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Creating Food Magic in Remote Places

Creating Food Magic in Remote Places

Many top chefs decide to open their restaurants in outstanding but remote places: discover why they made this choice.

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A stream that runs past the restaurant at the foothills of the towering Alps, a long road through the Nordic forest - more and more top chefs have managed to turn what might seem like a setback – remoteness - into a draw.

Blame it on the fast pace of living, chaotic urban life or saturation with old-school style fine dining restaurants that put more emphasis on the formality and luxury than seasonality and that primal connection with nature. Foodies are not searching for yet another caviar plate under the crystal chandelier, they’re searching for stories, for chefs who are staying true to their environment and are reflecting it on the plate.

“It’s about the connection with the environment, with nature. Being proud of the place you’re coming from and using it as an inspiration for your work,” explains Ana Roš from Slovenia’s Hiša Franko, a restaurant that’s remote even for Slovenian standards. Roš, who has always worked in Soča Valley, claims she’d make it just as well in the big city, but the fact is that a big part why foreigners flock to her restaurant is the wild, picture perfect and unspoilt nature that surrounds it.

For others, like Jonathan Gushue, a Canadian chef who moved from Toronto to work literally at the edge of the world in Fogo Island Inn off the coast of Newfoundland, they have specifically searched for places that present certain challenges, yes, but they are so ingredient and seasonality driven, that they view it as an opportunity you cannot pass as a chef.

It’s not exactly a novelty – it’s been a full decade since Magnus Nilsson opened Fäviken in the middle of Swedish tundra and transformed it into a dining institution that is as much a restaurant as it is a full-on experience. For Nilsson, Fäviken’s success was as big of a surprise as for everyone else. He came to Järpen to build a wine cellar, but they asked him to help out with a restaurant concept. “I decided I would stay one year to help them implement it, and during that year, I realized the potential of the place and the produce and the fact that you are actually able to get people to travel there for the food. I had a hard time believing it, «he said in 2012. Six years later, Fäviken has 2 Michelin stars and a cemented status of the ultimate bucket-list restaurant.

Remoteness has worked quite well also for Kobus van der Merwe, chef at tiny, 20-seat restaurant Wolfgat on the South African coast in Paternoster – Wolfgat snatched Best off-map destination and Restaurant of the year at the recent World Restaurant Awards in Paris.

Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland

There’s literally nothing in Joe Batt’s Arm where the impressive Fogo Island Inn towers over the jagged coast. No international food chains, no highways, only colorful salt box houses, piles of rusty lobster traps and a couple of old fish stages. Welcome to Fogo Island, off the coast of Newfoundland, an island forgotten in time if it hadn’t been for Fogo Island Inn, an ambitious project set out by Zita Cobb to revive the sleepy, wind-swept island that once relied heavily on cod fishing.

The Inn was built in 2014, together with 4 modern artist studios scattered across the island. The aim of this boutique hotel is to promote everything local. The hotel restaurant, featured on last year’s 50 Best Discovery list, is run by Newfoundland chef Jonathan Gushue who makes the most of what the barren, Nordic land has to offer. We start the dinner with a Seagroni, a take on a Negroni, but mixed with seaweed gin from the craft distillery and served with iceberg ice, collected when the icebergs drift by.

The Inn’s menu is seasonal, ranging from cod tongues and snow crab sourced in the summer to partridgeberries and caribou abundant in the fall. “Most chefs I know search out for ingredients. So, a place like this, so ingredient orientated and product driven, for me it’s an opportunity you really cannot pass up,” explains Gushue why he traded his Toronto stint for remote island.

Fogo Island Inn
210 Main Road, Joe Batt's Arm, Fogo; Newfoundland; Canada
Website

Crazy Pomegranate, Georgia

Crazy Pomegranate is unlike any other restaurant on this list. Another “off-map destination” entry on this year’s inaugural World Restaurant Awards, is open for outside visitors (by appointment), but it really comes to life in full force as a gathering venue for winemaker John Wuderman’s friends – be it from the food and wine world or just anyone who John finds has the right energy and aura for this magical place in the middle of vineyards and qvevri cellars of Kakheti region.

Wuderman, an American by birth and a Georgian by spirit, is a natural host, with heaps of charisma and an abundance of knowledge on wine, history and culture. Listening to his toasts at the table while sipping on his amber-hued natural wine and overlooking the endless green of the vines bellow and Caucasus mountains in the far distance is almost a religious experience. And then there’s the food itself – if anyone knows how to throw a good feast are Georgians. At Crazy Pomegranate chef Ketevan Mindorashvili uses only seasonal ingredients from their farms, fields and neighboring villages and creates unpretentious, delicious dishes that stay true to this unique environment – not to mention they match John's crazy wines really well. That said, prepare for a long evening. It can get … crazy.

Crazy Pomegranate at Pheasant’s Tears Vineyard & Winery
Tibaani, Georgia
Webpage

Tokuyamazushi, Japan

Foodies from all over Japan (and abroad) make the pilgrimage to Tokuyamazushi mostly for one reason – narezushi. Simply put, it’s fermented sushi, the first kind of sushi in Japan really, an ancient way of preserving the fish by salting it for four months, lacto-fermenting, stuffing it with cooked rice, then layering the fish alternatively with more rice.

Tokuyamazushi is one of the rare places in Japan where this tradition still lives on and chef Hiroaki Tokuyama perfected the art of it. But reaching this unassumed, family run rural restaurant/inn (do try to stay the night) takes quite a lot of effort. Set on the shores of Lake Yogo on the foothills of Shiga mountains, it’s definitely remote and off the beaten track, but you get generously rewarded not just by the unspoilt green, lush nature, blissful peace and quiet and a spectacular view over the lake, but also by the exquisite culinary experience. It’s strictly season dictated and based on freshly (line-)caught freshwater fish, water fowl, venison from local woods (including bear), foraged herbs and mushrooms, highlight, of course, being Crucian carp narezushi. Tokuyama ages it for one year and the result is a sharp, not-so-easy-on-the-nose aroma that reminds eaters of strong blue cheese. And the dessert? Cheesy ice-cream, made of leftover fermented rice.

Tokuyamazushi
Lake Yogo, Shiga, Japan
Website

BocaValdivia, Ecuador

Maybe you’ve come to know chef Rodrigo Pachecho’s philosophy through his stint on Netflix’ The Final Table, but nothing quite prepares you for the real thing that his out-of-the-way restaurant BocaValdivia in Puereto Cayo on Ecuador’s coast, set in the unique location where six different ecosystems collide (coastal, mangrove, tropical rainforest, tropical dry forest, orchards, reefs).

All together they are working with more or less 200 different ingredients, from different eco zones, all picked/caught/harvested by hand. Boca Valdivia builds on sustainability and no-waste policy. It draws inspiration and techniques, including the use of ethnobotany, from the ancient Valdivia civilization, one of South America’s oldest – be it foraging, fishing or farming, dating back to 8,000 BC.

There's no fix menu at BocaValvidiaevery ingredient is caught, foraged or harvested the same day and transformed into original dishes that give you a huge insight into the local ingredients. Be it aloe vera and watermelon salad, served inside a cactus leaf or a mangrove shrimp, cooked on cassava grill. Pachecho believes in studying closely the environment and trat the ingredients accordingly – for example, mangroves being a very fragile ecosystem gives him and his team an indication that they need to be extremely responsible with the produce they offer. And all that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else but in Puerto Cayo.

BocaValdivia
Ruta del Sol km 12 Norte, Puerto Cayo, Ecuador
Website

La Madia, Sicily

When you think of Sicily, you don’t really imagine Licata. It’s off the tourist map, and those who do go there have a very good reason to. And for those in the know, that reason is definitely La Madia.

Why does the self-taught Sicilian chef Pino Cuttaia prefer staying in this unassuming southern commune instead of moving his restaurant to some place more central, more frequented? Simply put, he’s a proud Licatian. Even when he moved to Piedmont with his parents when he was just 12, he always knew he would come back to his island, to Licata. He believes in his hometown, in staying true to his roots. At La Madia he’s also staying true to Sicilian traditions, whipping up impressive reinterpretations of beloved classics, like arancini or cannoli – “personal interpretation and childhood memories of Sicily”, as he calls it.

Pino doesn’t watch any cooking shows because he doesn’t want to be influenced by other chefs – he thinks outside the box, always exploring new ways to use the very local ingredients and he truly believes Licata is the only place in the world where he can cook exactly the way he wants.

Ristorante La Madia
Corso Re Capriata F 22, Licata, Sicily
Website

 

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