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Roland Trettl, the Executive Chef of the Ikarus restaurant at Hangar-7 in Salzburg, is renowned for his innovative cuisine, his eye for talent and trends, and his sense of aesthetics. He was also one of the protagonist of the 2011 Acqua Panna Tuscan Days.
His 2008 photographic book Fashion Food, a joint effort with the photographer Helge Kirchberger, is utterly unique in its range and originality. Kirchberger and Trettl have shot new images following this theme for an upcoming exhibition at Berlin’s Museum für Kommunikation from 29 October 2011 – 29 January 2012.
So, you’ve continued with your work in combining food and fashion?
Almost half of the photos that we’ll be showing in the exhibition in Berlin are going to be new. I’ve done a lot of new things with algae and nori leaves...
For these photographs, did you use ingredients in their natural state?
Sure, all the food in my “clothes” are absolutely natural and not treated with any chemicals. You can tell in a photograph if a product is treated badly. For example, the “octopus dress”? We ate that after the shoot. I mean, I wouldn’t serve it to my customers in the restaurant (laughs) but in the studio, we ate it after the pictures were taken.
Are the foods that inspire your “clothing” the same foods that inspire your dishes?
Yes, of course. I’m a cook before anything else. When I make a dish, I’ll see a product or an ingredient and it will strike me as a perfect material for clothing. It’s a game. And of course, when I’m “designing” the clothes, the product has to be fresh – like when I cook.
Do you see more difference or similarities between food and fashion?
There are a lot of similarities for me. Obviously, fabric lasts longer than a fish does, but it’s all relative. Fashion changes season after season and food changes with the seasons too. But I think that in many cases, beauty and good eating are the same thing. People who take care in the way they dress usually eat well, too. It has to do with style and taste.
And from a professional point of view? Are there many similarities between fashion and food?
On a high level, there is a lot of similarity in the two professions. The pressure, for instance, to always come up with something new, a new idea. Of course, the pressure on a chef is daily, which isn’t the case for a designer. Working in a kitchen means that every day, at lunch and dinner, you have very little time to put something pleasing in front of a customer, a customer who is waiting – often impatiently – to be impressed. A designer has a bit more time.
Do you consider cooking an art?
Despite the fact that many chefs talk about themselves as artists, I always say that when I cook, I’m a craftsman, not an artist. Instead, for this book, I was able to bring out the artistic side of myself, along with my partner, the photographer Helge Kirchberger. This is the part of my work which I consider that of an “artist” and less of a “craftsman”.
Because what’s the difference, in your opinion?
For me, art has to be timeless, something that endures in time. Instead, a dish that I prepare disappears too quickly. It has to be eaten right away for it to be enjoyed. Art must be timeless, food can never be timeless.
You travel a lot for your work. Do you see a connection between a culture’s eating habits and the way they dress?
In Italy, I see it very clearly. The fashion in Italy appears to me as classic and elegant, and that’s how I see Italian cuisine, generally speaking. Of course there are chefs like Bottura, like Cracco, but it’s the classic Italian cooking that has the most enduring success. When I go to Japan, where I lived for a while, it’s different. The fashion is a bit crazier, especially among young people. But they aren’t as experimental in their cuisine as they are in their fashion. Actually, I’ve never seen people treat their products with more respect than I’ve seen done in Japan.
And in other Countries?
Brazil is a country that’s really moving and evolving in all areas -- art, design, cuisine, it’s really transforming and waking up. They have delicious products that we aren’t familiar with yet – ingredients from the Amazon – and some that perhaps even they don’t know about yet. I don’t follow the Brazilian fashion scene, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was evolving as well. Sweden is also strong in both areas – it’s a country that I consider the home of the most beautiful design and also great ideas when it comes to food. People are so open, cooking schools are so open-minded. And not just cooking schools, but also design schools, art schools. Swedish people are so free-thinking, and that makes them different.
Name a fashion designer that inspires you.
For fashion, I don’t follow trends, really. But I admire Vivienne Westwood a lot, she has a recognizable style that is both extravagant and wearable. Also J. Lindeberg, the Swedish designer who used to work for Diesel, I like his clothes very much. A fellow chef that inspires you? That’s so hard. It’s not just the cooking that makes me admire a chef, but also how he runs his business, how he manages the kitchen and the team. I work with so many chefs; part of my job is finding new guests chef for the Hangar restaurant so it’s hard to name just one. But I do like Grant Achatz, from Chicago. He was a guest at Hangar two years ago.
Do you think chefs are becoming too over-exposed today?
It’s journalism and the media that does this. But there are some chefs that are more famous than they should be, only because they are always on television. I think the chefs have become so famous because cooking is something more and more people are doing at home, especially men. People are taking more of an interest in cooking at home.
Do you think that’s because of the crisis?
Personally? I don’t see a crisis. I really don’t. Maybe it depends on what your definition of “crisis” is. Me, I see restaurants open, I see stores open. What crisis? I just finished reading a book about Russia in the ’50 and ‘60s. Now that was crisis. Of course, what may be happening is that there is less room for mid-range budgets. Both in terms of restaurants and designers. Luxury is becoming more widespread so there are a lot of people willing to spend a lot of money – on clothes, on food, whatever. And of course there’s evermore demand for “fast” food and “fast” fashion. It’s the medium level that is probably suffering right now.
Do you more readily indulge in expensive meals or expensive clothes?
I am lucky, I don’t have to choose! I can indulge in both!