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.