Written by David J Constable

One of the main focuses of the Royal Project in Chiang Mai Province was the cultivation of the coffee bean, something the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej founded in 1969 and saw as more than a viable alternative to the opium crop that was initially being farmed in Northern Thailand, especially along the borderlands with neighbouring Laos and Myanmar. Today, Thailand has become a burgeoning producer of coffee on the global market, presently ranked in third place among Asia’s top coffee producers.

At the Coffee Research and Development Centre located inside the Chiang Mai University campus, Dr Pongsak Angkasith, Head of Coffee Research and Development Project Foundation, spoke about the ascent of Thailand’s coffee production, and with it, Royal Project Coffee.

Mountains in Chiang Mai

“We started replacing opium with fruit farming, such as peaches but moved on to vegetables and various temperate fruits. Coffee was also one of the promising crops, so we started to promote coffee to farmers. Coffee is a perennial, or what we call a permanent crop,” Dr Pongsak noted, adding that farmers started to realise they could earn a good living, achieving an even better income than farming the poppy had given them.

“Research was key, as setbacks often thwarted the cultivation of coffee,” Dr Pongsak recalled. “In the beginning, there was a rust disease, or coffee disease as we call it. This destroyed the coffee tree. If we couldn’t find a solution to this, the farmers would have to use more pesticides, and this would result in more costs for the farmers. We had to find a rust-resistant crop.

Rice Terraces, Royal Project, Chiang Mai

Unwavered by the challenge, Dr Pongsak and his team set about research ways in which they could combat the so-called coffee disease while appeasing farmers at the same time. Research continued, and they began working even closer with the farmers to study the land and the weather patterns, looking at ways to overcome current and future crop damage. “Our research continued, and we were able to produce a better standard of production,” Dr Pongsak proudly notes. Coffee production expanded from Chiang Mai to neighbouring Chiang Rai, and across Mae Hong Son, Nan and Lampang – highland areas at 800 m to 1,600 m elevation.

The Royal Project now encompasses 22 areas that produce Royal Project coffee. In all they produce about 500 tons annually, increasing year on year. The coffee is bought from the farmers and sold to roasting companies, but the Royal Project also roasts its own coffee, around 50 tons a year.

The growers of Doi Chang harvesting coffee cherries

One of the coffees grown by hill tribes in northern Thailand, within the Royal Project mountains, is Doi Tung; with farmers now planning to expand exportation to the United States market. “We are looking for partners who understand our role as a social enterprise and are flexible when doing business together,’” said ML Dispanadda Diskul, Chief Executive of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, which developed the Royal Project that gave birth to Doi Tung coffee.

The project produces 250 tons of coffee beans a year from 800 coffee-growing hill tribe households and is already exporting between 30 tons and 50 tons a year to Japan. The coffee is found in most supermarkets in Thailand, and the project runs 11 Doi Tung cafes around the country that brought in $2.4 million in sales last year.

In total, there are around 4,500 Royal Project developments in Thailand, covering not just coffee cultivation, but also research centred around food and water resource management to tackle such things as malnutrition and poverty, a problem still present in Thailand, particularity across the northern provinces. This aligns with the late King Rama IX’s Sufficiency Economy theory, which not only focused on sustainable development but also encapsulated an almost epicurean philosophy which he hoped would be followed by the people of Thailand. The basis of this was to live within one’s means, and if the country practices sustainable development, then the people of Thailand would always have enough.

The Royal Project initiative also included healthcare and educational initiatives, all aimed at offering a better life for people in remote and rural areas. For this, and other work, King Rama IX was given the United Nations Development Programme’s first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

www.royalprojectmarket.com

AWritten by David J Constable

It’s a futile attempt to try and conquer the full expanse of the Thai flavour wheel, although that doesn’t stop people from trying.

Bangkok lagged behind many Southeast Asian cities for years, without the affluence and access to the outside world and remained an almost hidden, tucked-away conurbation, overshadowed and unvisited. Now, that has all changed and Bangkok has been thrust into the culinary elite. The city is more than just a burgeoning food scene. It’s a full throttle, in-your-face, slap of technicolour. The food here is a deliriously fearsome bash of fire and sour and salt and smoke; of the high ethereal waft of turmeric and lemongrass. It’s a proper no-hold-barred indulgence at every level; from the street food vendors with their roaming carts to Michelin-rated restaurants.

Street Food Dried Squid

For a genuine and authentic exploration of what the city has to offer, you need to peek beneath the surface. Go deeper, explore the Sois and khlongs, and discover an expanse of curries and a beguiling array of fruits and vegetables. Try the staples of Pad Thai (Thai Style Fried Noodles) and Som Tam (Spicy Green Papaya Salad) by all means, but then venture deeper.

Explore the khlongs and try the famous Kway Teow Rua (Boat Noodles – cover photo), tiny bowls assembled on small boats by old ladies and consisting of egg noodles, pork and fermented bean curd, all added to a deep-red broth of pig’s blood. Various toppings were added over the years – beef, garlic, crab balls, offal cuts – and it is recommended to try between four and eight for full culinary satisfaction. Also, no visit to Bangkok complete without Moo Ping, the grilled pork skewers of street vendors, nor Lan Larb Bpet (deep-fried duck beaks), but don’t confuse Larb with Laab. The latter is a northeastern-style spicy salad with meat, mushroom and mint, while the other includes Larb Mote Daeng (Red Ant Eggs).

Larb Mote Daeng

Vendors have become accustomed to the point-and-order farangs, unable to wrap their tongues around the pronunciation of say, Sai Ooah (northern Thai sausage) or Kao Niew Ma Muang (Mango sticky rice). Another simple classic is Pork Fried Rice which, for me, never disappoints.

At Nai Mong Hoy Tod in Chinatown, a restaurant that sells nothing but oyster omelettes, dive into a rolled, crispy, tapioca flour-creation of decadence – and pay no more than THB150 (€4.00) for a Bib Gourmand omelette. Finish with a sprinkle of white pepper and a splash of sriracha chilli sauce. Chinatown is a great place to explore the culinary history of the city. Bangkok was a Chinese city in the 19th century, and up until the 1920s, most Thais lived outside the city. Much of the street food nowadays is a hybrid of Thai, Chinese and Malay – reflecting the waves of immigration.

Mango Sticky Rice

If you want to up the ante – and the financial spend – then the iconic Jay Fai crab omelette is a football-sized morsel bulging with crab meat. This Michelin-starred street-side restaurant has been in operation for over forty years. On the subject of crab, try local favourite Apsorn’s Kitchen, also known as Krua Apsorn, near the National Library, for Stir-Fried Crab in curry powder. Also, in Silom, there’s the joltingly hot Super Spicy Chicken Wing Soup at Somtum Der.

Venture to Aw Taw Kaw in Chatuchak and enter into the malodorous megalopolis market for fistfuls of durian (“The Stinky Fruit”) and fragrant mango. Some of the makeshift restaurants around the periphery of the market sell sensational sauces and relishes too. Try Sai Grok (fermented sausage) at one of the little outposts, and 100% Arabica Royal Project Thai Coffee from Chaing Mai.

Jay-Fai

Speaking of markets, Khlong Toei offers visitors one of the most authentic experiences in the city. Bangkok’s biggest fresh market is labyrinthine; winding lanes selling raw meat – both dead and alive – along with seafood and farm produce. If you have a weak stomach, avoid Kob (frogs), which are a popular delicacy in Thailand but are prepared by removing the skin, while alive, and hacking at the limbs with a cleaver; and Goong Ten (Dancing Shrimp), made with live shrimps, however, it’s rather wonderful for those with a more adventurous streak.

From Camembert to Kinder, How the UK Are Preparing Their Food Supplies

Written by David J Constable

As Britain prepares for a No-Deal E.U. Exit, fears of food shortages have people concerned over the imported foods that have, for many years, been part and parcel of British culinary life. As the possibility of a no-deal Brexit increased after a proposed deal by Minister Theresa May was rejected by the U.K. parliament, many are making preparations by stocking up on necessities imported from the E.U. After all, what is Great Britain without Nutella, Magnum ice creams and macaroni cheese?

A frustrated country has become a panicked one. Can the U.K. import, will they import, will other E.U. countries even allow them to import? This has created food anxiety at home. My goodness, where will all of the Camembert, chicken Kievs and boxes of Ferrero Rocher come from? Will Britain ever see a Kinder Egg again?

Camembert

Many are taking action, bulk-buying and stockpiling, filling fridges, freezers and basements with essentials and their favourite go-to snack. And, while I haven’t taken hoarding foods (yet), I fear for my balsamic vinegar and Piedmont wines. The gravity of the situation is becoming very apparent.

Currently, the import versus export position of the U.K. is very unbalanced. To put this into perspective, in 2015, the country imported £38.5 billion of food and drink, but only exported £18 billion worth of food. Things are already difficult, and the uncertainty of the future is quite rightly confusing. If indeed, a deal can be agreed and foods allowed to continue their importation, it will, very likely, be at a higher cost to the U.K. public. The likes of Nescafe (14%), Marmite (12%) and Mr Kipling Cakes (5%) have already seen a price increase within the last 12 months.

Magnum Ice Cream

Last month, Unilever — the British-Dutch transnational consumer goods company — admitted to stockpiling Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and Magnum bars ahead of the UK’s departure from the European Union. The firm’s Leeds factory, which makes Sure, Lynx and Dove, supplies the whole of Europe, while its ice creams are produced on the continent.

The political uncertainty has been reflected in the increasing sales of “Brexit Boxes” – a care package, worth €330, containing dozens of tins of macaroni cheese, pasta bolognese, chicken tikka, sweet and sour chicken, and beef and potato stew, as well as a water filter and a fire starter. The boxes are being sold by James Blake who set up the company Emergency Food Storage U.K. in 2009 with the aim of “making emergency preparedness as simple as possible”. Blake began selling the “Brexit Boxes” in December and is now selling around 25 a day.

Emergency Food Pack

Staffing issues have already been affected with many E.U. nationalities worried about their status and leaving industry jobs — kitchens, cooks, the front of house — to return home. As for the ingredients itself, a positive spin could be a more inherit approach to sourcing and cooking, with chefs forced to be more creative with the application of U.K. only produce. A good thing, surely. No more watered-down Danish bacon. Goodbye to Polish mushrooms. See ya later squishy Spanish tomatoes!

All of this begs the question: what will happen to the famed English Breakfast, a meal of incomparable gut-busting perfection, and often assembled via a list of imported E.U. ingredients. It is adaptable, catering to all tastes; the great interchangeable meal with an abundance of choice, the Marilyn Monroe of breakfast — as potent for a hangover as a litre of Alka-Seltzer.

English Breakfast

For eggs and toast, the U.K. will be fine. The British egg industry can produce enough for the country to be entirely self-sufficient in eggs. For bread, 85% of the wheat used by U.K. flour millers is homegrown. The flour produced is also from the U.K. with only 2% exported. As for sausages, bacon, tomatoes the news may not be so good. British farmers currently produce only 40% of the pork eaten in the U.K. The other 60% comes from E.U. countries such as Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Baked beans are mostly US imports, but tomatoes grow mostly where it is hot, immediately cancelling out the U.K. — although glasshouses are used.

With the great English Breakfast seemingly under threat and Magnum ice creams about to vanish, the full effect of Brexit is put into a new light. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

ACHIEVING HAPPY EQUILIBRIUM

Written by David J Constable

Photos by Sofie Delauw from Cook_inc. 22

The long and complex menu doesn’t bode well. For starters, it’s late in the winter evening and took me over three hours to get here for dinner, plus I’m tired and can hear the repetitive tip-tap-tip-tap-tip-tapping of child’s feet running around me as a four-year-old slides across the polished restaurant floor – way past his bedtime. It’s a cosy Italian ristorante though, and I’m a greedy Brit in Tuscany, so shuffle my lardy arse comfortably into the chair and look forward to plate after plate of crostini and a gargantuan Lampredotto sandwich.

Gianluca Gorini

Woah, but hang on, this is 14-courses, plus all of the surprise appetizers, amuse-bouches and added accompaniments. Gianluca Gorini’s menu is a litany of lavish ingredients, but even I, from time to time, am guilty of unwarranted snobbery. The restaurant da Gorini in San Piero in Bagno, on the Tuscan-Romagna Apennines, presents fabulous and inventive food in his own style – light rather than heavy, but still full of robust flavours. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was exactly what I wanted. The customary lineup of Italian ingredients are all evident – salsiccia, radicchio, Parmigiano cream, winter chestnuts – convincing me that I was in very safe hands, but these are paired alongside kooky catches that have no place appearing on such a menu in inland Toscana. Creations are both classic and contemporary, a difficult balance to pull off successfully in a time when outlandish chefs are all wanting to wow the diner.

Amuse-bouches
photo by David J Constable

As the winter daylight falls, I find myself tucked away in the corner of the restaurant, seated among friends, the family of Gorini – including his wife, Sara Silvani, and boisterous son – emerge from the kitchen with plate after plate of striking creations. First, a few light and delicately designed dishes such as Fallow deer tartare with a citrus sting of bergamot, chestnut honey and robust grated coffee, followed by “Mandorlato” of cod with rosemary. Then, a plate of Roasted artichoke with artichoke sauce, capers and a sprinkling of dried matcha tea – “an absolute masterpiece, probably the most interesting of the year”, as proclaimed by Identità Golose in their 2019 guide. For me, it was the only duff note of dinner, a tandem clash of artichoke spiked with piquant capers as salty as a marathon runner’s jockstrap and the lingering vegetal taste of powdered matcha difficult to shift.

Tagliolini al burro di genziana, pecorino e scorza di bergamotto candito
photo by Sofie Dalauw from Cook_inc. 22

It’s when the pasta courses arrive that things kick into gear and Gorini’s talents flourish. Robust tubes of Rigatoni come with a smoked Parmigiano cream, mace, coconut and shards of dried sausage. It’s a bowl of food that demands to be mopped up and a show in smart innovation, with the mace offering a tinge of citrus and cinnamon while the addition of shaved coconut adds a Southeast Asian twist to proceedings, melting nicely with the cream for a release of milky gamma-octalactone. A light-textured trio of Ravioli stuffed with shallots, salted goats’ cheese and withered chicory was a design of such simplicity, such straightforward craftsmanship of envelope-thin pasta, that it was one of the evening’s most outstanding courses. Meat courses follow in the form of Local roe deer with orange cauliflower and carnation, then Grilled pigeon with aromatic bay extract, and a skewer of pigeon offal – the delicious organ pop of a little heart and lung. The ripeness of the deer and the acidity of the orange dance happily. What’s striking is the way the meat has been adequately rested before reaching us. As a result, the deer has softened up, and I clear my plate immediately.

Semifreddo al raviggiolo, amarene sciroppate, croccante alle noci e vermut
photo by Sophie Delauw from Cook_inc. 22

Everything is sophisticated and delicate, wild when needed but never steering away from Gorini’s roots. It’s his roots, heritage and family that are so important to the framework of da Gorini; the household atmosphere of the restaurant creating a warm and open environment – deliberately family-friendly – and a continuation of the hospitality Gianluca encountered after growing up in a family of restaurateurs. From the go, it’s clear how important food and family are to Gianluca, and how he uses these as fuel to thrust himself forward. Gianluca has managed to create a happy equilibrium between family and business, running the restaurant with his wife and receiving a helping hand in front of house from his son. A special mention also to sous-chef, Filippo Tura, and cognoscente wine recommendations by Mauro Antonio Donatiello – many organic and biodynamic from the region. In all, it’s a masterful balance, a whiz-bang in culinary creativity that, as is always the way with Italians, comes back around to family. I’d go back weekly if I could, for all 14-courses… and some more.

A detail from one of the dining rooms
photo by Sofie Dalauw from Cook_inc. 22

daGorini

Via Giuseppe Verdi, 5

47021 San Piero in Bagno (FC)

Tel: +39 0543 190 8056

www.dagorini.it

Written by David J Constable

Photos by David J Constable – Cover photo by Francesco Tommasi (from Cook_inc. 20)

Occupying a space on one of Lucca’s famous cobblestone palazzos (Piazza del Giglio), Ristorante Giglio carries a list of stylish Italian aperitivi — vermouth, prosecco, Campari, Aperol — but it’s their impressive list of over 600 “ethical” organic and biodynamic wines and beers that have made them celebrated amongst the local, youthful beatniks.

A rustic institution, much loved by its regulars, Ristorante Giglio gained a new cult following last year when Benedetto Rullo left the smog and graffiti of the capital for Lucca, joining friends Lorenzo Stefanini and Stefano Terigi. Two became three, and a new kitchen trio was born.

A detail from the dining room ceiling

The restaurant already had a history of kitchen collaborations and generational torch-passing, having opened in 1979 under Franco Barbieri, Giuliano Pacini and Loredano Orsi, the reigns were handed to Paola Barbieri in 2000, before her son, Lorenzo, got in. The injection of youthful creativity presented a new contemporary dimension for the restaurant. Menus evolved, moving effortlessly from the rural traditions of Lucca and Mantua to a more diverse gastronomic identity in which foreign influences — particularly Asian — are present, without abdicating the Tuscan region.

Pinzimonio: raw vegetables with goat’s curd

In a time when international Italian food appears mostly in a bastardised, commercial form, three young chefs have put their travels and experiences to use, taking only minor poetic leanings and drawing on their Italian heritage to create new plates of fresh eating with the nonsense, pretension and snobbery left out. To oppose the age-old proverb, too many cooks do not spoil the broth, in fact, they improve and define it.

Without pontificating all of the guff of organic and biodynamic wines, the three friends are more understated, recommending, in a subtle nudge-nudge-wink-wink persuasion, their suggestions to diners. The food meanwhile is all that is good and true of nonna’s kitchen table. No dish has the dull, monotonous colouring of creamy pasta or dank garlic bread; this is all vibrant stuff, carefully assembled after months of research, discussions and recipe testing. Plates slap you with their freshness and psychedelic colouring, willing you to pull out your phone and photograph.

Tortellini with cream and soy sauce

Pairings that on paper look disastrous are in fact majestic creations that dance on the tongue, creating an accomplished and surprising menu laced with achievements. Take, for example, animelle (veal sweetbreads) with pumpkin and the citrus-sting of grapefruit; and Smoked hare with red cabbage, tempered in a light pine-nut milk and rabbit innards pie. Chicken liver with eel and pomegranate is a marriage as unlikely as Donald Trump and Angelina Jolie, but it works perfectly. Raw cuttlefish and citrus dashi have its roots in Japanese cuisine, while Tortellini with cream and soy sauce packs a punch. Thai spicing is used to marinade a locally-sourced Shoulder of baby lamb that, if the world was to end tomorrow, would very likely be my last chosen meal. A final mouthful of succulent, fatty, full-on-flavour, euphemistic mutton before a fireball of fury explodes the Earth.

A special mention for the bread. This is some of the best-unleavened bread I have ever eaten, bread that deserves a bombastic paragraph of celebration all to itself. By sticking to their principle of threes, three grains — rye, spelt and an ancient variety of wheat called Gentil Rosso — are blended and allowed to rise slowly, increasing in size as if blowing hot air into a balloon. I guiltily stuff my face, pulling away fist-fulls of warm dough and dipping it into puddles of golden olive oil, soaking up the local liquid like thirsty sponges.

Last year’s Michelin star was a reward in persistent refinement for Ristorante Giglio as they continue to strive and evolve. Even though the chefs have their own lives and families, they remain united as a creative culinary trio, each dedicated in their duty to bring their bespoke piece of genius to the table, just enough so that each part of the puzzle creates a whole.

The bread – photo by Francesco Tommasi (from Cook_inc. 20)

Ristorante Giglio

Piazza del Giglio, 2,

55100 Lucca – Italy

Tel: +39 0583 494058

www.ristorantegiglio.com

Written by David J Constable

Photos courtesy of Chef Darren Teoh

As chefs make a conscious effort to move away from the importing of luxury items, turning their attention towards the sourcing of more regional, “local” ingredients, it seems almost inescapable nowadays to find a restaurant that isn’t pushing, poking and promoting the local label. At a time when competitive chefs are striving for our attention, bombarding us with Instagram photos and popping up on our television screens, they continue to implement what they can for their fifteen minutes of fame. Others, however, in this time of overwhelming media deluge have chosen a different pathway; choosing instead to visit the exact source and revert to the student; open and accessible to new knowledge. More importantly, they appear to have given themselves over to education from those who know far more than they do.

Temuan chocolate with jaggery ice cream

In Malaysia, food has long had a convoluted appearance, influenced by the country’s multiethnic cluster of people whose pallets dance between the traditions and practices of the indigenous Sabah and Sarawak people to the Peranakan and Eurasian creole communities, as well as a significant number of foreign workers and expatriates. In fact, what one would perhaps call “modern Malay” cuisine, can be boiled down to a melange of traditions from its Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and ethnic Bornean citizens, ineffable and impossible to categorise. This has made Malaysian food challenging to define, which is precisely why Chef Darren Teoh of Dewakan in Kuala Lumpur seeks to put endemic produce – or ingredients which are either native or naturalised to the land – on the dining table.

The dining room at Dewakan

The menu at Dewakan is a geographical journey through the biodiverse layers of the Malaysian habitats, a culinary run through of all that is good from the land, the sea, and the verdant jungles of Peninsular and East Malaysia. As a country split into two regions – separated by the South China Sea – it means an ultra-diverse ecosystem thrives, supported by both land and sea. Peninsular Malaysia shares a common history with Singapore, therefore, it is not uncommon to find the same version of dishes, such as chicken rice and laksa; however, because of its proximity and historical migrations with Indonesia, expect also to see the likes of rendang and sambal. Where Darren comes in, is somewhere more panoptic, bringing his experience from the kitchens of Les Amis in Singapore and his education in haute cuisine-style cooking and presentation, to incorporate a catalogue of ingredients from in and around his Malaysian home.

“The restaurant began with a simple idea,” Darren explains, “to use local ingredients. But then, just stopping with the ingredients revealed a missing piece of the vocabulary. We needed to apply local technique, as well, and, because I was trained in the European style, it occurred to me that I needed to step back and look at how I could use native produce to their full potential”. By visiting communities in all corners of the country, Darren and his team have re-energised many lost or forgotten ingredients, such as ulam raja microgreens, buah kampung, and chocolate made from foraged cocoa beans by the Temuan orang asli community, who are indigenous to western parts of Peninsular Malaysia.

Prawn umai with bunga kantan and ketumpang air

“It’s no longer a novelty to source these types of ingredients, but necessary to support these communities and utilise local produce”, says Darren. “If using these new ingredients means re-training our palates, then so be it, a lot of cooking and being creative is about challenging yourself.” Challenging indeed, not merely in the procurement of such items – the research, field-trip visits and driving over an hour and a half to collect ingredients – but when diners have certain expectations and require convincing that these rare ingredients are worth paying for. “Sure, that can be difficult, but my team and I are there to educate and transfer that message of humanism”.

Darren continues, “The previous government suppressed the lives of many people, especially those Malaysians in the countryside and forests. They were robbed of their ancestral lands, forced to live in poverty. We can’t talk about sourcing these products from such places for a fancy restaurant, without talking about these people. Dewakan is a celebration of the people and everything that’s great about our land”.

Dewakan

Lower Ground Floor
KDU University College,

Utropolis Glenmarie
Jalan Kontraktor

U1/14, Seksyen U1,
40150 Shah Alam, Selangor,

Malaysia
Tel: +60 35 565 0767
dewakan@kdu.edu.mywww.dewakan.my

Written by David J Constable


With yesterday’s announcement of France’s winners and losers in the coveted little red book, came as much applause as it made tears. Still very much considered to be the most successful and prestigious restaurant guidebook in the world, the Michelin Guide has risen to gastronomic bible status, a hefty on-the-road manual spawning legions of checklist gourmands. In doing so, the guide has both blighted and elevated the lives of chefs.

One of the biggest shocks of the French culinary guide for 2019, was Auberge de L’Ill losing its third star, an accolade the famed Alsace restaurant held for 51 years. “It’s hard for the team, it’s hard for everyone – the customers, the family – it’s very hard,” said Chef Marc Haeberlin, a champion of contemporary Alsatian cuisine. “I don’t know how to explain this loss,” said Haeberlin, whose culinary mentor, the legendary chef Paul Bocuse, died last year.

Another shocking announcement was Maison des Bois losing its third star. Chef Marc Veyrat – known as much for his wide-brimmed black hat as his love of mountain ingredients – confirmed that his Alpine restaurant had fallen from three to two stars. “I’m disappointed. I can’t understand it at all,” said Veyrat, who only earned the third-star last year. “I will stay combative and present with the team in my kitchen,” Veyrat said, blasting the decision as “unfair”. Chef Pascal Barbot, whose Parisian restaurant l’Astrance has held three stars for 11 years, also dropped down a notch to two stars in the 2019 guide.

Chef Julia Sedefdjian and the staff of Restaurant Baieta
Credits: Restaurant Baieta Instagram

More shock news occurred as it was announced that two-stars had been awarded back to Le Suquet, located in the Aveyron region, the restaurant operated by Chef Sebastian Bras who famously asked to have his stars returned in 2017. The guide left the three-star restaurant out of the 2018 publication only to award them with two-stars in the 2019 release. The chef admitted to being “surprised” to see the restaurant back in the 2019 guide having cited the “huge pressure” that came with Michelin recognition when he asked in 2017 for his three-star restaurant to be left out of the 2018 guide.

Meanwhile, a record 75 restaurants earned new spots in the one, two or three-star rankings, an expected increase given the guide’s new international director Gwendal Poullennec had promised to breathe new life into its pages, celebrating more female chefs and young talent. Eleven female-led restaurants were awarded, among them 24-year-old Chef Julia Sedefdjian, who won a star for her new restaurant Baieta in Paris, and Chef Stephanie Le Quellec, who claimed her second for the Parisian restaurant La Scene. “This year, more than any other, the MICHELIN Guide France is demonstrating a gastronomic France that excels on all fronts,” says Poullenec. “From remarkable regional dynamism to showcasing new talented youngsters, and to an unprecedented number of new star-studded restaurants led by women, the 2019 vintage shines brightly in many ways”.

Mauro Colagreco
Credits: Bob Noto (photo from Cook_inc. 11)

The biggest celebratory news of the evening, however, was the award of three-stars to Chef Mauro Colagreco of Mirazur in Menton and Chef Laurent Petit of Clos des Sens restaurant in Annecy-le-Vieux. Born in Argentina, Colagreco becomes the only foreign chef in France to hold three-stars. “So many emotions. Thank you! I’m so honoured,” the chef told the audience at the awards ceremony in Paris. Colagreco continued, “How can I begin to express such overwhelming emotion and gratitude! Gratitude firstly towards my team for their dedication over the years; gratitude towards my family, for their sacrifice and support; gratitude towards our loyal guests for their continued support; gratitude towards our local purveyors providing us with the best products of the region; gratitude towards Michelin and their guide for recognising our work from the beginning; and finally gratitude towards France — a country where I chose to express myself, that adopted me, transmitting its values of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”.

Words by Redazione Cook_inc.

Photos by David Yorath (Apollo PR)

Known for his dedicated work with native Australian communities and ingredients, as well as for his culinary talent – brilliantly showcased, for example, in his Orana restaurant in Adelaide – Scottish chef Jock Zonfrillo was awarded the Basque Culinary World Prize on November 22nd for the positive impact his project has had. The prize gala saw him victorious against nine other finalists, all of whom were shortlisted for their commitment to transform the world through gastronomy. Having been selected by a prestigious jury, headed by Spanish chef Joan Roca and further consisting of some of the world’s most influential chefs, Zonfrillo was given the prize money of €100.000 to continue his work with the self-founded Orana Foundation, databasing native Australian ingredients.

During his Australian adventure, Zonfrillo spent more than seventeen years dedicating his life to the discovery and defence of aborigine culture, visiting hundreds of native communities, learning about their ingredients and traditional food. Having researched these products and given a voice to the communities and their knowledge, he opened Orana restaurant to quite literally welcome – this being the English translation of the word Orana – every element of Australia’s cuisine. While the food variety, history and nutritional properties of indigenous ingredients are honoured in the restaurant’s menu, the regularly missing respect towards Aborigines and their general exclusion from the national culinary identity in the country brought Zonfrillo to launch the Orana Foundation in 2016 with the goal of “giving back more than you take.”

He saw his task in assisting indigenous communities by supporting them in researching, documenting, commercialising and promoting their native foods, as well as training them in skills like growing, cultivating and harvesting these ingredients in order to minder their social and economic disadvantage. Considering traditional Australian food as a way of understanding and appreciating all aspects of Australian culture, one of Zonfrillo’s main objectives was the documentation of native ingredients and the investigation of their uses, which he started last year with the help of a multidisciplinary research team. It is this endeavour, that he also wants part of the prize money to go towards, enabling him to extend his database to 15.000 native ingredients over the next couple of years: “100% of the prize money is being invested into Indigenous community projects that will see a long term and sustainable impact on their community and financial security and make positive change on their terms”, Zonfrillo said, naming a community packing shed and the farming of freshwater prawns as examples.

Expressing his pride and honour at having been chosen as the winner of the Basque Culinary World Prize, he describes the award as an “instrumental part of the wave of change” in his acceptance speech, indicating the efforts of the Basque Culinary Centre and the Basque Government, who have held the prize since 2016. Striving to look beyond the culinary qualities of gastronomic professionals and honouring instead the positive impact chefs can have in fields such as culinary innovation, health, nutrition, education or the environment, the Basque Culinary World Prize, like Jock Zonfrillo, aims to transform the world through gastronomy.

 

October 1st and 2nd 2018, Berlin, Germany

Words by Mokki Hsiao

Photos by Rolling Pin Magazine 

Chefs step onto the stage like rock stars, they talk confidently with shining smiles, as if they were young deities and wave their hands as though using invisible wands, making creatures into food. There must exist magic-like power within them or how else could these charming dishes appear in minutes without any hesitation? During CHEFDAYS 2018 in Berlin the idea of magic does not seem wholly impossible.

Organized by Rolling Pin magazine*, CHEFDAYS is the biggest gourmet event in the German speaking world. In 2018, 25 well-known chefs were invited to exhibit their innovative ideas and present their beliefs through their dishes – among them, Taiwanese chef Alain Huang, representing restaurant RAW from Taipei. The one-star Michelin restaurant was founded by well-known chef André Chiang and belongs to the HASMORE limited restaurant group. RAW is the only Asian restaurant having been invited to the event. André used to own also a signature two-star restaurant in Singapore and had been the Diners Club winner of Asia’s Best 50 Award in 2018. The press even praised him as “the greatest chef in the Indian Ocean”. But, if charismatic André is described as the brain and eye of RAW, chef Alain is the hands and feet. Alain is a meticulous chef, who built the castle from scratch, creating cuisine to connect with season, locality and tradition.

Defining the flavour of locality

Alain and André brilliantly picked two seasonal dishes, kept in black and white colour, which bring to mind the ancient philosophy of Ying and Yang, to interpret the “Flavour of Taiwan”. Ebony is a special species of Poulet, whose dark colour stretches from vessels and muscles to the skin. Taiwanese believe that this weird looking chicken can nourish the human body more than others. Ivory is freshly made tofu, which the chefs describe as vegan cheese to the audience. Moreover, they adopted Taiwanese umami ingredients: dried squid, shiitake, black beans and dried fish to create a “black umami ketchup”. The RAW chefs tried to use all ingredients as much as possible, collecting vegan-based whey while making the tofu and later made it into a soup. Alain said, “People discard products only when they don’t know how to use them. We are devoted to developing knowledge for every part of the food, so we are not easily throwing away anything with flavour.”

To construct locality in cuisine, is more than a symbolic puzzle game for smart chefs. Firstly, they must have a shared image of fine cuisine in mind and need to understand the value of locality and season well. They also have to be familiar with the niche expectations from their customers. Pairing extraordinary skills and selected materials, they can then make their idea into an edible compresence. That’s why Alain and André put truffles into the fresh tofu. It is an iconic autumnal fungus and it also reminds gourmets of the most luxurious and precious ingredients the world has to offer. Furthermore, it is completely vegan.

Revealing the taste of nature, no matter the seasonal variations or the characteristic of the place, trying to let the food tell its stories, is the lesson to be learnt from CHEFDAYS 2018. This concept holds true, not only with the Taiwanese chefs, but with some of the coolest Berlin chefs like super star Tim Raue and Austrian up-and-coming red-bearded chef Lukas Mraz. They spoke about territory, an alias for locality and about the city of Berlin. Celebrity chef Tim mentioned how he went out of the city and into the world to introduce what a Berliner’s cuisine truly was, while bringing back spices and seasoning inspirations from Asia. Lukas Mraz, the son of Markus, who owns the two-Michelin-starred Mraz & Sohn in Vienna, especially enjoys the natural wines whenever he is in Berlin. He used to be the head chef of Cordobar, which was said to have been Berlin’s first and most important natural gastro-wine bar and is in the process of transforming into a restaurant at the moment. Natural wine is still an upcoming trend in this city that provides a liberal attitude towards the red wine tradition. All in all, Berlin and CHEFDAYS can be described as providing niche tastes in niche places, while never forgoing the concept of locality.

* Rolling Pin is an Austrian food magazine, which has hosted CHEFDAYS since 2014. Starting in Vienna, the event moved to Graz in 2015, adding the event in Berlin from 2017, alongside the annual one in Austria.

 

Words from Redazione Cook_inc.

Photo from Culinaria

Between the 29th and 30th of September, Trastevere – located on the west bank of the river Tiber in Rome – hosted the arena for an extraordinary fusion between the worlds of art and cooking that was Culinaria – il Gusto dell’Identità. Over these two days, the beautifully light-flooded WE GIL building – a remnant of fascist times – was filled with notable culinary talent and creatively thought-out exhibitions, thus proving how well both components could work together in creating an unprecedented event. Already featured on Culinaria’s promotional posters, Thomas Duval’s photography line “Bondage vegetale” was notably one of the most important parts of the exhibition. Furthermore, a melting chocolate sculpture done in collaboration between Francesca Pinzari and Walter Musco, Andrea Tortora and Pere Gifre’s masterpiece of dough enclosed in a structure and, bound into a unique book, the blend of food and fashion by Nicoletta Lanati were joined, among others, by the works of Giuseppe Guanci, Ria Lussi, Lorenzo Cicconi Massi and late Andrea Salvetti. Throughout it all, the artistic detail was designed to work together with the ideas and dishes of the respective partner chefs and made for ingenious pairings, enjoyable for the general public and positively eye-opening and inspiring for art and food lovers.

For one couple, however, the connection between artist and cook runs much deeper than of colleagues alone. Lukas and Manuel Mraz are brothers and put the Sohn (eng. son) in their father’s restaurant Mraz & Sohn, coincidentally located on the western bank of the river Danube in yet another beautiful European capital: Vienna, Austria. Together they took the stage towards the end of Day One and captivated the audience with each of their talents – one cooked, while the other one had prepared a painting – combined perfectly with a pinch of the famous Wiener Schmäh, the typical Viennese humour. Talking about how their father’s amazing cooking abilities balanced out the five times their mother might have cooked for them, how Vienna has so much amazingly fresh spring water that even the toilets are flushed with it and about how the imperial castle Schloss Schönbrunn is perfectly equipped with its own orangery, which provides Viennese kitchens with citrus fruits from all over the world – and Lukas’ plate. The star of the cooking show, however, was the enokitake mushrooms, which made an appearance on the plate not just once, not even twice, but in three different versions: first steamed as the quintessential noodles in the reinvented Roman “cacio e pepe” dish prepared on stage. Secondly, rehydrated and reduced to an intensely flavoured sauce and as a third trick dried and ground like black pepper and acting just like the spice in the final dish: “We usually do this step [adding the mushroom powder] in front of the customer and whenever they decline pepper, we just keep going”, Lukas recounts smiling mischievously. And indeed, while the mysterious dark specks taste decidedly peppery, they add the promised mushroom note too.

After the dish is prepared and handed out to the hungry and curious audience, the show continues with yet another highlight: Manuel’s painting – until then facing backwards and displaying the words “Moment’s Notice” – is turned around to reveal a portrait of his brother, which – to the soundtrack of the spectator’s gasps – Manuel promptly covers in white paint again. The reason: moments are fleeting, and one should always remember to notice – better yet, to really live – each minute life is presenting us with. This idea, taken from Manuel’s experience as a jazz player and his respect for legendary saxophonist John Coltrane and his “Moment’s Notice” song from 1957, was showcased beautifully, depicting Lukas’ cooking as the moment itself.

In the end, it is as if the whole event unwittingly stood under the mantra of noticing moments, for both, the aforementioned chocolate structure and the dough changed continuously and bigger shows, like Nicoletta Lanati’s presentation of “Food in Fashion” – combined with the Il Giglio boy’s oyster – and the photography works of Thomas Duval and Lorenzo Cicconi Massi, worked hard at immortalizing feelings on the pages of a book, a canvas or within the pixels of a picture, catching moments for the world to experience even after the event had finished.

Take a look at this video