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There’s nothing like a nice walk after dinner. But how about during dinner? It sounds like a good idea when your meal involves 16 courses in six hours. But when it’s spread across two restaurants at either end of a bustling inner-city high street, that little stroll becomes something of a necessity. Or at least it does when the Gelinaz! are in town.
It’s a Sunday evening in the East End of London, and around 50 diners at super-hip British restaurant Lyle’s are halfway through a multi-course tasting menu. Suddenly they are instructed to down forks, grab their coats and hotfoot it along Shoreditch High Street to The Clove Club at the old Town Hall. Meanwhile, another 50 diners are coming in the opposite direction. The reward for both is more of the same cutting-edge cuisine from 14 of the best chefs in the world.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s a crazy scheme, but one that could only have been dreamed up by Gelinaz! Radical, experimental, and gloriously dysfunctional, Gelinaz! is an international chef collective that’s been cooking out of its comfort zone since 2005. Founded by Italian food writer and “culinary connector” Andrea Petrini, "Gelinaz!" is a play on the name of chef Fulvio Pierangelini (who was one of the co-founders), and the multimedia rock band Gorillaz. It’s a celebration of creativity and collaboration, which last year saw 37 chefs - including Rene Redzepi, Massimo Bottura and Andoni Luis Aduriz - swap restaurants across 17 countries in The Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle (here our report from 2015 edition), with the parnership of S.Pellegrino.
Between music and cuisine: it's cook'n'roll
Some call it ‘cook’n’roll’. In fact, it’s very punk rock. But at the heart of Gelinaz! is a desire to share knowledge and techniques, to merge cultures and cross-pollinate all branches of the creative arts with ground breaking culinary ideas and rebellious innovations. Think The Ramones, in chef’s whites instead of leather jackets, and with infinitely better personal hygiene.
Walk With Us London is the latest Gelinaz project to be unleashed upon an unsuspecting public. The likes of Claude Bosi (Hibiscus, London), Davide Scabin (Combal Zero, Rivoli, Italy) and Enrico Crippa (Piazza Duomo, Alba, Italy) have been randomly teamed up in pairs and assigned to one of two participating restaurants. Each team has been given an identical set of ingredients, and been challenged to reinterpret two original 4-course menus (two starters, a main and a dessert) devised by The Clove Club’s Isaac McHale and Lyle’s own James Lowe. But while the ethic is very punk, the results are often decidedly prog.
It's Starter time: first and second round
At Lyle’s, the first round of starters unfolds like a concept album around a theme of scallop, citrus and fennel. James Lowe's "Scallop #lylestyle" is a crimson explosion of blood orange, scallop and fennel, whereas Enrico Crippa and Claude Bosi's version involves kumquat, chilli and black sesame seed oil. "My dish is based on a ceviche," says a relieved Clade Bosi after service. "We had about three weeks to come up with the dish, so plenty of time, especially because the ingredients are in season at the moment." "But it's a challenge to make eight dishes in a small kitchen with lots of staff. I didn't know them all to begin with, but it has worked well. Every event like this, you learn something different."
The second round of starters are an interpretation of hen's egg, wild garlic and cheese. Mauro Colagreco (Le Mirazur, Menton, France) and Christophe Hariquest (Bon Bon, Brussels) surprise diners with "An Italian-Irish Egg in London" - slow-cooked egg yolk, Parmesan and Ardbeg whisky cream with wild garlic in a broken eggshell. Meanwhile, Philip Rachinger (Muhltalhof, Unternberg, Austria) and Lee Tiernan (Black Axe Mangal, London) present their egg with kale, ramson and Gubbeen cheese.
Soon it's time to hike up the road to The Clove Club, where Isaac McHale's remix of mutton and seaweed offers roast saddle of mutton with mint gel, seaweed and January King Cabbage. Then Andrew Wong (A. Wong, London) and Mathieu Rostang (Cafe Sillon, Lyon) present an Asian inspired mutton tongue with kombu, mung bean noodles, pickled onion, oyster and anchovy. There are gasps of delight at Anna Tobias's (Rochelle Canteen, London) perfectly golden-brown mutton and seaweed pie, alongside Davide Scabin's kidney pasta sushi, which has to be dispatched in a single mouthful.
Third step: the desserts
Scabin, who was part of the first generation of Gelinaz! back in 2005, pushes the boundaries even further for dessert. His riff on rhubarb and sour cream involves dried sweet squid ink pasta, which comes to life with the addition of hot rhubarb and hibiscus dashi from a tea pot. "The biggest challenge was the dashi tea," says Scabine afterwards. "I had the idea on the flight over. For me it's a performance, an improvisation, like jazz. But you must know how to play your instruments to be able to improvise."
Call it jazz, punk or rock'n'roll, the Gelinaz! spirit is all about trying exciting new things rather than getting things right every time. "I love risks," says Scabin. "I need the adrenaline of a last minute performance, otherwise I get bored. Younger chefs are not used to taking risks these days, but Gelinaz! is an opportunity for them, not to make something perfect, but to think outside the box."
With more Walk With Us events set to take place in three other as-yet-unannounced cities around the world, Gelinaz! will continue to walk a fine line between chaos and genius. But on this showing, they’re heading in the right direction.