Liv­ing off the land

Mas­ter chefs are step­ping out into the wild to ex­plore gas­tro­nomic pos­si­bil­i­ties.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT - By AMY SER­AFIN

Mas­ter chefs are step­ping out into the wild to ex­plore gas­tro­nomic pos­si­bil­i­ties.

RENE Redzepi was crouched and us­ing a sharp knife to scrape lichen from rocks. The tiny green tubes usu­ally feed rein­deer in this land above the Arc­tic Cir­cle.

“If an­i­mals can eat it, we can,” said Redzepi, who was among 14 of the world’s most in­flu­en­tial chefs at a re­cent gath­er­ing in La­p­land, Fin­land. The goal was to dig their hands in the soil and make a meal from what­ever they could find in one of the last un­touched places on Earth.

Called Cook It Raw, the event marked the third time in just over a year that these chefs have hunted, fished and for­aged to­gether – each time in a new lo­ca­tion – then pre­pared a meal while leav­ing the small­est pos­si­ble foot­print on the en­vi­ron­ment.

A pair of Ital­ians, a res­tau­rant con­sul­tant and a food writer, first or­gan­ised Cook It Raw as a pre­lude to the UN Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence in Copen­hagen last year. At that gath­er­ing they asked the chefs to pre­pare dishes us­ing lit­tle or no con­ven­tional en­ergy, lead­ing to mem­o­rable cre­ations such as Redzepi’s squirm­ing live prawns, or Mas­simo Bot­tura’s “pol­lu­tion” soup, il­lus­trat­ing a pro­jected fu­ture in which the oceans con­tain only squid and jel­ly­fish.

The group then came to­gether again in Jan­uary in Fri­uli Venezia Gi­u­lia, Italy, where the in­gre­di­ents they used in­cluded raw veni­son and rare Rosa di Gorizia radic­chio.

This time, they flew to Helsinki from as far afield as London, New York, Sao Paulo and Tokyo, took a 14-hour train ride north, then mar­velled at the bounty of a land where the north­ern lights shim­mer like an elec­tric green cloud and the in­dige­nous peo­ple have 90 words for snow.

An in­creas­ing num­ber of chefs are step­ping out into the wild and cre­at­ing food de­fined by a spe­cific time and place – a way of cook­ing that has be­come the next big move­ment af­ter the sci­ence projects of molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy.

One of its pi­o­neers, Redzepi, who is from Den­mark, shot to first place on Res­tau­rant Mag­a­zine’s list of the world’s 50 best restau­rants this year with his Copen­hagen res­tau­rant, Noma. In La­p­land, he saw a world of gas­tro­nomic pos­si­bil­i­ties in the fuzzy mosses and mush­rooms of the for­est floor. For the din­ner, he cov­ered car­rots with pine nee­dles and steamed them so their es­sen­tial oils im­preg­nated the veg­eta­bles.

“We are show­ing oth­ers how to har­vest in na­ture, be­cause the things you find there taste bet­ter than any­thing grown,” he said. “Try one of those blue­ber­ries, then one grown in a green­house. Your ref­er­ence point for what a blue­berry tastes like has changed for­ever.”

Su­per­star chef David Chang of New York’s Mo­mo­fuku restau­rants also par­tic­i­pated. He was struck by the abun­dance of ed­i­ble shoots and leaves to be found at the top of the world. “To be able to for­age ev­ery­where, it’s crazy,” he ex­claimed. He cre­ated a La­p­land ver­sion of Ja­panese dashi soup, with spruce and rein­deer milk.

Bot­tura, the highly con­cep­tual chef of Os­te­ria Frances­cana in Mo­dena, Italy, cooked rein­deer tongues sous vide for 22 hours. And he did it in his bath­room so he could check their progress through­out the night. He pur­posely chose a body part other chefs might dis­card. “Our cui­sine is no longer about lik­ing or not lik­ing some­thing,” he ex­plained. “It’s about try­ing to in­flu­ence ev­ery­day life. If I put aes­thet­ics and ethics to­gether, that is the fu­ture of cui­sine.”

Brazil­ian chef Alex Atala flew in from Sao Paulo, where his res­tau­rant D.O.M. fea­tures in­gre­di­ents from the Ama­zon, an­other en­dan­gered re­gion. Out­raged that hunt­ing is il­le­gal in most of Brazil yet de­for­esta­tion is not, he has acquired 23,000ha of rain­for­est in an ef­fort to pro­tect it. “Like Rene and Mas­simo, my eth­i­cal awakening came from my job as a chef, search­ing for prod­ucts in na­ture,” he said.

Inaki Aizpi­tarte fil­let­ing a fish for a dish which he and Pet­ter Nils­son pre­pare us­ing in­gre­di­ents for­aged from the for­est.

Inaki Aizpi­tarte and Pet­ter Nils­son, from the wildly pop­u­lar Chateaubriand and La Gazzetta restau­rants in Paris, teamed up to cre­ate a dish from be­gin­ning to end, wak­ing at dawn and fish­ing, cut­ting wood­chips to smoke their catch, mix­ing a broth from lichen and mush­rooms they gath­ered, gar­nish­ing it with berries and sor­rel. “It had a taste of where we had put our feet,” said Nils­son.

One morn­ing the group wit­nessed a rein­deer slaugh­ter, and the blood in­spired sev­eral chefs. Daniel Pat­ter­son from Coi in San Fran­cisco roasted beets in the hearth un­til their skins were black, then served them with a sauce of beets, blue­ber­ries and blood, a sim­ple dish that was sweetly in­tense and gamey.

Then pas­try chef Al­bert Adria, who made his name along­side his brother Fer­ran at the Span­ish res­tau­rant El Bulli, cre­ated “snow” like freshly fallen pow­der next to a lin­gonberry cock­tail that was warm like blood. “If you are lost for three weeks in the wilder­ness here, you will eat rein­deer and drink snow,” he ex­plained.

Tears of emo­tion came to the eyes of the Ja­panese chef Yoshi­hiro Nari­sawa when he pre­sented his dish. He had splattered white bowls with a lin­gonberry sauce that echoed the blood spurt­ing from the rein­deer’s neck that morn­ing. Nes­tled in the sauce were strips of meat from hare who might have fed on the berries. Over this, he poured a clear con­somme made from wild hare, snow grouse and the leg of a bear. The dish rep­re­sented how much life it takes to of­fer us life.

Mean­while, the hard-par­ty­ing Ital­ian chef Da­vide Scabin, from Com­bal.Zero in Turin, packed salmon trout in moss and baked it in a hole in the ground. “I wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent,” he said, light­ing up a cig­a­rette with one of the logs. “I didn’t travel 3,000km to do the same thing I do ev­ery day.” – AP

From scratch:

Rene Redzepi (cen­tre) and his team pre­sent­ing the fi­nal dish on the last evening of CookItRaw in La­p­land, Fin­land.

Na­ture’s bounty: (clock­wise from left) Herbs found in the for­est, fish caught dur­ing CookItRaw and Paivankeitto (catch of the day soup) pre­pared by the lo­cals af­ter a morn­ing of fish­ing and col­lect­ing herbs.

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