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Life Cycles – new perspectives in Haute Cuisine
The #50BestTalks in San Sebastián
From seeds to high-value supply chains, all the way to the radical transformation of taste and enjoyment - the world’s most celebrated chefs met in San Sebastián to discuss the topic of Life Cycles.
The #50BestTalks presented by Miele provides fertile ground for pioneering exciting new directions within the gastronomic scene. From its beginnings as a small, exclusive forum, the #50BestTalks has grown in recent years to establish itself as a respected institution with international standing.
Before this year’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants award ceremony, some of the world’s most influential chefs gathered at the renowned Basque Culinary Center to present their new culinary concepts, give new life to older visions of excellence and to initiate a discourse about new ways of supporting sustainability and an ever more multifarious future for cuisine. A highly curated panel of top chefs presented this year’s event consisting of lectures, interviews and cooking events revolving around the theme of Life Cycles. The chefs line-up included Chefs Joan Roca, Eneko Atxa, Gaggan Anand, Clare Smyth, Dan Barber, Paul Pairet and Christina Tosi.
One thing stood out from this year's talks: a significant paradigm shift is taking place within the world of fine dining. The perception and appreciation of seemingly everyday products are brought to the fore; luxury ingredients like meat, imports and rarities have lost their mystique. In our globalised world it is no longer difficult to source, for example, Black Sea Caviar for any given restaurant on any given continent. The real challenge lies in the creative and innovative use of local ingredients and their reduction towards essential aromas and distinctive tastes.
Which creative processes can produce a world-class menu?
How does one acquire good taste? How can we influence it?
How does one set out to create a new definition of taste and a superior perception of food?
These are the questions that move the speakers at the #50BestTalks to develop new forms of high-end gastronomy. Holistic and innovative, respectful, regional and in close cooperation with local farmers, producers and vendors: this is the uncompromising image of the future of haute cuisine presented in San Sebastián.
Chefs for Change: Gestation - appreciation begins with cultivation
The NGO Farm Africa has dedicated itself to improving the lives - and working conditions of African farmers, and with the initiation of Chefs for Change it is actively building bridges between high-end gastronomy and agriculture in developing countries.
Top names like Joan Roca, Gaggan Anand, Eneko Atxa, working together with Nicolas Mounard, the CEO of Farm Africa, have shown the possibilities of a versatile, sustainable Haute Cuisine made possible by funding and supporting local farmers in developing countries. Chef Joan Roca from El Celler de Can Roca, which was recently ranked #2 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant’s list, commented, “a dish is much more than the sum of its ingredients. If we consider its sourcing, we see that every ingredient has been created by a varied cast of human characters involved in every step of the food’s journey from land to the plate. The Chefs for Change movement wants to give a voice to these rural food producers and their life stories and empower them to grow. (…) We can cook the world that we want.”
Chef Gaggan Anand, the chef-owner of Gaggan, which has been named No 1 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for four consecutive years, added:
“I am proud to help spearhead a movement that celebrates the power of agriculture to transform the lives of small-scale food producers, without whom my profession would be impossible.”
Clare Smyth: Birth – simple ingredients, superb cooking
The narrow orthodoxy that fine dining is to be defined through the use of elite ingredients is a myth that Chef Clare Smyth has deftly and put to rest. Smyth’s restaurant Core is one of the most successful new restaurants in Great Britain, devoted to refining the most quintessential aspects of British cuisine.
From the ingredients to the knives, the kitchen utensils to the crockery, Clare Smyth develops tight working relationships with local artisans, farmers, hunters and vendors. Out of the comforting, down-to-earth dishes of Great Britain, she has developed a series of award-winning gourmet menus.
Lamb Braised Carrot - braised lamb, served on a humble carrot with sheep’s milk yoghurt - is one of Clare Smyth’s signature dishes which she prepared live on stage at the 50BestTalks in the Miele Live Kitchen. Freshly prepared bite-sized Lamb Buns were then served to the delight of the guests, still warm as they were brought straight out from the oven.
The life cycle of the ingredients, as well as Smyth’s entire philosophy, culminates in this deceptively simple dish. Nothing is wasted, and every element of the produce is valued and put to good use. While she was cooking, Smyth explained her unique perspective: “A lot of dishes reflect how we eat. Why is asparagus more valued than a potato? As chefs, we have to educate the people about that. It is not all about luxury ingredients but also much about everyday ingredients that can be delicious.”
Dan Barber – Breeding – The seeds of good taste
Chef Dan Barber most certainly counts among the most influential voices in the current gastronomic revolution. In Upstate New York, he cooks menus based on the simplest of ingredients, always searching for the essential taste of a fruit, vegetable or root. For Barber, meat plays a small role. It is the crops that he has cultivated that steal the show. He describes this journey as ‘a long drive on a highway with hundreds of interesting exists and sideroads. But in the end, it all comes down to not letting yourself become distracted; deciding on one definitive route. Once you have made your choice, it pays off to follow that road ever deeper.’
For Dan Barber, this meant much more than just getting to know his garden: it meant going the extra mile by developing and cultivating whole new varieties and cross-strains of seeds.
In a conversation with Journalist Laura Price, Barber spoke about his Row 7 Seed Company, which he founded together with seed developers. In contrast to sprawling multinational-corporations, the explicit goal of this company is to develop seeds that grow to embody the values of taste and quality.
Barber explains, “The seeds are the blueprints of a good product. We are here to get the flavours that we love as chefs. Nobody wants to have the same experience overall. I’m here to defend the high-end restaurant as a laboratory”.
Paul Pairet: Understanding – the redefinition of taste
Thanks to his avant-garde restaurant Ultraviolet in Shanghai, Chef Paul Pairet has secured his reputation as a culinary pioneer. Pairet’s strong personality is conveyed best through his own words: „I wanted to get away from all the restraints – to cook at my best. Ultraviolet is a bit of a dictatorship, but that is best for the meal. We are trying to re-create memories, references, prints. Therefore, we had to remove all the control from the guest. We removed his ability to expect something particular to give him the opportunity to experience the menu completely unbiased.”
This radical position derives from Pairet’s concept of “psycho-taste”. He explains, "Psycho-taste is everything about the taste but the taste. It is the taste of the taste.”
His mastery and guidance of each of his guests five senses lead to a taste experience that is impossible to reduce to any single form of perception. With the total manipulation of the environment, employing conscious trickery and misdirection using sounds, smells and tastes, Pairet creates space for new insights and impressions of ingredients. This shifting perspective incites his guests to question their habits and inclinations permanently.
The deconstructivist cuisine of an Avantgarde restaurant is authentic when its methods can be interpreted on its own terms. In this case, one must grapple with the life cycles of the products utilised and the dishes that they inspire.
Christina Tosi: Indulgence – sweetness of form
From the seed that contains the essence of the flavour of a vegetable to the farmer who cultivates them, to the use of traditional ingredients, all the way to the avant-garde deconstruction of a dish – the journey reflects a life cycle of gastronomy in the world of haute cuisine. Top chefs increasingly focus their attention on the multitude of potential hidden within common ingredients and are thus creating a more holistic and sustainable culture of fine dining.
The #50BestTalks culminated in an experience of pure indulgence. The founder of the Milk Bar in New York, Chef Christina Tosi, became a star of the pastry scene with her unabashedly indulgent cake and cookie creations. Tosi expresses her passion with beautiful simplicity, beaming, “There is something about dessert: it makes people happy!“.
The guests were able to get a taste of this beautiful sentiment for themselves during the last panel of the #50BestTalks. During the conversation with the 50Best Group Editor William Drew, the divine smell of Tosi's baking rose in the air from the Miele Live Kitchen as she finished a batch of her famous Confetti Cookies.
As the guests feasted on the freshly baked cookies, the life-cycle of the #50BestTalks drew to an end, showing once again that the passion for discovery is not only full of insight and excitement but that it can also impart the sweetest of joys.
Author: Philipp Gosselck
Photos: © Cristopher Santos, ©Timo Roth