The world’s best chefs dish up their gastronomic predictions
IN food, as in fashion, massmarket trends take their cues from the top. From haute cuisine or haute couture come the original, outlandish ideas that filter down to the high street. We’ve seen what happened with molecular gastronomy: you can’t poke a fork at a plate these days without hitting foam or soil or gel.
To find out what to expect on the menu in the near future, T&I surveyed some of the world’s leading chefs at the recent S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards in London. Who better to explain the next big trends than the people who create them?
Rene Redzepi of Copenhagen’s Noma is, according to awards organiser Restaurant magazine, the best chef in the world. When he talks about his cooking, Redzepi refers to ‘‘writing a language’’, so I ask him how he thinks that language is likely to evolve. How and what are we likely to be eating in coming years? Where is food heading?
‘ ‘ In our region it’s heading towards more thorough exploration of ourselves,’’ he says. ‘‘Of our soil, of our waters, of our gastronomical heritage. A deeper understanding of why it is we eat the way we do; that cooking is a way to explore the world; that food is something that should be integral, not like some weird alter ego next to you that you feel awkward about.’’
Chefs are helping drive this deeper understanding of food and its provenance, Redzepi says. ‘ ‘ Look at people such as Jamie Oliver, who gets £4 billion or whatever to change school menus. He is a chef. Consider this, 10 years ago, that a chef would change people’s way of eating on a school level: I think most people would have said, ‘ No way, these guys are drunks that breathe in toxic fumes all day and die young.’ ’’
Redzepi hopes the Nordic cuisine he has helped pioneer will continue to evolve and eventually become a gastronomic term, as opposed to a buzzword, alongside Japanese or Mediterranean cuisine.
‘‘It’s gonna take years. But for now there is a momentum, a will and a determination, and people want to explore the world through their gastronomy,’’ he says.
‘‘That’s something that I feel quite strongly right now. I feel positive about it.’’
Expat Australian Brett Graham, the Newcastle boy now wielding two Michelin stars and a world ranking of 34 at The Ledbury in London’s Notting Hill, sees a movement towards more locally sourced produce and ‘‘a real shift towards tasting menus and smaller menus with much less choice’’.
Graham can remember when every restaurant worth its stars had eight starters and eight mains, ‘‘and now we are seeing [far fewer] dishes, which I think is a good thing in terms of wastage’’.
It’s part of a swing towards less formality in top-level dining and more friendly, customer-oriented staff. Graham is at the forefront of this more relaxed, accessible approach; despite its exalted standing in the gastronomic world, The Ledbury offers a two-course weekday lunch for a measly £27.50 ($42). ‘‘It was the recession that changed the way we operate,’’ he says. ‘‘In these hard times people go with their hearts, not their wallets.’’
Peter Gilmore, the groundbreaking chef behind Sydney’s Quay, says Noma’s No 1 ranking these past two years has switched the focus from molecular cuisine (El Bulli, The Fat Duck) to more natural cooking.
‘‘It’s something I have been championing for the last few years as well, and it’s encouraging to see that a lot of the top restaurants are really getting into local cuisine — what’s around them, local ingredients, foraging,’’ Gilmore says. ‘‘But more than that, it’s about rediscovering the true flavours of food and great ingredients.
‘ ‘ I think that’s become the big thing that’s happened in the last couple of years.’’
But molecular cuisine is not entirely dead, he says. Modern gastronomy has cherry-picked the cleverest concepts from the molecular movement and is using those techniques — sous-vide cooking, flavoured foams and smokes — to work with food in a much more natural way. ‘‘What is more and more apparent is that people are looking to nature and to the roots of the ingredients, and also the roots of their culinary history, for inspiration. And they’re also looking at traditional cooking techniques, like smoking and slowbraising, cooking on charcoal: all of those sorts of things are coming back to the fore,’’ Gilmore says.
Elena Arzak, who cooks alongside her father, Juan Mari, at the three-star Arzak restaurant in Spain’s Basque country, says she thinks the experience of dining out will, in essence, remain much the same.
‘‘Everybody will always like to eat well,’’ she says. ‘‘I think it will be the same in 50 years . . . but it might be fine dining [ at] not extremely luxurious restaurants, but with luxurious ingredients.
‘‘For me, the future of the cooking is going to be — like always — about very good products. More vegetables, and it’s going to be [ simpler] food . . . not so many ingredients on a plate.’’
One of only three African chefs to get a gong in this year’s top 100, Dutch-born Margot Janse, of South Africa’s Le Quartier Francais, is a champion of her adopted continent’s cuisine, from baobab nuts to the ratatouille-like chakalaka. She sees her obsession with local, authentic produce as an echo of a broader trend.
‘ ‘ People are looking more closely at where they are, what they are,’’ Janse says. ‘‘When I arrived here about 20 years ago, everything that was not South African was viewed [as] better. ‘It must be better because it’s from Europe.’ It’s taken a long time to get over that.
‘‘Maybe it’s because I am not from South Africa that I sometimes feel more proudly South African than home-grown chefs.’’
Molecular buff Wylie Dufresne of New York’s wd~50 finds Japanese cuisine inspiring and thinks it will have an increasing influence on Western chefs now that there is greater communication between the two cultures.
‘‘It’s beginning to influence a lot of us on a number of levels because [Japanese chefs] have, for whatever reason, finally decided to let us in,’’ Dufresne says. ‘‘I think what Japanese chefs are doing now is finding inroads not just in presentation but technique.’’
The fad for naturalism in cooking probably has its roots in Japanese cuisine, he says, but there are many other inspired ideas to be explored. ‘‘For me, I find a lot of inspiration in the Japanese aesthetic and approach. I am curious to learn everything, from howthey butcher fish to how they cook food.’’
South of the border, Enrique Olvera, of Mexico City’s Pujol, sees a new generation of cooks bringing more youthful perspectives to the world’s top tables.
‘‘Most of the people who are on the [S. Pellegrino] list are below 50 years old, and I think it’s more about cooking and less about the show; less about the restaurant surrounds and more about what’s on the plate,’’ Olvera says. ‘‘I see local. That’s what I love the most about Rene being in first place, because he celebrates his own region. So now if I go to Copenhagen I can have Danish food. And if I go to Spain I have Spanish food. Same in Mexico or Australia. And I think that’s the best that can happen to the world, because it won’t be the same everywhere.
‘‘Ten years ago everybody was doing foie gras and lamb and scallops, and you didn’t know where you were. And now, all of a sudden, you know where you are. And that to me is so great.’’ theworlds50best.com noma.dk the ledbury.com quay.com.au arzak.info lequartier.co.za wd-50.com pujol.com.mx
Peter Gilmore of Sydney’s Quay restaurant feels vindicated by the trend towards natural cooking
Elena Arzak and Juan Mari