The Cook It Raw founder discusses his new book chronicling the famous chef gathering
There are countless numbers of food festivals across the world where chefs can get out of their kitchens and interact with the dining public. Yet despite the fact that many of these events also bring many leading chefs to the same city, they rarely get the chance to interact in a meaningful way. From this, the idea for Cook It Raw was born. Alessandro Porcelli had wanted to create an event that brought chefs together in a collaborative way, and so he had the idea of creating an annual gathering that celebrated creativity. Cook It Raw was kept small and has now occurred annually since 2009 with chefs as varied as René Redzepi, Massimo Bottura, David Chang, and Sean Brock.
Yet because it needed to remain intimate, there was little opportunity for the public to get involved or to also learn from the chef's collaborations. And so Porcelli set out to create a book that encapsulated the experience. Also called Cook It Raw, the book, allows people inside the event without compromising the goals of the event. "It was one of my initial thoughts about how we can actually get a larger audience by being small and intimate," he says. "We have to create an environment where chefs felt comfortable, where they felt that they could fail together, they could share ideas, they could grow together."
For more from Porcelli, watch the video above and make sure to pick up Cook It Raw!
Cook it Raw
Cook it Raw tells the story of an exciting collection of avant garde chefs who come together to create unique dining experiences that explore and question social, cultural and environmental issues. Held initially in Copenhagen to mark the 2009 climate change summit the first 'Raw' dinner challenged the chefs to examine the issue of sustainability. As the events have developed so too have the issues, themes and general philosophy of the group.
Winter and the question of creativity (Collio-Italy), the Wilderness and culinary comradeship (Lapland) and tradition and the artisan (Iskikawa-Japan) have all been explored on the plate by the likes of Rene Redzepi, Albert Adria, Alex Atala, Daniel Patterson, Magnus Nilsson, Inaki Aizparte, Massimo Bottura and Claude Bosi. Normally reserved for a select number of diners this book reveals for the very first time the 'Raw' collective's philosophy and creative endeavours. With contributions from leading food writers and 'Raw' supporters such as Antony Bourdain, Jeffrey Steingarten and Andrea Petrini plus, over 400 behind-the-scenes images of the events and an inspiring collection of the chefs' own 'Raw' recipes, notes and anecdotes - Cook it Raw is an exclusive window into the world's most progressive culinary collective.
Alessandro Porcelli of ɼook It Raw' on Collaboration, Mentorship and How to End Bullying in the Kitchen
If you're not familiar with the name Alessandro Porcelli, you may have heard of some of his close collaborators: David Chang, Daniel Patterson and Rene Redzepi, to name a few.
Alessandro is the founder and director of Cook It Raw, an annual gathering of the restaurant industry's top talent aimed at sharing ideas and innovations in the world of food. Every year groups of chefs come together to explore ingredients and where they come from learn historic and regional cooking methods and exchange new, creative ways to talk about and share food with the world. Check out the #rawtalks hashtag on Twitter to follow the conversation.
In creating the organization Alessandro has made it his mission to bring collaboration and sharing to the forefront of an industry famed for its competitiveness (and often, intimidation). The latest issue of Lucky Peach magazine featured articles by David Chang and Rene Redzepi about the legacy of abuse and fear in professional kitchens, recognizing the need for a cultural shift.
Here, we ask Alessandro all about Cook It Raw, how chefs are working together, and how the industry is evolving to create better leaders and a better community overall.
Tell us the story behind Cook It Raw and how you're encouraging collaboration in the industry.
From 2004 to 2007 I worked for Noma in Copenhagen I was doing communications and public relations for them from the beginning. In 2006 I opened my own company in Denmark, and my idea was to organize a food tour of Scandinavia.
It's only in the last 10 to 15 years that Scandinavian chefs have been known for cooking exciting food. All the fancy restaurants were French and Italian and Spanish. [The Nordic countries] wanted to find a way to promote themselves as one unit, and food was a big opportunity. Rene Redzepi started to focus really hard on it, and we started to travel together and see how we could promote the restaurant and promote the region. After months and months of thinking I had this epiphany: cook it raw, cook it clean.
It has nothing to do with raw food. At that time we experienced the pinnacle of what was so-called "molecular cuisine." The way I saw to promote Denmark is, what kind of image does it conjure up in people's minds? Are you seeing this large, pure space? We focus very much on the food in purity.
We started to work on all of these ideas and going to all these food conferences. We started to become friends with all the big guys, the new up-and-coming ones and the established ones. A new generation of chefs were popping up, and they all had a great energy.
The funny thing was that the most interesting things at these conferences were happening behind the scenes. They were just actually cooking and exchanging ideas -- not on the stage where they were all affected and people half-asleep are going to look at this big screen. We were talking about food but you couldn't smell it, couldn't taste it, couldn't see it. I started to think, I want to do something where I bring what I see behind the stage on the forefront of the stage.
I asked the chefs to come and cook dishes without using much energy, just use creativity as a tool to think about ways we can express this kind of reflection. Outside numbers and statistics and food conferences, let's just do something with our hands. We picked up all the chefs and journalists and loaded them on the bus and we went up to the fjords. We stopped at a farm and picked up some vegetables, and we went back and had an amazing dinner.
You could see the energy and the mood was amazing, just by being up one day together. It was good for bonding and spirits. From there, it just took off. We wanted to discover culture through the lens of food and become more ambitious with the messaging and become more relevant with the issues that we wanted to discuss.
What about the #rawtalks hashtag? What was the origin of that, and what is your goal with the campaign?
One thing we're focusing on is mentorship and collaboration. We're talking about the next big thing, but still we are bullying kitchens like back in the 18th century. It's also about stability. We have kitchens around the world, and they run with half of the staff being unpaid. And this has impact on more and more people because the trade is suffering. If you're not a tough guy or a tough girl . I think it's extremely sad.
For us, what we wanted to try is, let's have a healthier trade and see how we can be better in treating our staff and becoming better leaders and attracting a different breed of people in the kitchen.
And how do you actually do that? How do you change attitudes and behavior in the kitchen?
I think it's just by talking. You have a problem bring that problem up and try to solve it instead of just sweeping it under the carpet.
That's why I think we have to start the conversation of how to become better leaders. For the next generation of leaders, it's not about being authoritative, it's about being influential in a much more mature way.
I've experienced kitchens where about half the staff is just terrorized by the chef. People are breaking down. Instead of finding ways of creating a healthier environment in the kitchen, we are focusing on the latest trend in food, who's going to be the next guy on the block. I think the key is to move as one big unit rather than trying to find the next celebrity.
Now is a time to stand back and reflect on where the trade goes, not who the next restaurants or the next chefs should be. As a group, how can we move forward? How can we create a healthier environment for our kitchens?
Do you see events as a way to do that successfully?
This year, Cook It Raw in Alberta is about the shaping of a culinary frontier. It's three days, so we're going to bring all the chefs up in the mountains and we're going to cook and talk.
Our main focus is going to be about collaboration. How will you become a better leader, a real mentor? How do real mentors act? It's not just about being physically or verbally abusive, it can be also the other way - by not saying everything or by being humiliating. It comes in many different shapes and sizes.
We're going to have 21 chefs up there, and we're going to have a number of journalists. How can we start with this conversation? Let's all agree that we do have a problem, and when we recognize we have a problem we should have the tools that allow us to move forward and solve these problems.
Is there anything specific about this industry that encourages a sense of bullying?
Before an event like [Cook It Raw] we did not have strong collaboration. Now Rene Redzepi and David Chang have become very strong, very good friends. That was change.
I think that the kitchens are collaborative environments. Of course a chef should be a strong personality and have to work in a very strict way. But all the humiliation, all the bullying - it's belittling the trade. The macho image is something of the past.
What the kitchen can do in general is bring a new and fresh attitude to the world. Let's take responsibility in our own hands and let's start one step at a time to make small changes. We have to be smart enough to create responsible groups of like-minded people and try to make small changes.
Cook It Raw brings people out of their comfort zones because when you learn, when you're faced with uncomfortable situations, you have to solve them. This has been our main strength it is why I keep doing it. That helps to think out of the box and to reach something new in the spectrum that, of course, we bring back to the restaurant.
Now what we have to do is to find a new group of people. We were starting to be tagged as a brotherhood, a small club of boys, and putting out this macho image. I never wanted to do that. The kids today are about gender and are more into the problems that the kitchen has -- now is the time to address this.
Review of ɼook it Raw', Edited by Alessandro Porcelli
Cook it Raw is decidedly not a recipe book but it is a book about cooking. In the introduction Anthony Bourdain explains that cooking is about innovation, trial-and-error but that chefs now rarely have the chance to make mistakes. Cook it Raw allows for experimentation, free of criticism and worries about the bottom line. It is a chance for chefs to connect with food and each other.
There have been four Cook it Raw events since 2009 that are documented in this beautiful book from Phaidon. They were held in Denmark, Italy, Finland and Japan - each with a theme and a style to the food. Chefs were invited to experiment and find new ingredients, as a closed event this book allows the rest of us to see what they discovered.
Essays within the book are as varied as the food and are the sort of writing that you'll want to read over and over again. The one thing that it would be nice to have is the inclusion of female chefs in the book - the events described by René Redzepi as being similar to a boy scouts at camp it is a shame to only have one woman (Ana Ros) so far taking part in Cook it Raw. It would have been wonderful to know Nadia Santini's, recently voted as the World's Best Female Chef, take on these location-based events.
Cook it Raw is broken down into sections based on the different events and includes information about the region, what the event focused on, and an essay by one of the chefs. The images of the food, chefs and locations are outstandingly beautiful - the photography is artwork and no mere accompaniment. Included throughout are little A5 inserts with menus, invitations, emails, maps, sketches and recipes. Dotted amongst the writing and photography are quotations by some of the greatest chefs in the world about the process and the food itself. There are also interviews and conversations between the chefs involved.
This will make a wonderful gift for anyone who loves food, even if they already have enough recipe books - it is a fantastic insight into cooking, ingredients and the chefs who use them.
Cook it Raw doesn't have a set of recipes to follow through but will show you how to see ingredients differently, look at the food you are eating and the environment where it came from. The book is beautifully written and visually stunning, a lovely read and a great source of inspiration.
Cook It Raw
Price AUD$59.95 Price CAD$49.95 Price &euro45.00 Price £35.00 Price T49.95 Price USD$49.95
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Cook it Raw tells the story of an exciting collection of avant garde chefs who come together to create unique dining experiences that explore and question social, cultural and environmental issues. Held initially in Copenhagen to mark the 2009 climate change summit the first ‘Raw’ dinner challenged the chefs to examine the issue of sustainability. As the events have developed so too have the issues, themes and general philosophy of the group. Winter and the question of creativity (Collio-Italy), the Wilderness and culinary comradeship (Lapland) and tradition and the artisan (Iskikawa-Japan) have all been explored on the plate by the likes of Rene Redzepi, Albert Adria, Alex Atala, Daniel Patterson, Magnus Nilsson, Inaki Aizparte, Massimo Bottura and Claude Bosi.
Normally reserved for a select number of diners this book reveals for the very first time the ‘Raw’ collective’s philosophy and creative endeavours. With contributions from leading food writers and ‘Raw’ supporters such as Antony Bourdain, Jeffrey Steingarten and Andrea Petrini plus, over 400 behind-the-scenes images of the events and an inspiring collection of the chefs’ own ‘Raw’ recipes, notes and anecdotes - Cook it Raw is an exclusive window into the world’s most progressive culinary collective. Specifications:
- Format: Hardback
- Size: 290 x 250 mm (11 3/8 x 9 7/8 in)
- Pages: 240 pp
- Illustrations: 400 illustrations
- ISBN: 9780714865492
"A wild cooking experiment. The book recounts four Cook It Raw gatherings - in Denmark, Japan, Italy, and Finland - in lush photography, email exchanges, recipe descriptions and entertaining essays."—The Wall Street Journal Europe
"Essays within the book are as varied as the food and are the sort of writing that you'll want to read over and over again. The images of the food, chefs and locations are outstandingly beautiful - the photography is artwork and no mere accompaniment. Dotted amongst the writing and photography are quotations by some of the greatest chefs in the world about the process and the food itself. A wonderful gift for anyone who loves food, even if they already have enough recipe books. A fantastic insight into cooking, ingredients and the chefs who use them. Beautifully written and visually stunning, a lovely read and a great source of inspiration."—Huffington Post UK
"For the most ardent food lover comes a fulfilling companion called Cook it Raw - Phaidon's beautiful, sideways look at cooking. The large book records the four Cook it Raw events - conducted somewhere remote in Denmark, Italy, Finland and Japan with some of the best chefs in the world (such as Noma's Rene Redzepi and Momofuku's David Chang). Their mission is to create dishes made with the ingredients available to them in their surroundings. Free from the constraints of their kitchen the results range from failure to the orgasmic, but what binds them all is that common love and respect for what grows around us. Utterly spellbinding."—Harper's Bazaar
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Alessandro Porcelli at The NoMad Library Bar in New York City. Photo: Amy McKeever/Eater.com
It is perhaps one of the great strengths and criticisms that participation in the culinary adventure that is Cook It Raw has been limited to a handful of chefs in each iteration. Some of the best-known names in food — Albert Adria, Alex Atala, Pascal Barbot, Massimo Bottura, David Chang, and René Redzepi among them — have been in (repeat) attendance at the event that founder Alessandro Porcelli says "creates intimacy and creates strength." Of course, that's an intimacy that leaves many others on the outside looking in.
In launching the Cook It Raw book this week (pre-order on Amazon), Porcelli aims to take the intimacy of the experience and share that with a larger audience. In this interview, he talks about what Cook It Raw has meant to its participants, how he chooses which chefs to bring together, and the future of the event.
You originally organized the event out of a reaction to the chefs congresses and festivals weren't quite enough.
That's correct. I started after my long traveling experience around the world. I landed in Copenhagen in the late 90s. [René Redzepi and I] became friends and I worked for Noma for a couple years. You went to all these conferences and they were talking about food, food was the main subject. It was the reason why you went there, but you couldn't smell the food. You couldn't taste the food. You could see the food on the screen, so you might as well [have] been back home watching Top Chef on TV. But what was very interesting is what happened behind the scenes. Chefs were getting together, sharing ideas, being excited about next projects. Really connecting. That for me was wow. This is so powerful. Why this is happening only as an intimate thing? So I started to think about how I should use this energy, facilitate this. But also where the context was right. It wasn't just friends getting together.
That's when I came up with the idea for Noma of Looking North, where we wanted to present to the chefs from all over the world about what you could find in the Nordic region in terms of raw materials and ingredients. And that was a great success. I started to collaborate with Copenhagen Cooking, the largest food festival we have in Scandinavia. So my name got out there in the [Danish government, which] contacted me and said the UN climate change summit is coming up. Why don't we find a way to create a sort of event that would link environmental issues with food? I needed to come up with a very catchy concept. After months and months of thinking, I went for a nap and I woke up with the answer: Cook it Raw. It was like the epiphany. Let's use [raw] as way to interpret what the future of gastronomy might be. Raw in English has different meanings. In here, let's use it as a reflection of nature.
How did you go about deciding which chefs to ask?
We'd been going around to food conferences for the last five or six years. You see the guys and the kind of personality. I'm a basketball player. I'm very much interested in teamwork. My partner, the guy that helped me out in recruiting the chefs, Andrea Petrini, he had a great knowledge of scouting for young talent for the last 20 years. So together, we started to select the chefs who we thought matched between themselves and were very authentic in the job they were doing. And we wanted to have also a nice blend of nationalities. These were the first guys that just came to us. But still we knew it was going to be something open also to newcomers. At the end of the day in the last five events we had 25 chefs joining in. It's very interesting to see how these guys work together.
And they clicked right away, right?
In Copenhagen, it was magic. Believe me, it was magic. Everyone there says we were floating in the room. We were so inspired, I said, "Why can't this be a movement?" I don't even know why I said it. Still, why not [let] this become a way for like-minded chefs to be together? It's a funny thing. While I was in the middle of thinking about how to bring this forward, Cook it Raw, I met Emilia Terragni of Phaidon in San Sebastien. He said, why not do a book about this event? It's been a long, grueling process to come up with this book, definitely. It's been an amazing journey.
How did you approach writing it?
It was difficult. We tried so many angles. One thing we were certain of was that we had great images and great content. But how to put it together? We tried, but it wasn't flowing correctly. We weren't getting the essence. You needed to spend more time with the chefs. We didn't want to do something just chronological. We needed to give a strong insight about what we did and keep it intimate, but also make it available for a larger audience. This is what the book is about. It exactly is about keeping an intimate gathering and how to divulge that to a larger community of people interested in food.
[Photo: Paula Forbes/Eater.com]
You can tell from reading it how much it meant to the chefs to have that opportunity to connect.
It started a whole new ballgame, basically. Before, chefs were king of their own castle, they weren't sharing anything, not even with their staffs. Great talents, but not very clever in how to be together. And the importance of chefs sharing ideas, collaborating, and being together, it released such a strong energy that this can't really describe in words, you have to be there. I think that the greatness about this book is it does give this sense of energy we experienced by being together. Creating a platform, a playground, let's call it, for chefs to come there and feel comfortable and confident, to be amongst their peers, nobody's there to judge them. Give them an opportunity to learn from different cultures. How to delve into the very fabric into a country through food, this is basically what we do. Explore the world through the lens of food. It helps them to rethink about their cuisine. And also all the customers at the restaurants, they experience as a reflection the experience the growth of a chef.
Is that why you keep the numbers limited?
Yeah. Because otherwise it will lose the intensity. The intimacy and the intensity. it would be a little bit too difficult. I always use the example of a school. When you're in a class, you're maximum 20 or 25 people. You can't have a classroom with 150 pupils. Everyone has to be feel part of it. If you expand it to a larger number, you will automatically tend to create micro-groups of people. And you don't want that, do you? I want Cook it Raw to be a unit, not several small units. We're all there together for the same idea. We're going there to discover together.
It's a process, Cook it Raw. You go to a country, you discover the land. As organizer, I go there, spend months, find out the right people, the right ingredients. Basically I create the atmosphere for them to go and be pampered by the experience.
I'd love to hear more about the research that you do going into an event.
A topic has to be interesting. Copenhagen, it was the beginning of the foraging everything, it was new, and I wanted to show [it] to all. And, of course, it was my own playground. In the beginning, it was very much linked to my work that I did for the government. After that, I wanted to create something unique. Being in the middle of winter, what can you do? The constraints of having to really dig deep in your thoughts and intuition, the way that you empathize with nature, I thought that was great. Also the aspect that struck me the most from the first event we did in Copenhagen was the social aspect. It was not just the chefs. It was us, the participants, we create altogether an atmosphere. A group feeling.
I remember just going into the country, I wanted my guests to experience this. Let's go to a country, let's see where the raw materials are growing, let's see my fishermen. That's why we went to Japan, the land of traditions. How they hunt ducks still in the old methods of 350 years ago, these guys who go at dawn with this long stick with this net. They duck down on top of a hill on top of a pond and they wait [for] exactly when the sun appears on the horizon, the ducks are flying up and they cast up these nets and just collect these ducks. For chefs to see this, to experience this, they bring home some small gems that will just enrich their experience. So this one for me was the most captivating things. Through the book, hopefully people will understand how important this is. Hopefully they will emulate this.
How do you respond to the criticism of the event in terms of the small group of chefs, sort of a clubby atmosphere?
We just said it. We want to do something that creates intimacy and creates strength. This is so simple. It doesn't work if you have 100 people there. This is very specific. I wanted to find a format where the participants bring something memorable back home. For me, it's something that will help them in their trade. The guys came back inspired. If they're inspired and they're happy and they feel that they are part of a community of like-minded chefs and people, they give strength. That is reflecting on their work with their teams and the customers that eat.
People are asking a lot of these chefs nowadays. "Okay, listen, I pay $400 for a meal, what do you give me?" They're scrutinized by you guys, by the customers that want to be happy. So if you don't create a playground, if you don't create a platform for these chefs to grow — this is exactly what Anthony Bourdain says in the book — they become trapped, they become slaves to their own signature dishes. So what Cook it Raw does is to help them get away from this slavery in a sense and give them the opportunity to think outside of the box.
[Photo: Paula Forbes/Eater.com]
What are some new faces you'd love to see in future years?
I'd love to see a lot of beautiful people. I don't have something concrete in mind. More than chefs, I see nations. I would like to be able to embrace as many chefs as possible. This is actually what we're going to do in Canada [at the Terroir Symposium], sit down with 25 chefs and see how we can work together, how we can inspire each other. It doesn't have to necessarily be Cook it Raw. It could be just a network of like-minded people that feel that through food you can tell beautiful story, important stories for the people who come and eat at your restaurant and also for your kids. We have a lot of responsibility now toward our land, toward the customers, toward ourselves and toward the planet in general. I think food is a great way of tackling some of these issues.
So yeah there's not anybody in particular. I'm talking with a lot of people. People send me mail. I got this guy from Germany, a two Michelin star [chef], he says, "Listen, in Germany we don't really have a strong network of like-minded chefs like you put together, so how can I be part of this?" So okay, contact us. Let Cook it Raw be an open platform. I'm very much open. I don't have the right recipe. I don't even want to have it. I want to hear what's out there, how people feel nowadays. I did a small event. It's been successful because it was the right event at the right time. It was the right chefs. It was a combination of all these things. And now, okay, what is next? Let's talk about it guys.
In America, for instance, I can see you're still so young concerning the way that you organize, the way you promote yourself. It's not very structured yet. I think that would be a great conversation to hear how you want to do it. I think nowadays it's not anymore about one single figure. It's become much more democratic, the panorama of chef communities.
Have you gotten a lot of outreach from female chefs looking to be involved? I know you had one in Poland, but I couldn't help noticing there were not any in the book.
Yes. I never close doors to anybody. You know better than me it's a world where it's very stressful and it's many, many hours and there are not that many women out there, I'm afraid. We invited Ana Ros. Now I hear about a lot of great women out there doing some great work. So my antennas are 100 percent in there and, again, there's never been a closed door to anybody, "No, this will be a man's world." Not at all. We are very much open-minded. So let's hope that we can have more and more of the women's world in there. I love women.
And where are you with the next edition of Cook it Raw? Would you ever do multiple events?
We're just going to stick with an annual gathering, and after that see if we can find other things to connect with it. But it will lose the intensity. Right now we're focusing very much on the book's launch and basically evaluating all possibilities. I have many different countries that are interested. Some are more serious than others. It's a very organic process.
Alessandro Porcelli Takes Cook It Raw to Mexico
Porcelli in his rented Spanish colonial home in Mérida
“CAN WE GET AN ARMADILLO?” asks Alessandro Porcelli, 51, standing barefoot in a pebbled courtyard in Mérida, Mexico. The serially itinerant Italian founder of Cook It Raw, an annual high-octane field trip for the world’s top chefs, tilts his head and ponders eating the animal. A culinary school graduate standing nearby tells him that an armadillo would require a few days to detox, since it eats snakes and scorpions, so Porcelli decides to save the experiment for another day in favor of hitting the road to learn how traditional sausages are smoked over jabin wood on the outskirts of Valladolid, a couple of hours inland on the Yucatán Peninsula. “Many miles to go,” Porcelli says, wild-eyed and tugging at his beard.
Ever since its inception five years ago, Cook It Raw has treated distance as an achievement. Porcelli founded the program at a time when the idea of hyperlocal, highly technical cooking had reached a critical mass in kitchens across the globe. He offered an antidote by asking the world’s best chefs to travel beyond their geographical and doctrinal boundaries. “I wanted to get them out of their comfort zones,” he says, “where the best learning happens.” The titular raw refers not solely to uncooked ingredients, but to a desire to set aside the creative militarism of the kitchen in favor of more unpredictable food-related endeavors.
Cook It Raw has also helped legitimize a new fraternal order. By participating, the chefs—predominantly men under the age of 45 at the height of their careers, such as David Chang, Alex Atala and René Redzepi—enhance their abilities, and therefore their stature, through a series of extreme, far-flung group experiences. They also get to penetrate Porcelli’s sybaritic, globe-trotting clique.
Until this year, sessions typically lasted about a week. The cast members, handpicked for their skills, status and avant-garde thinking, largely remained the same. (Only three women, including the Spotted Pig’s April Bloomfield, participated during Raw’s first five years.) Led by Porcelli, delegations of a dozen or more chefs foraged bulrush on the grounds of a Danish castle, rode an overnight train into Lapland to slaughter a reindeer and mucked through South Carolina swampland in pursuit of alligator meat. Every installment began with a pedagogical cue of Porcelli’s choosing, a way of orienting each Cook It Raw around an issue. In 2010, in Collio Goriziano, Italy, Porcelli established a theme of “chef versus winter.” Two years ago, in Poland’s Suwalki region, he wanted to make good on Czeslaw Milosz’s poem “Wherever” and its directive “to extract as many / Colors, tastes, sounds, smells, to experience / Everything that is a man’s share, / To transpose what was felt / Into a magical register….”
In the end, there was dinner—the lessons of the week in a series of plates, like Claude Bosi and Yoshihiro Narisawa’s riff on Japanese spiritualism with a pair of dishes called “Lick the Monk” (monkfish liver ice cream with chestnuts, yuzu and gingko nuts) and “Prayer” (featuring an edible burdock root candle). After last year’s dinner in Charleston, South Carolina (“Lowcountry Cuisine and the Confluence of Cultures”), Dan Barber of New York’s Blue Hill laid out some of the event’s more soulful benefits in an email to Porcelli. “Chefs lead pretty cloistered lives,” he wrote. “Despite the global marketplace of ingredients and ideas, the restaurant kitchen is an insulated, turbulent little world. Removing ourselves from the daily commerce of cooking to think freely and, well, act normally, can be more important than even the most exciting discovery at the stove.”
Swamp to Table
HARDEEVILLE, S.C. — “I am sitting in the most amazing puddle of mire,” Matt Jennings, the chef at Farmstead in Providence, R.I., announced into the dark from his perch atop a 12-foot-high hunting blind.
He had already been frog-marched deep into the forest by a local guide at dawn, ripped open his hand sliding down a ladder and hauled his large frame up another ladder and into a rain-filled swivel chair.
But it wasn’t his damp jeans, bleeding finger or lack of sleep that were bothering him. It was that, with one shotgun shell and no hunting experience, he was poised to bring down a deer or wild pig that his guide said would surely cross through this particular stand of trees, where the forest floor is thick with acorns.
Mr. Jennings, along with 20 other chefs from around the world, was in this neck of the woods in October because of Cook It Raw, a prestigious and peculiar annual culinary gathering that has become one of the most coveted invitations in food.
The night before, he had butchered a freshly shot alligator with a Bowie knife by the headlights of a pickup truck, sawing off the arms while Jeremy Charles, a chef from Newfoundland, cut out the tongue. For dinner, he had deftly trimmed and then grilled a deer’s heart, lovingly cutting it into thin, tender slices.
But he was having doubts. “If a beautiful, innocent deer wanders in front of me, am I really going to blow its brains out?” he said.
In the end, Mr. Jennings never saw his prey. But this is precisely the kind of question that is supposed to arise during Cook It Raw, held in a different (and usually remote) location every year since 2009.
Cook It Raw has nothing to do with raw food. Its guiding idea is to strip cooking to its raw elements: foraging, hunting, fishing, farming and low-tech skills like butchery and cooking over fire. A taste of the wild — hunting deer, gathering mushrooms, pulling wasabi from creek beds — is part of each carefully orchestrated and extensively documented program. (The first gathering, in Denmark, included 11 chefs and about 20 journalists.)
Also, the chefs themselves are stripped raw: airlifted out of their restaurant kitchens and planted far away from their families and customers, their sous-chefs and sous-vide machines, for a week.
European luminaries like Pascal Barbot, Albert Adrià and Massimo Bottura have camped out with New World comers like David Chang, Sean Brock and Alex Atala. Acclaimed chefs from Asia like André Chiang and Yoshihiro Narisawa have yawned at predawn wake-up calls alongside Scandinavian influencers like Magnus Nilsson and René Redzepi.
“I just wanted to suck the marrow out of the experience,” said Mr. Jennings, who was at Cook It Raw for the first time and more than slightly cowed by all the world-famous chefs. “But I made a strict rule for myself on the plane: you do not talk to Albert Adrià unless he talks to you first.”
The chosen ones are considered kitchen innovators whose work displays a respect for agricultural tradition and a command of culinary technology. (And they are almost invariably men the first woman included was Ana Ros, a Slovenian chef who attended the 2012 event in Suwalki in north Poland this year, the British-American chef April Bloomfield made the cut, as well as Connie DeSousa of Calgary’s meat-focused restaurant Charcut Roast House.)
In the same way an overnight hike at summer camp gives children a safe but exhilarating taste of the wild, Cook It Raw is an artificial, educational and highly enjoyable field trip into food.
It began in Copenhagen, an offshoot of the acclaimed restaurant Noma and the work of its chef, Mr. Redzepi, the face of the so-called New Nordic cooking style: hyperlocal and seasonal ingredients (of course), with added layers of agricultural tradition, naturalistic presentation and high-minded culinary innovation.
In Lapland, they witnessed the slaughter of a reindeer on the west coast of Japan, they tried to catch ducks in midair, using traditional nets strung on long poles here in the Lowcountry, they foraged for yaopon, the only plant native to North America that contains caffeine (Native Americans and early settlers made tea from its leaves). The final event is a grand experimental dinner, with each chef improvising a single course inspired by the local terrain — usually with names like Earth and Sea or Strange Fruit or even Frustrated Mackerel. This year, it took place at Mr. Brock’s avant-garde, high-end restaurant, McCrady’s, in Charleston.
But more important than the particular place is that the chefs are at the same place at the same time. “The idea of chefs voluntarily sharing information and techniques with outsiders is still new,” said Daniel Patterson, the chef at Coi, in Northern California. Traditionally, hostility has coexisted with camaraderie, as expensive restaurants competed for the same wealthy customers in a given community. But as haute cuisine has become global and chefs have become more educated, collaboration is more appealing.
What to Cook Right Now
Sam Sifton has menu suggestions for the coming days. There are thousands of ideas for what to cook waiting for you on New York Times Cooking.
- Do not miss Yotam Ottolenghi’s incredible soba noodles with ginger broth and crunchy ginger. for fungi is a treat, and it pairs beautifully with fried snapper with Creole sauce.
- Try Ali Slagle’s salad pizza with white beans, arugula and pickled peppers, inspired by a California Pizza Kitchen classic.
- Alexa Weibel’s modern take on macaroni salad, enlivened by lemon and herbs, pairs really nicely with oven-fried chicken.
- A dollop of burrata does the heavy lifting in Sarah Copeland’s simple recipe for spaghetti with garlic-chile oil.
Chefs who are famously combative in their restaurants become collegial, even cuddly, at Cook It Raw.
“It was magical,” said Mr. Patterson, who has attended five times. At first he was so afraid to fail in front of other chefs that he carried his own potatoes from California to Denmark to ensure that his dish would turn out well. “Encouragement from your peers, especially if you’re doing things that are new or experimental, is not easy for chefs to come by.”
That first group was collected by Mr. Redzepi Andrea Petrini, a food journalist and Alessandro Porcelli, a charismatic former basketball player from Italy who worked at Noma and is now the prime mover of the conference, which pays for the chefs’ travel, room and board. This year’s event was the first held in the United States and the first to accept commercial sponsors.
Mr. Porcelli, with extensive financing from government tourism agencies in countries like Denmark, Finland and Japan, has driven much of the global publicity for the New Nordic movement. Mr. Petrini is no longer involved and has restarted Gelinaz, a traveling show for chefs.
Not so long ago, chefs were neither globe-trotters nor public figures. Now, showing up at meetings like these — and at Omnivore, Madrid Fusión, MAD Symposium, Mesamérica and on and on — is virtually required for any chef who wants to be in the public eye, to learn new techniques, or to simply eavesdrop on the newly global conversation on food.
The gatherings have contributed to huge changes in the culinary world in the last decade. The first big shifts happened at Madrid Fusión, which began in 2003: it fueled an exchange of ideas that helped the avant-garde chefs of Spain identify their scientifically calibrated cuisine as a new national style. Suddenly, chefs like Ferran Adrià and Juan Mari Arzak were stars, and the longtime hierarchy that put France at the pinnacle simply collapsed.
Fine dining began to include traditional agricultural skills and native products. Now, a chef can open an ambitious, hyper-local place like Raymonds in St. John’s, Newfoundland, or Hartwood, in Tulum, Mexico, and still cook for members of the global food media, who flock to conferences for their convenient access to multiple chefs. Some of the serious food conferences are now considered a drag by most chefs, but Cook It Raw is still adventurous and outdoorsy enough to appeal.
“It’s important to keep pushing yourself, to learn and stretch as a cook,” said Ms. Bloomfield, who has just opened Tosca Cafe, a restaurant in San Francisco, adding to the four kitchens she runs in New York. She is known for unfussy food, simply but expertly prepared.
But for the chefs’ dinner here, she composed a plate of seared rib-eye steaks of local beef, aged for 40 days and grilled over pecan wood on top, roasted Tokyo turnips and a salad of raw turnips, grated turnips and turnip leaves, dressed with a sesame-miso-sorghum vinaigrette with fresh fennel seeds and pollen and a shower of wood sorrel and peanut leaves. Oh, and there was a salty-sweet smoked-oyster ice cream on top. “I did it for the sheer joy of making myself uncomfortable,” she said. “You don’t get to do that in your own kitchen very often.”
This year’s gathering was based in Charleston, and the area of study was the Lowcountry, the coastal marshes and fertile barrier islands that stretch from North Carolina down to Georgia.
At Turnbridge, a former rice plantation here, the channels that once irrigated many acres of plants hold shrimp, blue crabs and alligators its old-growth trees are home to bald eagles, flocks of doves and sometimes pink flamingoes. The estate also holds 20 acres of Carolina Gold rice, a rich and fluffy strain that died out in the 1920s but has been revived here by multiple twists of fate (and the persistence of Dr. Richard and Patricia Schulze, who bought the land in the 1970s).
Its red-gold stalks waved around the chef Dan Barber’s ears as Glenn Roberts, the owner of Anson Mills and the South’s premier expert on grains, taught the group the multistep process of harvesting rice, from cutting all the way through threshing, pounding and polishing.
“You become very connected to the ingredient when you’re literally standing in it,” said Mr. Barber, who is deep into a study of heirloom and hybrid grains at his famous, idyllic farm-restaurant just north of New York City, Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
Mr. Jennings, by contrast, is the little-known chef at a small restaurant in a small city. Providence diners like their food recognizable and hearty, and he cooks accordingly: bowls of mussels, boards of local cheese and the charcuterie he makes by hand, and an exceptional grilled cheese sandwich with strawberry jam. He is thickly tattooed with the names of pig parts, and doesn’t look like a member of any elite group. But his efforts to support New England farms and fisheries, and to organize a Northern Alliance of chefs in Canada and New England to celebrate mussels, maple syrup, potatoes and other cold-weather staples, won him admission to the magic circle of Cook It Raw chefs.
While there, he said a week later, there were only a few moments when he went cold with fear.
JBF on the Air: Cook It Raw
What happens when creative chefs and food producers come together to explore the possibilities of cuisine? Find out on yesterday's episode of Taste Matters, when JBF's Mitchell Davis was joined by Cook It Raw's Alessandro Porcelli. Cook It Raw provides an arena for exchange between avant-garde chefs and traditional food producers, encouraging innovation on the plate, while addressing environmental, social, and cultural issues. By sparking new personal and creative connections, the gathering helps preserve foodways in danger of extinction and influences the ideas and techniques of some of the world's most innovative chefs, advancing the very future of cuisine. Listen below to learn more:
Taste Matters is a radio program dedicated to taste: as a sense, cultural construct, and culinary phenomenon. However much we talk about where our food comes from, how it&rsquos produced, who prepares it, or what sorts of socio-cultural-political implications our food choices and eating behaviors have, taste is fundamental.
Recap: Cook It Raw Launch in London With Redzepi, Atala, Patterson, and Albert Adrià
This weekend, chefs from all over the world have been gathering in London in anticipation for tonight's World's 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony. Londoners have had a chance to take advantage of their presence through a number of public events held over the weekend: live demonstrations from the likes of Massimo Bottura and Danny Bowien at The Lab event, a lunch featuring seven Michelin-starred chefs at Harrod's, and a Cook it Raw book launch at the Royal Geographic Society. At the latter, René Redzepi, Alex Atala, Daniel Patterson, and Albert Adrià joined Cook it Raw founder Alessandro Porcelli to share their experiences at the annual gastronomic retreat.
1) Cook it Raw founder Alessandro Porcelli called in René Redzepi, Alex Atala, Daniel Patterson, and Albert Adrià to talk about the pillars of the event: collaboration, tradition, nature and creativity.
2) Patterson spoke about the inspiration of nature and how an important part of Cook it Raw is in using indigenous ingredients and paying attention: "I think cooking itself is a lot about paying attention. There's a moment when something is perfect and then there's a moment just before that and just after. And sometimes, unless you're paying attention, that moment of perfection can come and go without ever noticing it."
3) Adrià on creativity: "The purity of creativity is to say this didn't exist before. Yesterday that did not exist. And this incites fear because there's no set end point." He also said he's "tired of this false debate between avant garde and tradition. It's like opposing in a football match offense and defense. I'm just in favor of good football and I'm in favor of good cooking." He also argued that "the avant garde of today will be tomorrow's tradition."
4) Redzepi used "very special" Copenhagen newcomer BROR — run by former Noma sous chefs — to demonstrate what collaboration can do for a restaurant. He described watching Daniel Patterson "fuck around with his beets" at Cook it Raw in Lapland. What looked like it was going to be a big fuckup, Redzepi says, turned out to be the best beet of his life. So when he got back to Noma, Redzepi said, he created his own version of Patterson's beet dish. And then, Redzepi revealed, it was the beet dish at BROR — a long piece of beef bone wrapped with grilled beet brushed with bone marrow fat — that had sealed the deal for a big-deal food critic and won their new restaurant raves. "That, to me, is sort of the most perfect, wonderful story of what collaboration can do to you."
5) Atala showed a short film and talked about tradition and natural conservation because, as he said, his mise en place started in nature. But Atala also said that human beings are part of nature as well and linked that to the camaraderie aspect of Cook it Raw. "Be generous. The pleasure to share, the pleasure to learn and have ears to listen to another chef not as a competitor but as a friend. I hope this, the new lessons I learned with these guys will be the next tradition in cuisine: share, friendly, generosity is the new ingredient for future recipes."
6) Redzepi said that an event like Cook it Raw can help open the world of cooking because chefs should be going to gastronomic capitals like France and Italy, but also to places like Poland to be inspired by what's there.
7) On the next iteration of Cook it Raw: Though there's nothing official yet, organizer Porcelli said they have a plan to do a roadtrip through the American South. There would be four stops based on four different principles, he said. So in Louisiana they might tackle issues such as food deserts and obesity, while in Alabama they might talk about how people lose contact with food traditions.
8) Back on the subject of creativity, Adrià got in a sight gag by pouring himself a glass of water by holding it several feet above the glass and spilling it all over the table below. "What is this? Creativity or idiocy?" He then went on to explain how cider in Spain is poured from a height to allow the cider to breathe.
9) A question from the audience about the "bloke-ishness" of Cook it Raw (and roadkill?) prompted the discussion about the dearth of women participating in Cook it Raw. The panel host put Madrid-based journalist Lisa Abend — on hand to provide translation for Adrià — on the spot to address it. Abend said that this is a problem that "remains to be addressed," but also pointed out that the friendships and connections are a vital part of Cook it Raw. The bigger problem, she pointed out, is that there aren't that many women chef in top kitchens around the world.
10) Porcelli said that Cook it Raw is teaming up with Tumblr sometime in the near future on a project that would scout the world's restaurants looking for up-and-coming talent.
11) After an audience member asked why the Cook it Raw book doesn't include any recipes and why the food was not literally served raw, Phaidon editorial director Emilia Terragni offered an explanation from her own seat in the audience. "It would have been a very easy shortcut to put recipes. It would have given what people think they want. What we wanted to focus the book was the attitude that these chefs had. This is what people can really learn from." It's about friendship, fun, fear, adventure and more, she said. "Recipes are a part of it, but they are not the most important thing."
12) Redzepi also had some thoughts on why a book about food might not include recipes, saying, "Unless you're cooking a dessert, recipes are a very evil invention." He explained that recipes can make cooks into machines and "are not the absolute truth."
13) When asked how he can effect change and make governments listen, Atala said, "We don't have a recipe for it. We must keep trying." Chefs have been trained how to be chefs but nowadays also have to be public speakers. They are still learning and trying to find a way to influence governments, he added.
14) In the chefs-as-the-new-rockstars vein, all the chefs were mobbed by audience members with copies of the Cook it Raw book in hand seeking autographs. Redzepi and new Time 100 inductee Atala had some particularly long lines.
Watch the video: @cookitraw Alessandro Porcelli -A few words on #rawAlberta legacy (January 2022).