What makes chefs drop everything and travel across continents, sometimes with very little sleep in between, to push boundaries and challenge themselves outside the comfort of their kitchens and teams? Why do they leave their usual environment, their homes, their families and risk their reputation to participate in an event where you can always expect the unexpected?
The answer is GELINAZ! It is a the collective of chefs that is co-curated by Andrea Petrini and Alexandra Swenden and which likes to promote itself as being beyond food and evil. They organise events ranging from impromptu dinners to chefs swapping restaurants for one day, retreats and also the most recent (before last Sunday’s event) being a chef shuffle at the same time as a gathering of 20 chefs called Brussels Headquarters. This was held at Christophe Hardiquest’s Bon Bon where they cooked 4 consecutive services from 12 noon to 3am.
This time, they charted new territories with GELINAZ! DOES UPPER AUSTRIA organised at the Mühltalhof restaurant and hotel in Neufelden, Upper Austria. Preparations started less than six months ago, a first, because such events normally take more than a year to organise. But both Andrea and Alexandra fell in love with the place that has been owned by the Rachinger family for so many generations. The father and son duo could barely believe it and as Philip said, the past few days seemed like they were living a dream. “Six months ago, it would have seemed unimaginable that we could organise something like this.”
Helmut and Philip, or father and son, work in tandem in a place that seems to be lost in time. In the idyllic village of Neufelden, their restaurant and small hotel, is nothing short of spectacular. It is a place of incredible beauty, of silence and of incredible hospitality where Oma, or the 83-year-old grandmother still goes to the kitchen to prepare delicacies which guests can get to taste if they are lucky. Art enthusiasts are also spoilt with the nearby Heim-Art Station owned by Philip’s uncle Joachim Eckl where some of the world’s top experimental artists gather to work and exhibit their pieces.
When Andrea calls, you have to say yes. That is what all the chefs will tell you. They love the uniqueness of the events, space for collaboration and making new friends and also the spontaneous events that have a tendency to create strong emotions. “I love the fact that the events change all the time. When we did the shuffle, the first one created an indescribable emotion,” said Ana Ros. “The second one was different. Great but not the same.”
But why do the likes of René Redzepi, Virgilio Martinez, Mauro Colagreco, David Chang, Ana Ros return. New York legend David Chang does not mince his words. “Andrea has been incredibly good to me not only when things were going fine but also when I was in difficulty. He is someone who has an incredible palate and has the ability to curate an incredible array of chefs. And its not true that we are all nice because I can be an asshole,” he says.
You would think that being away from their kitchen there is no stress because this is an informal gathering but David does not agree. You would think that he has enough experience to not get stressed but there is stress because after all ‘you are putting your name on a dish. People (journalists and guests) will judge you for what they eat. The expectations are therefore always high.”
Petrini, who had founded GELINAZ! together with Italian chef Fulvio Pierangelini, has this striking ability to spot talent. It was he who took Virgilio Martinez to Paris nearly ten years ago, putting the Peruvian chef in the spotlight for the first time. Andrea was sure that he would rise to the top. He’s discovered so many other talented chefs that the list is endless.
Today, together with Alexandra, they are the master of ceremonies at events that are carefully curated down to every little detail. For many young chefs who are in Neufelden for GELINAZ! this is something that goes beyond their wildest dreams even though they are slowly making a name for themselves with their hard work, the food they cook and the stories they have to tell the world. Antonia Klugmann says it is incredible to be able to cook in the event in the same team with people like Virgilio Martinez.
The four days pass like a breeze for the Rachingers who could barely believe what they were experiencing. Here were some of the world’s best chefs visiting their restaurant, their region, their country. Austria may not be on the foodies map but that may change very quickly if the momentum that has been built picks up.
The chefs have gone to great lengths to get here, some more than others because of the countries where they work and where they come from. Virgilio Martinez came on Friday from New York and then took a plane just after the event directly to Lima, the place of his world famous restaurant Central. He loves to be back home as soon as possible to be with his wife and one and a half year old son. He tells me how important the first three years of a child are for the upbringing.
Colombe Saint-Pierre has a restaurant six hours away from Montreal. She had to drive there and then take the plane to Austria. A gruelling journey but one she was willing to share with another 11 female chefs and 12 male chefs.
I am told by many, including the male chefs that the event is much calmer than usual. There is less testosterone and competition because of the female presence and this is something that they appreciate a lot. Andrea and Alexandra, however, did not do this deliberately but they carefully selected 12 female chefs who could all contribute something to the event. It was perfect in many ways.
Ana Ros tells me that there is more awareness today about the additional difficulties that women face when working as chefs in a restaurant. But at the same time, she also says that today men also participate in the upbringing of their families and therefore the challenges are the same for everyone. It seems that the quest for work-life balance is an issue that we will be facing more and more in all walks of life.
There is time for exercise, time to eat, time for team building and a bit of relaxation but there is also a lot of time that goes into hard work. It is astonishing to see the work that goes into preparing two dishes. The chefs work in teams, some in three, others in four. Experienced chefs are mixed with young emerging chefs, different nationalities, different cultures, different genders. All have many things in common. Passion, the love of what they do and as they also like to say ‘our egos’ which might not be necessarily easy to manage.
It is not necessarily easy at first. “It is a bit like being in a summer camp,” says May Chow, currently female best chef in Asia. She was working together with David Chang, Colombe St-Pierre and Lukas Mraz. We get a sense that there is a clash of personalities in this team but by the end of the four days, the four are friends, they understand each other, they work together and in the end produce a stunning example of exceptional cooking that reflects their personalities on a plate.
Manu Buffara, Konstantin Filippou and Magnus Nilsson wake up at 5.30am on Sunday morning. It is going to be a long day for them. They have decided to set up a Brazilian barbecue to cook the venison or Sommerboek as it is called in Austria. By 6am, to the sounds of the church bells, they are already in full swing, everything prepared and the fire is started. They will stay there till their service is over before they head to the Heim.Art Station where they will present their second dish late on Sunday night.
On the other hand, on Saturday evening after a typical Austrian dinner prepared by Hanno Poschl and Andrea Karrer from Vienna, René Redzepi called his fellow team members Gabriela Camara, Milena Broger and Felix Schellhorn to continue to work on the two dishes. Their produce arrived later than they anticipated because of the bad weather and foraging was impossible because of the rain. As a result their plans were delayed, leading them to work till the early hours of the morning before returning to the kitchen on Sunday to cook non-stop. There is barely time for the team to taste the wines that will be served with their two dishes.
Most of the chefs flew in to Vienna on Wednesday and were guests at Heinz Reitbauer’s Steirereck, 10th restaurant in the World’s 50 Best list. That was the relaxing part because as the GELINAZ! event approached, the tension built up.
On the Friday evening, a day after Helmut and Philip Rachinger had presented three matrix dishes that would be remixed by the 7 teams into one appetiser and one main course each, the chefs took the time to symbolically build a bridge that would enable them to cross from one side of the river to the other (and from the restaurant to the art station). The chefs as well as the food writers who also traveled from around the world mingled around enjoying the calm before the storm (in all senses) as the suckling pig was being prepared discussing all things under the sun from politics and Donald Trump’s impact on the restaurant world to social media and all things in between.
At one point Gabriela Camara, the half Mexican, half Italian chef who has restaurants in San Francisco and Mexico told me to look around. She was surrounded by men (including myself) all busy playing with their phones. Was the conversation around table boring? Definitely not. “It is maybe how life is now. I am not judging,” she tells me. She has not brought her phone with her to the dinner. I turn the phone face down and stop using it for the rest of the evening. The event of course needs to be documented. And things from earlier on need to be uploaded on social media. That is what I am here for after all. But then, there are times when you need to stop to enjoy the moment. To enjoy the quiet and the conversation. It is a lesson. That’s also GELINAZ!
Now that’s an idea. Who knows, maybe the next GELINAZ! will ban phones.
The chefs in teams that took part in GELINAZ! DOES UPPER AUSTRIA were:
Milena Broger, Gabriela Camara, Rene Redzepi and Felix Schellhorn
Manoella Buffara, Magnus Nilsson, Konstantin Filippou
Margot Janse, Chiho Kanzaki, Heinz Reitbauer
Antonia Klugmann, Virgilio Martinez and Lukas Nagl,
Mauro Colagreco, Karime Lopez and Bo Songvisava
David Chang, May Chow, Lukas Mraz and Colombe Saint-Pierre
Helmut Rachinger, Philip Rachinger and Ana Ros.
Over the coming days and weeks we will dive deeper into the GELINAZ! DOES UPPER AUSTRIA EVENT. You will learn about what the chefs cooked for dinner, their views on GELINAZ! Also don’t miss a series of interviews with many of the chefs who were in Neufelden. For more details and insight don’t forget to follow Food and Wine Gazette on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or subscribe to the newsletter.