Big trends in the food industry are rare, I’m not talking cronuts or fro-yo, more the ones that have a lasting effect, trends that truly change things. The ones that propel the industry in new directions.
Ferran Adria with modernist cuisine, Rene Redzepi and the Nordic movement, the big push in the past five years that’s seen chefs finally start to share their knowledge with the outside world and, more importantly, with each other. These are the type of trends I’m talking about and 2015 could well be the year of ‘Chefs Without Borders’.
Just over two years ago I sat down with Grant Achatz from Alinea for an interview, the last ten minutes of which was spent discussing the idea of chefs going on tour, with Achatz posing the same question over and over again: “Why does a restaurant have to have a permanent address?” Just days after this Heston Blumenthal announced plans to take the Fat Duck to Australia and Redzepi followed up with a tweet that Noma and the entire team would be opening in Japan.
That’s not all. In true Roca'n Roll style, The Roca Brothers - now back on top of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list - announced a second world tour this year after the sell-out success of their 2014 El Celler De Can Roca tour. The brothers cooked meals in five different locations and became the first fine dining team to take their entire restaurant and staff on tour.
Chefs without Borders is one of the most consistent and exciting trends we’ve seen in fine dining for years and one that is evidently capturing the imagination of chefs. Achatz will follow through with his earlier question and open Alinea in Madrid and Miami this year, while Redzepi has just announced plans for a second Noma pop-up opening in Sydney, Australia. Why would’t he? Noma Japan was a huge success, they sold out very quickly and even managed to sell the chopsticks, plates and cutlery once the dinners had finished.
The money from these projects must play a part, with big promoters, hotels, even banks, happy to pay the chefs to bring their shows on the road. Ticket sales max out and the potential for big sponsorship makes the projects quite lucrative, but this type of work, the amount of effort and management required to take an entire restaurant on the road, including staff, it's hardly the best way for a chef to make money.
As research trips, though, the tours are invaluable. A brief look at Redzepi’s Mad Feed blog just after their trip to Japan and you quickly saw the extra curricular activities the team undertook - he says learning is a key motivator when talking about new plans for Australia. When we caught up with The Roca’s in Peru they spoke about discovering new ingredients, techniques and stories to bring back to their restaurant. Heston used his trip Down Under to start the research for the opening of his first Dinner restaurant outside the UK - his right hand man, Ashley Palmer-Watts, will now spend further time in the country researching the history of its cuisine in order to produce an Australian themed menu for when the restaurant opens.
For all the tours, all of the chefs made the much more costly decision of taking their staff on the road with them. All of them opted for the benefits of a collective exercise in learning and, perhaps more poignantly, a collective exercise in team building.
I’ve always said that what chefs do at the top of gastronomy better than those at the bottom is build great teams. They gel together brigades of people willing to give up everything in pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of a shared goal. A great team is a difficult thing to achieve in any profession and when the work is done inside the often crammed and heated space of the kitchen, it’s even harder. Tours like these are a great way of tightening the bonds of kitchen crews and as the whole group live, breathe and eat together, the whole group also learn together.
Just last month Gelinaz! - the chef collective known for their exciting food events - topped off the idea of chefs without borders with The Shuffle - a project that saw 37 of the world’s best chefs swap restaurants and locations for one night only. Sean Brock from Carolina cooked at Massimo Bottura’s restaurant in Italy, David Thompson from Nahm in Bangkok at Alain Ducasse’s Plaza Athénée in Paris and Danny Bowien left his Mission Chinese restaurant in New York to cook at Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen. The best thing? Every member of every kitchen team was somehow affected by The Shuffle, they were all involved. It wasn’t just for the chef, it was a project that involved every member of the team, from the dishwashers to the bartenders. Restaurant tours like the ones mentioned above provide the same type of opportunity.
The fact that people will happily pay big bucks to sample the cuisine of a Danish chef cooking in Japan or a British chef cooking in Australia shows just how international chefs have now become. People connect to them through their Instagram snaps, their Twitter feeds, their many television appearances and, just like their favourite singers, they’re more than happy to pay to see them live when their tour comes to town.
For me, the real excitement comes when the pearls of these tours, the new techniques, styles and ingredients the teams have encountered together, make their way back to the restaurants original home. It's true Global Gastronomy at its best and I can't wait to taste it.