I admit to being a rather monotonous kind of person, especially for breakfast: each morning it consists of the same milky coffee and cereal – the same flavour, the same brand – and it’s been going on like this for years and years. This is why, when I was given the chance to experience a full, 4-course menu at 9 am – a menu including venison tartare, green ravioli and asparagus tempura – I accept, a bit sceptical. But I knew already that Exquisite Corpse, the foodie marathon organised in New York by the French group Le Fooding, in collaboration with S.Pellegrino, was certain not to disappoint me.
I was intrigued by the premise: a secret location transformed into a pop-up restaurant for 52 hours of food and flavours, from 9pm on Friday to midnight on Sunday. Thirteen famous chefs would take their turn at the stovetops, renowned names like Andrew Carmellini (Locanda verde, New York), Kobe Desramaults (In de Wulf, Belgium), Armand Arnal (La Chassagnette, France), Ana Ros (Hisa Franko Casa, Slovenia), Sat Bains (Restaurant Sat Bains, U.K.), Blaine Wetzel (Willows Inn, San Juan Islands, Washington), Hugue Dufour (M.Wells, New York), Fulvio Pierangelini (Hotel de Russie, Italy), Brooks Headley (Del Posto, New York), Mauro Colagreco (Le Mirazur, France), Adeline Grattard (Yam’Tcha, France), Corey Lee (Benu, San Francisco) and Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana, Italy). Each chef has a 4-hour session in which he or she creates a full menu for 40 people, plus something inherited from the previous colleague: a dish to which he or she must add a new ingredient. Part of the proceeds from the events will go to the charity Action Against Hunger.
I arrive right on time, although I did get up much earlier than usual in order to get used to the idea of this unusual brunch. The location was truly surprising: an independent exhibition space in Chelsea, transformed into a restaurant and tastefully decorated in a warm setting, perfect for hosting the 40 guests who would soon be sitting around a table. The works of young artists – Change is Good, Roberto, Jeanne Detallente – adorned the walls.
Ana Ros is already positioned at the stove. Of Slovenian origins, Ana is today the chef at the restaurant Hiša Franko, the place that took her in, showed her the ropes and then launched her into the International scene. Hers has been an unusual career path, without any time spent in actual cooking schools – everything Ana’s learned, she’s learned on-site. After earning her degree in International and Diplomatic Science, she met her husband, the owner of his family’s restaurant. And thus she set off down a new path, a journey comprised of personal study and experimentation. It will be Ana that accompanies us on this tasteful experience – what she’s prepared for Le Fooding is a local menu, that will introduce diners to the flavours of her homeland, while being seasonal and with a touch of the feminine. «The objective of my cuisine is to create memorable culinary experiences and that people will want to talk about,» she tells me. «What are the ingredients I mainly use? Clear flavours that are also full of contrasts.»
She opens the menu with Green live ears in trout broth, which she “inherited” from the event’s previous chef, Armand Arnal, who had the 5 am shift. For her required “addition”, Ana chose ravioli filled with salmon trout. «Fish at breakfast?» I wonder. And the diner sitting next to me at the table seems to read my thoughts. «Before today, it’s only happened to me in Japan!» The following dish is a delicate deer tartare with salad of fennel and apples, wasabi and fennel sauce, balsamic apple reduction and black cod, black truffle foam and asparagus in crispy tempura. The closing dish of the Summer Nostalgia menu was a dessert that embodied all of Ana’s allure and exhaustive research. It was only mildly sweet, according to her own personal tastes, and utterly unusual: goat-milk gelato, figs and honey, almonds and thyme that perfectly pair with olive oil. It was a moment of pure poetry that brought together the entire table. People hadn’t even laid their spoons back down in the empty dish before a handful of diners rushed into the kitchen to ask for the recipe. Or maybe they were asking for a second portion...?
At 11:30 am the room began to slowly empty out. It was time to set up for the next chef, Sat Bains. Time had literally flown by: I say good-bye to Ana and her husband, who will return to Slovenia the next day. Before I leave I make them promise me they’ll send me the recipe for that dessert. I leave the art gallery. It’s not even noon here in New York, but I’m as satiated as if I’d just had a great dinner.
And why not, tomorrow morning at breakfast, maybe I’ll opt for Champagne instead of my milky coffee!