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From 17 to 19 September, the island of Saaremaa and the Estonian capital of Tallinn hosted Sauce. The second edition of the forum, albeit the first to be transformed into a proper three-day event, set out to gather together "chefs and other food industry/restaurant professionals for a better future built around food."
Fuelling it all was the passionate enthusiasm of Pauliina Pirkola – founder, director and self-proclaimed "Mother of Sauce" – together with the collaboration of the Tourism Board, which made no secret of its intent to transform Estonia into a culinary destination.
Creativity, enthusiasm, inspiration ... these are by no means new terms to anyone used to attending food conferences, but they certainly take on a new meaning in a country that is only now starting to address the culinary scene and at an event – whose sponsors included S.Pellegrino – where the average age of the attendees was surprisingly young.
The highlight of the event was the conference at the Nordea Concert Hall on Monday 19: general sessions, panel discussions and keynotes ranging from restaurant formats to success stories, from vegetarianism to multi-sensoriality.
Here are six of the most meaningful moments of this Sauce Forum edition in a purely indicative order:
THE SECRETS OF A SUCCESSFUL RESTAURANT
A good sense of humour; love of food, wine and one’s fellow man; a nose for the right location; understanding financial arithmetic; inspire, lead from the front and communicate; the two most important commercial pieces of paper (lease and licence); combine vision with determination, stubbornness plus an ability to bend popular demand; combine an inner sensitivity with a very thick skin; environmental aspects, climate change; ability to benefit local community.
These were all the points listed the talk that Nicholas Lander, author of the well-known publication The Art of the Restaurarteur, believes fundamental for building a successful restaurant business. Take notes and learn by heart.
SERVICE IS KING
An entire discussion was dedicated to the topic of service. When Sorend Ledet opened Geranium in Copenhagen, in partnership with chef Rasmus Kofoed, he had not “the least idea what dining room service was all about,” he told the audience of Sauce. "I learned as I went along that there is a subtle difference between good service and standard service. Impeccable is not enough – that’s the least you can offer: your aim must be to enhance the dining experience."
And how can one improve the experience? First of all by making the restaurant into a theatre in which the stage is the table, rather than the kitchen and whose protagonists are the clients, not the chef. It is up to you to decide how to be part of the show and understand what role to play in the experience, whether to stand aside or take an active part. Without ever forgetting that the mission of a restaurant is to provide food, drink and an atmosphere to "restore" its customers: an excessively formal service will only be daunting and will serve no purpose apart from boosting the waiters’ egos.
At the young age of 28, Belgian-born Wim Ballieu sold a successful catering business to set up a slow-fast food venue selling meatballs, to return to the simplicity of the origins – a farming family with a butcher’s shop – he had previously snubbed.
Christian Puglisi, with one Michelin star at Relae, is leaving more and more scope to the sous chef in order to focus on a project 40km from Copenhagen where he produces milk for making into the mozzarella cheese he serves on pizza at the Baest pizzeria. In the future, there will be other products and a school to help develop farm to table ideas, with the precise objective of going "not wider, but deeper." Degrowth is apparently effective when applied to cuisine.
"Where is the border?" asks Puglisi from the dais. Within what limits can you define yourself as a local chef? "There would be no philosophical sense in buying carrots from another country, because the ones in Denmark are very good. But the same cannot be said for all products."
After years of kilometre extremism, the general opinion held by chefs seems to be that buying local has to be a choice rather than an imposition. Being faithful to your local territory does not have to mean narrow-mindedness, either in terms of mindset or food.
Again, Sorend Ledet quotes the case of a maître d' he knew who spent one hour and a half hours every morning reading the daily newspapers so that he could address any possible topic with his customers. This is the extra mile, the extra kilometre you need to do to exceed the others. Not only does it apply to the service, but to the dish as well, or should we say, what surrounds the dish.
In his talk entitled Gastrophysics: the new sciences of the table? Dr Charles Spence highlights examples – like that of Heston Blumenthal’s famous Fat Duck or the Ultra Violet – where chefs also experiment with our other senses, making fish and chips more enjoyable by letting their customers hear the sounds of the sea. It is no longer sufficient to focus exclusively on flavour.
Foraging is now on everyone’s lips, from chefs living in the pulsing heart of the most overcrowded metropolises to those who have never dirtied their hands in a vegetable garden. At Sauce many types of foraging were discussed: Lennox Hastie, who gathers different types of wood to create smoky nuances in his dishes, Ana Ros who takes it for granted that all products are organic in her Slovenian restaurant (“We have a century-old tradition of foraging without any need for certification”); and obviously, Estonian foraging, which is practised here by restaurants large and small, even without having to state it in their menus.