It is around 6 PM on Sunday eve, and we are being escorted to a ‘secret’ location where one of the greatest nights of food extravaganza is about to take place. I’m talking about Gelinaz, the international pop-up food event, one of a kind, organized by Andrea Petrini, where 25 of the most prominent and upcoming chefs from around the world exhibit their mastery in the kitchen for one night only. And this night does not end early.
This time, the Gelinaz, “The rock band of chefs”, influenced in part by the super band Gorillaz, is paying tribute to Philippe Edouard Cauderlier, the most read culinary author in Belgium in the 19th Century. Cauderlier rooted for a simple and inexpensive cuisine in his 1861 work L'Economie culinary, which may seem like a contradiction to choose him as the inspiration for one of the most lavish dinners one is ever likely to have. (The seats were sold on Ebay with a starting price of 600 euros, one fellow paying 1500 for his dinner!) A bit over the top, well, maybe, but when you consider the chefs who have come together for one night to cook all together, it does become an unforgettable experience.
The band members
An international band of who’s who in the contemporary gastronomy circuit, this is the full list of chefs who have presented their take on Cauderlier’s signature dish, the "Timbale en Chaud-Froid", the vegetable, chicken and pig foot timbale:
Fulvio Pierangelini (of the late Gambero Rosso)
Davide Scabin (of Combal.Zero)
Massimo Bottura (of Osteria Frencescana)
Agata Felluga (the Italian woman in the kitchen of Paris’s Le Chateaubriand)
Inaki Aizpitarte (of Le Chauteabriand)
Josean Alija (of Nerua in Bilbao)
Eneko Atxa (of Azurmendi)
Danny Bowien (of Mission Chinese Food)
Mauro Colagreco (of Mirazur)
Bertrand Grébaut (of Septime)
Rodolfo Guzman (of Boragó)
Mikael Jonsson (of Hedone)
Anatoly Komm (of Varvary)
Kasper Kurdahl (of Culinary Development)
Daniel Patterson (of KOI)
René Redzepi (of NOMA)
Virgilio Martinez (of Central)
Magnus Nilsson (of Faviken)
Petter Nilsson (of La Gazzetta)
Ben Shewry (of Attica)
Roger Souvereyns (of Restaurant Scholteshof)
Blaine Wetzel (of Willows Inn)
And the Flemish hosts Jason Blanckaert (of JEF) Olly Ceulenaere (of Volta) and Kobe Desramaults (of In De Wulf).
Joining this group as sommelier was a rock star on his own right, Sébastien Châtillon of Le Chateaubriand.
The show started a la Eyes Wide Shut at 7PM with the arrival of the first dish, “Chaud-Froid en Timbale” interpreted by Roger Souvereyns. The guests’ eyes wandered from Timbale to boobs as four young half-naked women carried a large tray of the first set of plates around the room. Insider info claims the show was to have a different start, however, due to the lack of interest of chubby men who wanted to flaunt their skin at the event, the decision had to be made to go for pretty girls instead.
While the diners sat and ate, there was buzzing activity in the show kitchen separated from the dining room by glass panels. The show kitchen was only the tip of the iceberg though, as the ICC, where the event was being held, housed a larger than life kitchen that could answer the demands of the guest chefs.
Inaki Aizpitarte’s Kir Chicken Royale, served in a champagne flute, chicken royale meets kir royale, with persistent beet and poultry notes.
Mikael Jonsson’s delicate Chicken Royale, served “tiede” with a jelly of porc trotter and last minute additions of puree of carrots, a few peas and white edible flowers.
Virgilio Martinez’s “The chicken from Ghent who wants to know South America”, quite a weird, but tasty combination of ingredients. As Virgilio mentions in the explanation of his recipe: “The chicken from Ghent who wants to know South America” Chicken chia – sounds Peruvian, Andean, Amazonian, Chinese, Latinamerican, global and local at the same time. What matters is that we want the chickens to travel, to see and experience my land, that they know South America via Peru. They are bathed in the juices of a tiger’s milk from a ceviche from the coast. Then they climb the Andes to 3800 meters above sea level and eat chia seeds that we grow in our garden.”
Davide Scabin’s ingenious Six Degrees of Separation, whereby he separated each layer of Cauderlier’s timbale recipe, served with a chicken royale in a martini glass. My personal favourites were the carrot and “fegato” layers, the latter quite powerful. And yes, I also drank about three martini glasses worth of Chicken royale. (The beauty of being around the kitchen!)
Perhaps, the most awe-striking performance came from Mauro Colagreco. Until then, each dish was presented by a particular song, as part of the musical performance that is Gelinaz!. “The chicken that lost its head”, in contrast, started with a video of industrial chicken farming, and accompanied by the live theatrical performance of a man and woman as they each struggled and grew in their shell, then broke out, and finally left with chicken heads between their teeth. I eyed the chicken dish in front of me, and had a hard time swallowing that last piece of chicken… This was Colagreco’s present to his own daughter.
Rodolfo Guzman’s “the pig that wanted to be a chicken”, an intelligent and morphing dish you would most likely see at a Vampire dinner party. An innocent looking plate of a single piece of chicken toffee candy and a smoked pork pie wrapped in cotton candy, with timbale on the bottom. Then came the pouring of the Maqui extract, a wild Chilean fruit, that may not taste like but surely looks like condensed blood. The dish metamorphs, as the cotton candy disappears to expose its insides.
As we neared the end of the dinner, around 2:30 AM, arrived the final dish, Flemish Foodies’ “moelleux au chocolat” with chicken blood. Delicious, honestly. Accompanying was the closing performance of the live-band smoking dogs.
(You can also check out http://www.gazzettagastronomica.it/2013/gelinaz-plays-cauderlier/ for the full list of recipes.)
As we made our way out of the perfume cloud of boiled chicken, towards the afterparty, Rene Redzepi was signing the chairs of guests, who in turn took them as souvenir.
What happens at the Gelinaz! Afterparty…
…Stays at the afterparty. However, below is a list of my learnings from the evening that turned into morning…
When in doubt, it’s chicken.
You can always ask for orange, when the sommelier asks you which wine you prefer.
Tokaj can turn into some bad-ass red wine.
A good bad gin tonic (ginto for short) is better than a bad good ginto! –credit goes to Bertrand Grebaut.
2ManyDJs are fantastic afterparty material.
Chefs dance more than ordinary people.
Chefs don’t necessarily dance better than ordinary people.
Chefs can sleep on other chefs heads.
You can always have more Cava, after nine hours of wine drinking, and more beer when the Cava is gone.
It’s hard to say no to a cool Belgian beer at 7 AM.
You cannot find an after-afterparty in Gent, Monday morning at 8 AM.
If you need a taxi in Gent, good luck finding one.
‘Till the next one.