23 chefs, 7 teams, 3 matrix dishes with clearly defined ingredients, 14 courses. It may sound simple but it definitely is not. Chefs are meant to collaborate, to spend time together, to learn from each other and to exchange ideas. Its a bit like summer camp but it is also stressful and tiring.
That is what the GELINAZ! DOES UPPER AUSTRIA dinner was all about. It is not the first time that chefs have been asked to revisit matrix dishes. And it will definitely not be the last. So what was served in Neufelden earlier this month when 21 top chefs were hosted by father and son duo Helmut and Philip Rachinger at the idyllic Mühltalhof restaurant and hotel?
The dishes may have looked simple: what’s not to like about a simple fresh water dish, a goulash and venison but the end result was far from simple.
The chefs were grouped in teams of three or four people and they have one dish to reinterpret. There are seven teams in all. Three teams must reinterpret the venison dish, two the fish dish and two the goulash. The task was to take three matrix dishes created by father and son Helmut and Philip Rachinger remix them to make an appetiser and then present them in a new format at ‘The Gathering’, a full sit-down dinner for more than 140 guests.
The dishes that the seven teams needed to recreate were a goulash with bread of potatoes, wild-caught fresh water fish cooked in wood and served with foraged ingredients and summer venison.
The chefs had received the recipes and the matrix dish they needed to work on before leaving for Austria and they got a taste of the original dishes on Thursday evening when the Rachingers presented them during a dinner they hosted. (More information here)
By Friday morning, they had already discussed in detail what they would do and then started the preparations as the produce started to arrive. They went for walks into the forest to forage for ingredients, they could choose the vegetables they had to work with. There was a problem with the venison or Sommerbock as it is known because a storm on Friday evening meant that there was an issue with the arrival of the produce which meant that the chef’s plans were delayed.
By Saturday evening, the chefs were all busy in action preparing the base for their dishes. The discussions were over, though in some cases they intensified. On Sunday, the chefs had to not only focus on preparing an appetiser and a main course but also to think about the choreography of the 7 varying spaces within and around the Mühltalhof.
The Wooden House (Milena Broger, Gabriela Camara, Rene Redzepi, Felix Schellhorn) – Venison
The first space we visited was the Wooden House opposite the Mühltalhof. Taking inspiration from Japan, the first team opted to create ‘sushi’ of venison as an appetizer. It was served on a bed of deep-fried moss and the deer tongue was served with fresh cream and chili oil. We were off to an incredible start. The starter packed flavour and the after taste was very long.
The Dark Dark Cellar (Manoella Buffara, Magnus Nilsson, Konstantin Filippou) – Venison
At the next station, the Dark Dark Cellar, the chefs, inspired by Manu Buffara decided to create a Brazilian barbecue. They slow cooked the venison over an open fire and basted it with the drippings as well as the berries. They served succulent venison with a bone marrow butter from the venison and bread which they cooked in a wood-fired oven and served it to mop the juices from the chopping board.
The Stube: (Margot Janse, Chiho Kanzaki, Heinz Reitbauer) – Freshwater fish
The third station was a complete collaboration between the three chefs who each provided elements for their ‘two appetizers’. A broth made with fish bones and mushrooms combined honeybush tea while fish was served on a crisp of fish scales.
It’s warm inside by the fireplace (Antonio Klugmann, Virgilio Martinez, Lukas Nagl) – Goulash
By the fireplace we got a goulash in the form of a dumpling. It was served with a powder of peach skin (the idea being to waste nothing) as well as a lemon verbena. The three chefs created a warm environment with candles to complement the burning fireplace.
The Forest through the looking mirror (Mauro Colagreco, Karime Lopez, Bo Songvisava) – Goulash
Next came the forest through the looking mirror in the main room of the restaurant overlooking the river and forest. The three chefs also served goulash in the form of a steamed and pan fried bun which was filled with oxtail and spicy peppers spiked with a Thai fish sauce and served with foraged leaves. It was similar to the previous dish but also very different.
By this River (David Chang, May Chow, Lukas Mraz, Colombe Saint-Pierre) – Venison
By the river, the most funky team had created a choreography using clothes that had failed to arrive when Colombe St Pierre landed in Austria from Canada. They decided to serve roasted venison brushed with soy sauce, sprinkled with bacon and topped with roasted aubergine. Then there was Momofuku’s hozon chickpea miso mixed with Chinese fermented black beans and gochujand and red-shiso sauerkraut all wrapped in a spinach leave.
Once upon a time on the rails (Helmut and Philip Rachinger, Ana Ros) – Fish
As we crossed the river we arrived to the seventh and last station. Here the Rachingers and Ana Ros reinterpreted the dish by serving smoked trout in a horse-radish and topping it with fish liver and elderberries.
The discussion now centred around which was the best starter dish. Which was our favourite? All had their strong points and the chefs all won accolades for their efforts. Of course everyone had their favourites but it was not the point of the event.
The walk was over. It was now time for the Gathering at the Heim.Art Station. After two really warm days and a relatively cooler day, this night proved to be rather chilly which seemed to serve as a perfect prelude for the next seven dishes.
The order had now changed. The first to serve their dish were Margot Janse, Chiho Kanzaki and Heinz Reitbauer. They presented their version of the fish in a box with berries and almonds and sprinkled it with a vinegar. Served slightly warm, this was a perfect start.
Next was the dish revisited by Ana Ros and the Rachingers. The char was served in a beurre blanc and then served with lard, flowers and capers. A perfectly balanced dish, completely different to the first one to the continue the evening.
What followed was a very intense broth created by Redzepi, Broger, Camara and Shellhorn. The flavour of the venison came from the intense broth which was served with foraged leaves, herbs and flowers. Was this the original dish of this team? It is hard to say but it was excellent.
Next up was the dish of Mauro Colagreco, Karime Lopez and Bo Songvisava. Here they made a delicious goulash which was topped with crayfish. Again a very accomplished dish from this team.
The other team in charge of cooking venison and which had prepared it the Brazilian barbecue way also decided to serve the second course in the form of a broth. This also had very intense venison flavours from the sommerbock bones and was served with berries, wild flowers and bone marrow.
What followed was sweet roasted peppers with peruvian red chili, Jerusalem artichoke and foraged herbs. This was great work by Virgilio Martinez, Antonia Klugmann and Lukas Nagl.
Maybe the dish which expressed the personality of the team most was the final dish. Here the team decided to not take any risks. Not sure whether their dish would work, they decided to first serve venison tartare. They then served burnt rice with a spicy aubergine and venison goulash with lots of Sichuan pepper and Austrian pumpkin seed oil. This might not have been the prettiest dish but it certainly ended the dinner with a bang.
David Chang had ultimately been right. Yes the chefs would be judged but not in a bad way. The dinner was the result of a stunning collaboration and a camaraderie that was a joy to watch. Here were chefs who might have been competing for attention when the dishes were being served but who immediately gave a helping hand to the rest of the teams as soon as they were ready. After all it is not easy to serve such a large crowd in quick succession when you are working outdoors and the temperature is less than 9C.
Well done GELINAZ! for another exceptional event and well done to the Rachingers for hosting such an amazing array of chefs.
You can find our reportage and the behind the scenes here.