Go back 10 years and the world of food and gastronomy was completely different to what we know today. The World’s 50 Best Restaurants was not as influential as it is today, high-end restaurants were still extremely formal, social media and sharing was in its infancy and many of the world’s top chefs were still obsessing with trying to ‘copyright’ their creations.
But influential Italian chef Fulvio Pierangelini and Andrea Petrini had other ideas. They saw the opportunity of bringing chefs together from around the world to share knowledge and collaborate on a global level and had the foresight to do this way back in 2007 at a time when food was still not mainstream as it is today.
The start was slow but over the past two years, the ambitions of the Gelinaz! collective of chefs has grown despite the fact that it is not a business.
Gelinaz!, has made a name for itself over the past years for its creative gastronomic events and for pushing the boundaries every time an event was organised. “We would like to keep surprising people and remain creative. The important thing is to be completely free on what we do next. We would definitely like to keep the surprise elements and secrets around the events we organise,” Alexandra Swenden, one of the co-curators of Gelinaz! told Food and Wine Gazette.
Alexandra is one of the two side-kicks that play the master of operations for the chefs that form part of the collective. The other is Andrea Petrini, who came up with the concept together with Fulvio Pierangelini around 10 years ago.
The collective has now grown from its early beginnings and is embracing more and more chefs where the objective is not awards or competition but rather the transfer of knowledge and the sharing of ideas.
We met with Alexandra, who is Brussels based to talk about Gelinaz! and the next round of events which will place Brussels and the two Michelin star restaurant Bon Bon at the centre of an ambitious event.
Gelinaz! Shuffle and Brussels Headquarters
“This year’s shuffle should not have taken place because we normally never repeat the same event twice. The fun part of Gelinaz! is to create new concepts. So it is unusual to organise the Gelinaz! shuffle for a second consecutive year,” Andrea said.
“We are not a business, we are not event producers or organisers and in fact need sponsors to organise such events.”
So why did you organise a second shuffle, I asked. “Chefs connect and like this freedom and cool spirit of Gelinaz!. We were receiving phone calls and emails from chefs asking to form part of this project saying it was sad that they were not part of it the previous year.”
Last year’s Gelinaz! Shuffle saw 37 chefs swap restaurants for one evening. “This was a very large project with 1,300 seats sold, chefs coming from different countries and audiences. When we finished it we sort of said that we would not do it again given the logisitical challenge but then we here we are with a new Shuffle and the Brussels Headquarters event,” Alexandra said.
Andrea and Alexandra sat down together to see how they could do more to connect the chefs together. “Because of the different timezones involved, this is a 24 hour global event. We thought that we would organise a headquarters this year. And Brussels is the perfect spot because it is a neutral city, and capital city of Europe and central between Asia and the United States,” Alexandra said.
“We thought about where we would organise it and decided to use Christophe Hardiquest’s Bon Bon restaurant. This is an ideal place because it has a very open kitchen. At first we thought we would organise the headquarters event with 10 chefs but ended up with 20. On top of this 40 chefs will be swapping restaurants this year.”
What Gelinaz! will do this year is to build a digital platform that will connect all the restaurants taking part.
Andrea stresses the fact that given this is a collective and not a business, they ask chefs and their teams to collaborate and help in the organisation of the events otherwise it would not be possible.”
This year’s shuffle is nevertheless different. “Last year, we organised it in more countries but this year we have focused on fewer cities as we learned from the experience of the previous year. We discovered for example that when three chefs were together in a new city, they tended to spend time together and that is part of what we want to do. So we decided to concentrate on the big cities. That is easy to do in places like Australia, London, San Francisco, Tokyo but in Italy, most of the restaurants are in different places.”
The Brussels Headquarters is also a response to this change. “Since we decided to skip some countries, we asked chefs from Sweden, Spain and various other places in the world who were not part of the shuffle to come to Brussels and be part of the event in a different format.”
The idea of the shuffle came from Blaine Witzel, of Willow’s Inn in the United States during a retreat that was organised in Tuscany in 2014. The idea was simple to pitch and enables chefs to discover new cultures, new teams and new products. “We are thinking of organising another retreat where chefs can come together and collectively discuss and create new collaborations,” Alexandra said.
The spirit of the Gelinaz! is such that it is a collective of chefs without any competition. “It might be difficult to understand that you will be going to a three Michelin star restaurant on an evening and have a chef with no Michelin stars cooking very interesting food for you. Or you can find a three Michelin star chef in a one Michelin star restaurant. It is a way to discover new chefs and also to foster creativity.”
But how does a chef join the collective? “We get asked many times why we don’t have more female chefs in the collective. My answer is that you do not choose your friends on the basis of gender. Gelinaz! is about connecting people. Unfortunately it is a reality that there are more men than women cooking in restaurants. We choose the people who love to meet each other and who share the same spirit of sharing. We also look for a balance between talent and the human being. Ultimately, it is a chef’s choice whether to be part of the collective or not and whether they fit into the spirit. What is great about Gelinaz! is that it gives young chefs the possibility to learn and cook alongside today’s best chefs,” Alexandra said.
But how does the shuffle work, I ask? “It is a lottery,” Alexandra tells me. “Nothing is defined. We have a list of restaurants, a list of names and we draw the restaurant and the name. Then we tell the chefs and they have to keep it a secret.”
Secrecy is a part of the fun. The guests are not told till the last minute who will be cooking for them. “There are of course some challenges to organising such a shuffle including linguistic barriers and we make sure we know how to deal with these thanks to very detailed questionnaires that chefs and their restaurant teams are asked to fill in. Like this we know that at least one member of the team can speak a certain language,” she said.
But even to illustrate a point about the linguistic challenges, she does not say where a certain chef will be cooking. I try to guess without forcing her to divulge the name but she does not budge. Otherwise it would spoil the fun.
The Géline hen and the birth of Gelinaz!
But how was Gelinaz! born and where is it heading today? The idea was born around 10 years ago by Fulvio Pierangelini and Andrea Petrini. The former, for many years, was considered by critics to be one of the most important chefs in Italy and worldwide and chef of il Gambero Rosso before he decided to close down the restaurant at the height of its success.
At the time when chefs were discussing ‘copyrighting’ dishes, Pierangelini took the contrarian view and on stage in San Sebastien where he had to present an iconic dish of scallops and mortadella decided toinvite some of his chef friends to go up on the stage with him and interpret his dish. He gave them carte blanche to just use their inspiration. Those chefs were Luis Aduriz Andoni, Heston Blumenthal, Massimo Bottura, Thierry Marx, Petter Nilsson (together with Andrea Petrini) and they created four dishes.
Further discussions between Fulvio and Andrea then gave birth to Gelinaz! and chefs met the following year to recreate Davide Scabin’s braised tongue dish (Lingua brasata al Barolo). The second year the chefs taking part were Davide Scabin, Josean Martinez Alija, Massimo Bottura, Kasper Kurdahl, Thierry Marx, Petter Nilsson, Fulvio Pierangelini, René Redzepi.
“The name Gelinaz! comes from Pierangelini, the rock bank Gorillaz and also the famous hen from Touraine called the Géline,” Andrea said.
They did a few gigs but then it stopped only to be revived in 2012. Events since then have varied. For example, in 2014, 28 chefs secretly prepared a dinner at the restaurant of Wylie Dufresne WD-50 without the chef knowing.
This year, the collective have organised four events despite the fact that both Andrea and Alexandra both have other professional commitments.
Gelinaz! is a place where there is no competition, where the focus is on universal sharing and experimentation in a collective way beyond meritocracy and classified roles.
As the events become more ambitious and the chefs increase in number, Gelinaz! is set to take a more important role in the future of the culinary world.