Imagine the scene. The award winning journalist Andrea Petrini grabs some shut eye on an old renaissance style couch, some much needed rest, after all, he planned the whole thing. The Belgium chef Kobe Desramaults squats just metres away from Petrini, he's outside in the courtyard of a huge Tuscan Villa, smoke rises above his head, in front rests a barbecue packed with parts of fresh pig’s heads. At the same time, the dainty French chef Agata Felluga stands in the kitchen with both her hands submerged in what looks like melted chocolate, what is actually 3 litres of warm pig’s blood.
Every corner of the 16th century Villa Panna, owned and operated by Acqua Panna, is awash with activity. Chopping, prepping, pouring, plating. The Gelinaz! gang are in town - 13 chefs from Peru to Belgium, Italy to America - all in Florence for a special three day spiritual retreat in the historic Medici estate, formed 450 years ago, this year marks the anniversary, and now home of the Acqua Panna spring. It’s a world away from the group's usual high energy events, including a 23-course chicken banquette, naked female waitresses, octopus madness with male models in Lima and military style operations to surprise chefs in their own restaurants.
After three days spent tasting the Tuscan region, soaking in the landscape, and hours of spiritual reflection in closed-door meetings in the onsite chapel - Gelinaz! set their future strategies, Petrini is ecstatic and suprised by some of the ideas, “Now it’s time to celebrate”, he says, and what better way than by letting Gelinaz! do what Gelinaz! do best - cook. More accurately put, taste three classic Tuscan dishes: Pappa al pomodoro (tomatoes cooked with stale bread and olive oil), Tripe (offal) and Ribollita (a Tuscan style soup made by reboiling beans with black cabbage and stale bread) cooked by the world famous Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini, before reinterpreting and remixing his plates, infused with their own techniques, styles and ideas.
Gelinaz! like to push the envelope - it’s what they do, in fact, they mail the envelope to Mars and still complain it’s not been pushed quite far enough - something guests taste at their events, and this dinner is to be no different. The warm and welcoming site of Pappa al pomodoro is quickly turned on its head in the form of Felluga’s aforementioned blood, now served up with chocolate sauce, crunchy prok crackling and some small tart tomatoes.
The Latin Americans, Virgilio Martinez, Rodolfo Guzman and Mauro Calogreco, explain how they've completely misunderstood the dish thanks to 'papa' in Spanish also meaning potato. Make way for the world’s first pappa al pomodoro with no pomodoro. They each present an ingredient from their own country - purple potato from Peru, dry aged potato from Chilli and Cologreco’s homegrown potatoes from Menton, France. A dish with texture, colour, crunch and unique flavour - one that couldn’t be further from the original - Cecchini looks perplexed and it’s only the second course.
His tripe dish, lightly cooked with olive oil, garlic and tomato, takes on unimaginable directions that seem to delight the butcher - who sits throughout the dinner with a look of child like excitement on his face, blowing a large horn whenever the moment suits him. He's eager to taste what each chef has conjured up in the kitchen and he’s not let down, as fellow Italian Fulvio Pierangelini presents his ravioli with tripe; fresh ravioli on a bed of perfectly cooked tripe. Ana Rošfrom Slovenia also opts for ravioli; a small piece of fatty tripe, cut in a specific way as to change the texture and bite of the ingredient, is placed in the centre of the plate with ravioli filled with a liquid of celery seed, this is perfectly offset with crunchy hazelnuts and an umami whack of fresh Tuscan mushroom. A million miles away from the original, Cecchini claps and blows his huge horn in delight - the big butcher is wide awake.
The final remixes are on the classic ribollita of white beans and black cabbage. Cecchini’s dish, thick and moorish with a warmness only home cooking brings, is mixed and mashed with dollops of Gelinaz! shaped madness.Danny Bowien, known for his spicy food, steps up with a prawn based ribolita packed with sesame seeds, beans and a healthy kick of Sichuan pepper oil - a fiery finish followed by the fatty pig’s head barbecued earlier by Desramaults. He stands proud and shreds it at the head of the room, adding a sprinkling of brain, before dishing it up on a bed of green peas, white beans and mushrooms - the whole lot, as if not quite fatty enough, is then finished with strips of Tuscan pork lard.
Dessert suffers a last minute disaster as Guzman drops the majority of the green tomatoes on the floor. It's quickly fixed by the fact Gelinaz! is made up of some of the world’s best chefs. Petrini, with a father like proudness, explains how his gang of rebels could be seen just five minutes before the dessert was served, hunched over one table, quickly brainstorming to create a new dish from scratch. Their finished plate a perfect example of Gelinaz! A bread based ice cream with contributions from Sweden's Petter Nilsson and Belgium's Desramaults, some of the leftover green tomato from a previous dish placed on the bottom of the plate. The wonderfully dark purple potato skin from Martinez’s Peruvian gems carefully placed as an outler layer on the ice cream - the whole team together, creating on the fly. A moment of magic for a dish inspired by Tuscany, but influenced by the world.
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