of Food On The Edge 2018, which was held at the NUI – National University of Ireland. More than 50 of the world’s best international and Irish chefs and food leaders took to the stage to share their food stories and debate topics, while approximately 70 Irish food producers showcased their produce in the Artisan Food Village. The two-day programme includes a wide range of 15-minute talks, panel discussions, master-classes and networking activity.

ABOUT THIS YEAR EDITION

The venue for this year’s Food On The Edge event was also announced at the London launch, as being held in NUI Galway, the city’s university, for the second year. JP McMahon then went on to reveal the full list of confirmed speakers (that you can check here) which includes cult chefs and stars of the Netflix series Chef’s Table, namely Brazil’s most influential chef Alex Atala of D.O.M, and New Zealand-born Ben Shewry of Attica restaurant. Columbian chef and winner of 2017 Best Female Chef in Latin America Leonor Espinosa of Leo Cocina y Cava will be attending as well as trailblazer Daniel Giusti, former head chef of Noma in Copenhagen, who set up Brigaid, a project that puts professional chefs into public schools to transform and rethink school food. Australian chef Mark Best of Bistro and Netflix fame from The Final Table; Prateek Sadhu of Masque, the number five ranked restaurant in Mumbai; British-Indian chef, presenter & food writer, Romy Gill of Romy’s Kitchen in Thornbury; Irish chef Derry Clarke of Michelin Star l’Ecrivain in Dublin; and Dalad Kambhu of Michelin Star Kin Dee in Berlin are just some of the ground-breaking chefs due to speak. Other confirmed speakers are Alan Jenkins, editor of the Observer Food Monthly; Korean-born Danish chef Kristian Baumann of Michelin Star Restaurant 108 in Copenhagen; chef, cookbook writer and activist Sophia Hoffmann of Berlin’s Café Isla Coffee; Contemporary pizza chef Denis Lovatel of Pizzeria Ezio in the mountains of Belluno; and Brazilian chef Alberto Landgraf, of Oteque in Rio de Janeiro. The main themes of Food On The Edge in 2019 are Migration, Conversations, Food Stories, Food Waste, Action, Reaction and Food Education.

ABOUT THE FOOD ON THE EDGE AMBASSADOR PROGRAMME

JP McMahon, founder and symposium director of Food On The Edge, said: “We are delighted to launch Food On The Edge 2019 in London this year and to use this event to announce our new Food On The Edge Ambassador Programme. Each year we receive a large number of inspirational applicants hoping to partake and speak at Food On The Edge. These applicants are very often doing wonderful things for Irish food and developing the industry in their own way. While we have limited capacity of speaking slots, we wanted to do something to acknowledge these food champions. I hope this initiative will widen the reach of the Food On The Edge and act as its legacy into the future, eventually expanding onto a global scale”. Six people who are working to change the landscape of Irish food and are exemplifying the Food On The Edge ethos will be selected to be the Food On The Edge Ambassadors for 2019. The Ambassadors will be invited to speak in a discussion at Food On The Edge 2019 on the work they are doing, as well as receiving a two-day ticket to the event and a profile on the event website.

Discover more about the event here www.foodontheedge.ie

Words and photos by Constanze Weiss – Cover Photo by Toro Toro Restaurant

Perched on the wall beside the gate, the eponymous iron bull is the first indication that this is a special place. He is surrounded by torches, illuminated against the dark night and greats his guests, as they pass through the entrance. The Spanish restaurant he guards – said by many culinary guides to be the best in the state, even in the whole country – is located about twenty minutes from the city of Salzburg, in Hallein, Austria. It houses in an old hunting château but bears no resemblance to what anyone would expect such a place to look like. Instead, to enter Toro Toro means to leave Austria behind, to cross the thousands of kilometres separating yourself from Spain in a matter of a single step.

1 (closest to the front) Mousse de garbanzos con chorizo (chickpea mousse with chorizo)
2 Aceitunas y salsa de tomate (Olives and tomato sauce)
3 Arenque en escabeche (Pickled Herring)
4 Tartar de salmón ahumado y aguacate (Tartar of smoked salmon and avocado)
5 (furthest in the back) Jamón iberico con carpaccio de piña (Iberian ham with pineapple carpaccio)

Behind the threshold, the Iberian Peninsula is instantly palpable. The music tells tales of passion and fire, the air weighs heavy with the scent of saffron rice and seafood, and the waiters recommend the best dishes and wines from the menu with their Spanish accents clearly audible. Like the produce handled in the kitchen, they are all from the South, providing a dinner experience on a more personal level of authenticity that is guaranteed to stay in a diner’s mind. Their friendly service – one of the things most important to la patrona Gisela Reitsamer – has also been especially underlined by Gault & Millau, when the restaurant was awarded their first hat in 2014. The atmosphere is the second indication that this is a special place, with King Felipe VI smiling from his picture on one side of the room and his wife adorning another part of the restaurant. Both members of the Royal Family are surrounded by memorabilia of Spain; painted maps and Spanish quotes written out in calligraphy.

Prawn and bacon

Finally, food has to be mentioned. It’s new and creative, a special way of giving emphasis to details that would go neglected or even unnoticed in other places, while never losing touch with the Spanish motherland. Particular attention is given to the 6 ­– and 12 – course menus, the restaurant has gotten known for, and in which every course is telling a story in its own right: of the sweetest sun-grown tomatoes and freshly caught fish, fragrant olive trees and shrimp from the middle of the ocean. These characteristics are combined effortlessly, resulting in dishes of great quality and taste, like their unusually flavourful Tomato soup, reminiscent of warm summer days, or a Prawn and bacon combination dipped into an orange sauce that stays in the mind long after the dinner has finished. Needless to say, the food is the third and final indication that this is a special place.

The outside

In the end, the restaurant’s exceptionality lies not just in its ability to transport guests from a small country town in Austria to the vastness of Spain or in the fantastic taste of each dish presented. It’s the astounding sense of authenticity that makes a dinner visit at Toro Toro an experience to remember. With its amazing food, loveable service and unique atmosphere, the restaurant resembles a breath of Spanish ocean air surrounded by Austrian mountains.  

Toro Toro

Altendorffstraße 2

5400 Hallein – Austria

www.toro-toro.at

Text and photos by Anna Morelli

Translation by David J Constable

It was November last year when I received the phone call from Andrea Petrini. We talk often, but the content of this call contained something different: an offer, a request, a challenge. “Are you ready to travel around the world?” he asked, “eating at at all five restaurants that make up the shortlist for the awards?” I took a moment to think. Should I play the drama queen here? Should I curse him to hell? Nah, he knows me too well. “Petrini… of course I’m ready, man!”

Joe Warwick and Andrea Petrini, photo by Paulo Barata

My partner in crime for this culinary whirlwind tour was Paul Carmichael, the chef of Momofuku Seiōbo in Sydney. Like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, we accepted our mission and awaited further instructions. There was so much expectation around the first World Restaurant Awards. Anything Petrini and Joe Warwick set their efforts to is always something worth attending. They have the ability and the contacts to create international buzz, and these awards were no exception. I could feel the adrenaline building, and the idea of eating around the globe with Paul was intriguing.

Paul

The details of our mission arrived. The category we were to judge would be “Arrival of the Year”, and the itinerary – devised by IMG – would send us bouncing around the globe for two weeks. I reached out to Paul to make an introduction. “I’m in and ready for the ride!” he replied. The journey began on Monday 7th January 2019. From my home in Lucca, Italy, the plan was to travel to Amsterdam, then on to San Francisco, and from there, to Lima, Peru. Then, a brief return to Europe, before taking to the road for San Piero in Bagno, Italy, and then Paris, eventually ending our tour in Tokyo. We would mark off cities like international assassins, moving from airport to airport, hotel to hotel, restaurant to restaurant. But it started badly.

The fog in Florence had fallen like a blanket, covering the Tuscan hills and obscuring the city. There was no way a plane could take off in these conditions. So I sat and waited, biting my nails. Thankfully, I departed only a few minutes late. But then Amsterdam happened. Arriving at Schiphol Airport, I noticed the hazy Dutch sky hung with a heavy fog like Florence. Perhaps though it wasn’t fog, maybe it was all of the pot – this is Amsterdam after all. A two-hour layover, and then, I’m off again – to San Francisco. US entry. Ohhh, here we go… another gruelling exercise in patience as the blunt instrument immigration officer gives me an aggressive stare, looking into the depths of my soul. Then, the litany of questions: “What are you doing here? How long are you staying for? I’m cool, calm and collected, and reply “One day… I leave tomorrow.” “Huh! What do you mean” she says. I explain my secret culinary assignment to the officer. “Oh, lucky you. I want that job!” she says. And then in I enter, across American lines.

Paul was there to meet me at the airport. He was an easy spot through the crowds. The long black dreadlocks, the mega smile and an entourage of luggage. There’s a huge check-in suitcase, a carry-on and another duffel bag in green, gold and red Rastafari colours. Honestly, I’ve never seen one person travel with so much, although to be fair, he had been but travelling for a month. He tells me that he also encountered a two hour delay at LAX Airport, and when he landed, bumped into Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez. The irony was that after our dinner tonight in San Francisco, we were due to dine at Virgilio’s Central restaurant two days later in Lima.

Van Ness Inn Hotel in San Francisco

We left the airport, taking an Uber to the Van Ness Inn, near Fisherman’s Wharf. The building is a typical American horseshoe-shaped design, a two-tier motel with parking in front. It’s the sort of place you see in cops and robber movies, when the criminal is on the run with a bag full of cash, and hides out in a motel room. Then, inevitably, there’s a shoot out. It reminds me a little of the Bates Motel from Psycho. Perhaps I shouldn’t take a shower here? I slept well enough. There was some sort of shifty exchange outside of the motel, a fuss between biker types. Paul told me that his room smelt of bleach and he was forced to nap that afternoon with his door open.

Angler’s Bar

That evening, we had dinner at Angler, a new restaurant by American chef Joshua Skenes. Things kicked off with a Pineapple Daiquiri at the bar, a pleasing west-coast style welcome. At the end of the room was a huge blue marlin hanging on the wall, and an open kitchen meant that I could peek in, seeing the chefs at work and an abundance of fresh seafood cooked over open fire. The use of fire is of great importance to Joshua, with the specifics of the kitchen designed to his keen eye. Of even greater importance, is produce; the kitchen working with a small group of fishermen, hunters, gatherers, ranchers, and farmers to find and follow microclimates that produce the highest quality products in local existence.

Radicchio X.O.

Paul and I decide to order from the à la carte menu, with sides of Parker House Rolls and freshly-churned Angler Butter. Everything we receive is good. There’s an Antelope Tartare to begin, a meat I’ve never tried before. It’s an enjoyable texture, a little gamey as expected, similar to venison. The Diamond Turbot is delicious, followed by Radicchio X.O which I find a little to sweet for my palate. Then, Little Abalones, that are truly wonderful, masterfully cooked and like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. And, Petrale Sole, a lovely flatfish that’s prepared to perfection. The food here is clean, fresh and a good reflection of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay region. Unfortunately, we didn’t try Angler’s signature dish, the Whole Pastured Chicken, but we did see one arrive at the neighbouring table, a wonderful site with the enticing smell of roast chicken stealing my senses. I looked across to gain a better view, and who should I see… Virgilio Martinez, again. He’s dining with Dominique Crenn, the newly crowned three-star chef of Atelier Crenn.

Dominique Creen at her Farm in Sonoma Valley

After dinner, Paul and I join Dominique and friends. There’s a contagious enthusiasm and electrifying energy. Dominique assists us back to our motel, promising to collect us in the morning for a visit to her farm in Sonoma Valley. We wake bleary-eyed and true to her word, there’s Dominique ready to collect us. We visit the farm, picnic in the rain, and leave for the airport. Next stop: Lima.

It’s a bumpy nighttime flight south, across the states to Dallas, Texas, before a change of flight to Lima. The short-tempered American Airline staff do little to ease the journey. Things couldn’t get much worse. But then, oh, here comes dinner…

Paul enjoying the terrible meal served by American Airlines

For the second-leg of the journey, I pass on the meal. Instead, I snuggle into my seat, and self-medicate by popping an Aspirin and knocking back a gin & tonic. Woah, it works wonders, and I’m out like a light, sleeping the entire journey. I wake in Lima, refreshed and eager to get going on our next adventure. In contrast, Paul tells me that he had a wretched time of it. He couldn’t get comfortable in the chairs and therefore couldn’t sleep. Instead, he watched three of the longest movies he could find.

It’s 7am on Wednesday 9th January by the time we land in Lima. Keen to escape the tourist crowd, we depart the airport as quickly as possible but are met with the bumper-to-bumper traffic of morning rush hour Lima. Thankfully, we were not in a rush and had a few free days to acclimatise and recover from jet-lag. Taking advantage of this, Paul and I explored the city. I have a personal link to Lima and, thanks to DNA, have a wealth of family still living across Peru. Now, my youngest daughter Carla lives here – part of her Latin American adventure.

Carla and Paul

We check-in at the hotel, but we’re early and our rooms are not yet ready. I had arranged with Carla to meet Paul and I in the breakfast room and spot her instantly. There she is, my hippie traveller daughter, dressed in dungarees and flip-flops. She took an all-night bus from the very northern reaches of Peru to get here, and my heart bursts upon seeing her.

Babel bookshop in Miraflores, Lima

We drop off our luggage, and then we’re off again. Two have become three, and we explore the Miraflores district, meeting with my friend, Javier Masía. Javier is a local journalist who recently opened the Babel bookshop inside La Casa Inclán. We visit the bookshop, a stunning place surrounded by plants and greenery, next door to both a fashion house and an artisan jewellery store, and adjacent, there is a small but beautiful coffee bar. Javier joins us for our walk around the neighbourhood, stopping to eat ceviche and chicharrón de pescado in the Surquillo Market.

Surquillo Market

I spent the afternoon with Carla, catching up on her adventures and filling her in on mine. Paul grabs a few winks, filling in the missing hours lost during the night flight. We assemble that evening, refreshed and recharged, ready to head to the Barranco district. This is one of the city’s smaller neighbourhoods, but it’s also one of the most beautiful. Over the years it has become a popular destination for creative types, growing into an art hub, and bulging with trendy coffee shops, bars, nightclubs and art galleries. It’s here where we discover Ayahuasca Bar. The name comes from the infusion of Amazonian herbs – the aya-huasca, also called liana of the soul or liana of the dead, consisting of hallucinogenic properties. We order Pisco Sours, before snooping about the property and exploring the impressive venue, but time is tight, and soon we’re off for dinner at nearby Statera. According to Javier, who has knowledge of these things, chef André Patsias and Statera is one to watch. The cuisine is rooted in the Peruvian traditions, using the variety of products from the country’s bounty and its incredible biodiversity. André works closely with a small group of farmers based in the nearby hills and the result is a terrific meal demonstrating a myriad of ingredients and techniques.

Paul and Carla in Barranco

The following day – Thursday 10th January – Carla and I leave early to meet my cousin for coffee. By lunchtime, we’re back with Paul for an appointment at Maido, the restaurant of Mitsuharu ‘Micha’ Tsumura. Maido was not one of the stops on the judging shortlist, but if you find yourself in Lima, travelling with such ravenous company, then you can’t pass on a meal here.

With Micha

Maido, meaning ‘welcome’ in Japanese, is Micha’s flagship restaurant, serving an inventive tasting menu of Peruvian-Japanese ingredients. His approach is truly unique and has resulted in the restaurant earning the number one spot in the 50 Best Latin American Restaurants list for the past two years. The meal was exquisite and while I’d love to continue my love letter to Maido, it doesn’t meet the “Arrival of the Year” criteria. That position was reserved for Kjolle, the new restaurant by Pía Léon, where we would all dine the following evening.

In front of Central with Virgilio

Pía is married to Virgilio and the two have set about creating Kjolle, as well as a bar – called Mayo – on the same complex as Central. The building also houses the offices of Mater Iniciativa, a project led by Malena, the sister of Virgilio, which consists of a team of researchers and botany experts who travel the country to studying ingredients. It’s a real family affair. The biological and cultural research of Mater Iniciativa influences the menus of Central, Kjolle, MIL and Mayo.

Piranhas at Central Restaurant

Dinner at Central was amazing, an unforgettable adventure. The tasting menu speaks of altitudes and ingredients, telling stories of communities and ecosystems: products are sourced from the coast to the desert, from the Andes to the Ceja de Selva, to the banks of the river in the Amazon jungle. Each dish contains a story of only one ecosystem and is composed of products exclusive to that specific area. It is a complex experience, each course accompanied by its own unique story.

Moray Cusco

The following day and it’s another early rise. We’re up and out by 6 am, meeting with Virgilio for a flight from Lima to Cusco in the Peruvian Andes. From the airport, it’s a bumpy incline drive by van – at the dizzying height of 3,568 meters above sea level – to the Sacred Valley, where MIL is located. The idea behind MIL goes far beyond mere restaurant. This is an exercise in agriculture, it is anthropology, research, study, production and processing combined. MIL is all about the people and the land, respecting and preserving a culture. The landscape is breathtaking, set within the ruins of a terraced circular depressions and the Moray archaeological site.

Francesco Dangelo, the anthropologist

Upon arriving in the Sacred Valley, we were greeted by a delegation from the local indigenous community. Santiago Pilco – the community leader – and Francesco – an  anthropologist – toasted our arrival with Chicha de Jora, a local corn beer prepared by germinating maize, but not before they poured a drop for Pachamama, the fertility goddess. Due to the research and work behind the sourcing of ingredients, MIL is only open for lunch, during which they serve an 8-course menu that changes with the seasons.

MIL – Andean Forest (lupinus legumes, pork belly, avocado, rocoto pepper)

With tight time constraints, we were soon back in the van, heading downhill, bumping along a dirt track. The travel, speed and altitude were too much for Paul, who was beginning to feel poorly. Most likely, his symptoms would suggest soroche, the Altitude Mal. We left Cusco for Lima, and once there, Paul returned to the hotel for a hot bath, cotton sheets and a well-deserved rest. I went on with the next stop on our culinary assignment: Kjolle. Having experienced MIL and the Sacred Valley, I now had a greater understanding of the menu at Kjolle and the work gone into sourcing such a vibrant list of ingredients. The name itself comes from a tree that grows in extreme altitudes and produces beautiful orange flowers, the official name being Buddleja Coriacea, but which is referred to as Kjolle, pronounced koye.

MIL Community

The tasting menu at Kjolle is 10-courses, with a vegetarian option available. To begin, there’s an appetizer of Scallops with Seeds & Sea Urchin and Sea Bass and Shells with Mashua and Amazon Nuts. This is followed by Various Tubers & Cassava Olluco Tart with Potatoes. Then a meat course of Duck Tartare served with a delicious warm bread that is typical of the Cusco region. Octopus, Sachatomate, Garlic & Native Basil then arrives, and there is a vegetable dish of Yacón, artichoke & Coffee Broth. There is a sort of Crême Brulée too, made of pumpkin cream with shrimp and bitter orange; and another wonderful meat dish of Beef & Corn with Macambo & Paico. We close with two desserts. The first is a Frozen Pomerose, Muna, Airampo & Cocoa of Mil with Chirimoya & Amazon Honey, which was, well… wow! This was a real standout dish, an avalanche of ingredients with strange and unpronounceable names, that when assembled became something other. It seems to me that the difference between Kjolle and Central, is that Pía is more playful with her ingredients, pulling from all the regions and ancient traditions, but in a more experimental fashion. The result was a truly fantastic dinner with an explosion of new tastes and textures. This really is something very special, and I look forward to returning again soon.

Kjolle – Tubers (Cassava, Olluco, Potato)

After he had fully recovered and tasted the menu at Kjolle for lunch, Paul joined me for our journey back to the airport. We decided that we would discuss the meals as little as possible and let them settle over the coming days. Both Angler and Kjolle had been great, but there were still another three restaurants on the itinerary. We thought it best to keep our cards close to our chest, at least for the time being. Finally, we landed in Florence, where we were collected by my husband and driven back to Lucca.

Pía Léon

Returning to Europe – and Paul’s very first time in Italy – the next day we all drove to Da Gorini in San Piero in Bagno. The restaurant is rather secluded and driving three hours across the country is both the best and most direct way of travel. I have visited the restaurant before and know the young chef, Gianluca Gorini, well, so am pleased to see him upon our arrival as he welcomes us and joins in for an aperitif in front of the fireplace.

Spit of Fifth Quart of Spicy Pigeon

We move from the cosy fireplace setting to our table. It’s a Monday night in winter, so the room is quiet and we share Gianluca with only a few other tables. As the dishes arrive and fill the table, we’re able to question him about the creations, learning more about the genesis of each plate. What follows is a long and complex assembly of ingredients, dotted with flair and flushes of creativity: Battuta di Daino, Bergamot, Chestnut Honey & Coffee; Codfish Almond, Rosemary, Lemon & Olives; Roasted Artichoke, Artichoke Sauce, Capers & Matcha Tea; Barbecued Eel, Radicchio & Shallot; Green Noodles with Mantis Shrimps, Bread Flavoured with Seaweed & Marinated Lemon; Rigatoni with Cream of Smoked Parmesan Cheese, Mace, Coconut & Dried Sausage; Ravioli Stuffed with Shallots, First Goat Salt & Dried Chicory; Passatelli in Cabbage Broth, Pumpkin & Soybeans; Stew of Venison Stewed with Beer, Orange Cauliflower & Carnation; Grilled Pigeon, Laurel Extract & Dark Onion; and Spit of Fifth Quart of Spicy Pigeon.


Spaghetti with gentian butter pecorino and
candid bergamot
, photo by Sofie Delauw per Cook_inc. 22

Gianluca is a chef who doesn’t mind taking risks. He knows all about the balance of flavours, but is brave enough to push the boundaries in an attempt to create something new and interesting. Previously, I had visited Da Gorini in the summer, so this winter menu made a nice alternative and demonstrated Gianluca’s talents. Here, he was able to play with the seasons, using new ingredients, pulling on produce more from the land than the sea. The only ocean-sourced ingredients were the salt cod and the mantis shrimps with seaweed.

Gianluca and Paul

One of many highlights during dinner, was a Rigatoni dish with dried sausage and shaved coconut. The coconut resembles shaved Parmigiano in appearance, but adds a subtle sweetness to the pasta, cutting nicely through the smoked sausage. The table are all agreed that this is one of many highlights, and as I throw in the towel, full from an extensive meal, I realise that there is still dessert to come. I look over to Paul, who smiles at me. “Bring on the dessert” he says enthusiastically. We finish the evening by returning to the snug comfort of the fireplace, where we knock back a couple of gin & tonics. This is a memorable meal that Paul and I will discuss often.

We drove back to Lucca in the morning to repack, but there isn’t time to hang about as we have a flight to Paris. It’s Wednesday 16th January now and we’ve been on the road for just under one-week, during which time we’ve eaten in North America, South America and Europe. Thankfully, it’s a straightforward flight from Florence to Paris and we arrive at our hotel in good time.

Paul and I both have friends in Paris, so we parted for a few hours to touch base with our buddies. My childhood friend, Desirée, is an actress who is based in Paris and I visit the theatre where she is performing in Les Derniers Jours de Ma Vie (The Last Days of My Life). Desirée introduces me to the troupe, who want me to stay for the show. As much as I’d love to hang with the cast, my dinner reservation is creeping up and I’m due to meet Paul, so off I dash to Virtus.

Welcome dish at Virtus

Virtus is the restaurant of Chiho Kanzaki and Marcelo Di Giacomo, two chefs who met in 2009, working for Mauro Colagreco at Mirazur. Paul and I walk to the restaurant, a spectacular setting on the Rue Cotte. Both Chiho and Marcelo greet us upon arrival. Inside, the restaurant is beautiful and cosy with elegant decorations adorning the walls, almost maison privée. We had convinced ourselves that this would be a Japanese menu, however, we soon realised that most of the Japanese chefs based in Paris, are adopting European flavours and leaning more towards classic French cuisine.

Yellow Cod

Dinner at Virtus begins with Scallops, Cauliflower & Broth of Granny Smith, a delicious and fresh partnership that’s the perfect opener. This is followed by Declination of Celeriac, Caviar Osciètre and then Sea Urchin, Fruit of Passion & Watercress. Everything is clean and fresh, high on flavour. Nothing is out of place, although I would say that because of the mix of ingredients and flavours, the character of the sea urchin was lost. The meal continued with Yellow Cod, wonderful in a turnip and clam broth; then Canard de Challans, a roast duck with black sesame that’s perfectly prepared by the kitchen. By the time the Plateau de Fromages is offered – a staple of the French table – both Paul and I are near bursting point, so we decide to split the cheese rather than declining it. Accompanying the cheese is a glass of La Notas by Jean Claude of 2012, Rosso, from Mendoza, Argentina. A few weeks after our visit, I learn that the French Michelin Guide rewarded Virtus with their first star – a well deserved accolade.

Plateau de Fromages

Having marked off Paris, we’re packing our suitcases again, ready to board another plane. This time, we’re saying goodbye to Europe and hello to Asia, as we head over to Tokyo, Japan, on the last stop of our tour. Paul has made several visits to Tokyo and is more familiar with the city than I am, which is just as well, as the subway is confusing, to say the least. I play the tourist and follow Paul’s lead until eventually, we arrive at Inua, located in the uber-cool Iidabashi neighbourhood. Honestly, I have no idea how he found the restaurant. In typical trendy, Japanese style, Inua has no sign, no board, nothing to distinguish it from any other building. But find it he did, and we enter into the stylish building, an elevator taking us up to the restaurant.

Tokyo skyline view

Inua itself is a restaurant of minimalist design. It’s very Japanese, very Nordic too. This is no surprise, seeing as chef Thomas Frebel worked as Rene Redzepi’s right hand man at Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant for nearly a decade. The German-born, Tokyo-based chef now applies his trade using the very finest Japanese ingredients. He spent two years foraging the Japanese land and sea – from the tropical southern islands of Okinawa to the northernmost mountain forests of Hokkaido.

Petrini dined at Inua last year, and his report will feature in the 23rd issue of Cook inc., out March 2019. For me, this was an exciting journey with some new and interesting ingredients. In many ways, it was reminiscent of Noma – Scallop Mousseline, Fresh Tofu, King Crab & White Truffle, Reindeer Tongue, Wild Herb Salad – but punctuated with Thomas’ own unique take on things. Dishes like Seasoned and Smoked Maitake, Grouper in Salted Plum Sauce and Salad of Sweet Prawns & Seaweed were really exceptional. The Enoki Steak with Egg Yolk Sauce is further proof that this is something special, as too is Rice & Beechnuts (please give me a second helping!). By the time the Whole Wild Duck arrived at the table, Paul and I were already won over. The duck – perfectly pink with succulent, lick your fingers fat, and a crispy skin – confirmed everything: this was truly outstanding cooking.

Wild Duck

Deciding that it would be best to moderate our wine intake, Paul and I had plenty of room left for desserts, which include a chewy, pliable and deliciously soft, Mochi. I thought it strange when the lights shook and the room seemed to spin. Turning to Paul, he too had the same look of shock across his face. Hang on, how far gone was I? I had barely touched a drop and I know whether I’m properly sloshed or not! Oh no, this was an earthquake tremor. Gulp! I clung to the table, looking around the restaurant. No one else seemed to mind though, so I took comfort in this and copied the calm actions of the other Japanese diners.

Thomas Frebel

Post-dinner, Thomas and some of the kitchen team joined us at the table. We discussed the menu, the research and the travel required to source such rare and interesting ingredients – like kihada berries from Nagano and scarlet pitanga fruits from Okinawa. These ingredients, when applied, create some of the most inventive cooking in the country.

Imperial Palace

I woke early the following day, scratching my head and having to think about which time zone I was in. I decided to seize the day and venture out while the city was still quiet, marking off the wonderful gardens of the Imperial Palace. I visited the National Museum of Modern Art, taking in the exceptional displays of silk and sculpture, and the Fukuzawa Ichiro exhibition. This proved to be the perfect opportunity to stretch my legs in preparation before boarding yet another plane for the twelve-hour flight back to Italy.

The World Restaurant Awards Ceremony

Finally, I was home, having marked off the Americas (North and South), Europe and Asia. The problem now was whittling down the list, from five to three to a single winner. All of the restaurants were outstanding, all driven by a talented force, all offering something completely different. Paul and I debated the options. We looked at the location, the environment, the chef, the research, the ingredients, the service. We studied all components, moving back and forth until, eventually, we agreed upon one. We now had a winner, but the rest of the world would have to wait until the awards ceremony in Paris on February 18th.

The top spot, in the end, was awarded to Inua and Thomas Frebel in Tokyo, Japan. And, ça va sans dire, a decision which Paul and I both believe, is fully deserved.