Rise of the supernaturals
Tuesday October 27, 2009
WHEN Brazilian super-chef Alex Atala fed the demi-god of avant-garde techno-cuisine, Ferran Adria, raw Amazonian worm last year the tectonic plates of global gastronomy shifted. The past few years have been held hypnotised by the surreal science of Spain's famed food labs - but that single raw worm proved symbolic of the new culinary Zeitgeist. It marked the birth of a movement in which chefs are more likely to forage than forge nitrate gels. Where authenticity - not technology - rules both the plate and the palate. This is, says Melbourne Food and Wine Festival director Jill Dupleix, the era of the supernaturals."A lot of those who call ourselves foodies - however much you dislike the term - have sort of patiently been waiting for the boys to stop playing with their toys and come back to what we consider to be the most important thing about food, which is flavour and naturalness," says Dupleix. Not that she believes such forays into technology could ever be considered a culinary blight. "Gastronomy is in a much better place. Now we know how to use any technology but we are using it to get back to the earth," she insists, having swept Australia and the globe to bring together top chefs pushing this super-natural cuisine into the spotlight for the festival in March. The line-up promises to thrill, inform and instruct throughout the 12 days. "Back to the natural flavours of food without the additives and gels. Without the things that get in between natural flavour and our tastebuds." Natural flavours as will be demonstrated by Copenhagen's Mads Refslund and his riffs on uniquely Nordic wild foods, such as his penchant for seasoning fish with foraged seaweed, and sea vegetables ground into dry powders. Or the masterful Andoni Luis Aduriz of Spain's Mugaritz, whose intensely flavoured cuisine finds full use for the herbs, flowers and vegetables grown in the restaurant's garden - just don't be surprised should they be "iced" to provide yet another layer to a deeply flavoured prawn consomme, or transformed into a swirl of spinach chlorophyll.Or Melbourne's own Nicolas Poelaert of Embrasse, who carries the theme of herbs and flowers from his garden through to the fairytale picture-book "winter dessert", fashioning moss, toadstools, soil and bark from chocolate, ice-cream and meringue (pictured on the previous page). "Tradition in evolution is the future of food," says another festival guest, Massimo Bottura, the Italian chef known for his magical marriage of regional authenticity and cutting-edge technique. "The kitchen is a whirlwind of ideas. Everything I do has a direct or indirect relationship to the world that surrounds me. Being a chef requires one to live not only in the kitchen but be a citizen of the world."To think globally and act locally. Working backward in order to move forward. Taking the lessons of the past and mixing it with discoveries to arrive at a time and place where London-based Frenchman Claude Bosi becomes the poster-child for the new vanguard: breeding and breaking down his own pigs for his Michelin two-star restaurant, Hibiscus, Bosi will pair pork sausage with a pork main in order to use the whole beast, an approach old-world fine-dining restaurants - with their dedication to excess - would nary have considered. (Poelaert will join Bosi at a festival MasterClass). "Those housewifely virtues of no waste, make do and mend," ventures Dupleix, "it's just fantastic to see them being built into gastronomy at this level.""I think we were getting a bit too cheffy and preoccupied with arguments that weren't really important," agrees Thomasina Miers, yet another festival guest happy to wave goodbye to those years of intense (and it must be said, fruitful) experimentation. "I mean, cook with the best that you've got around. I love taste and flavours from around the world, but mostly I'm driven by local and seasonal produce."It's a comment full of contradiction for any who take Miers at face value - that of an English girl behind Wahaca, the Mexican cantina turning the British notion of said cuisine on its head. It should be safe to say "the best" this London-based chef has around has little to do with the fresh, market-driven Mexican street food she loves to cook. But Miers serves as another face of the supernatural movement; those for whom authenticity does not necessitate strict adherence to tradition.To wit, her mountain-to-Muhammad venture that has seen British producers cultivate those uniquely Mexican chillies and aromatics so integral to her kitchen. "We're completely authentic to the flavours and to the tastes and to the recipes of Mexico," Miers says.Anyone who has tasted her spiced tomato and olive sauce-topped smoked herring tostada (the fish caught off England's south coast and smoked to order) would find it difficult to disagree."It's not just staying true to roots," clarifies Rex Morgan of the supernatural phenomenon. While visiting for the festival next year, the big New Zealander with a passion for indigenous Maori ingredients will demonstrate complexity in what can appear a simplistic concept. "It's being honest to what the cuisine is."Even if, as in Alex Atala's case, such honesty should lead him to laud the delicacy of a metre-long Amazonian worm. Bon appetit.2010 at a glanceFor those without the time to experience it all, here are some Melbourne Food and Wine Festival highlights. For tickets, go to melbournefoodandwine.com.au or call Ticketmaster on 136 100. Full program of 250 events, including 100 for under $100, on sale from December 8.Miele Hands-on MasterClassGET your hands dirty as four of the festival's international stars lead three-hour sessions for 12 ticket-holders in the Miele Gallery. Cook and eat with Thomasina Miers (street-style Mex), Michael Psilakis (deconstructed Greek), Gontran Cherrier (trad French baking) and Ana Sortun (the spice queen). When: March 20-21. Where: Miele Gallery, Coventry Street, South Melbourne. Cost: $220 a session. Theatre of IdeasITALY'S Massimo Bottura (the artist philosopher in chef's clothing) talks food inspiration with Spain's Andoni Luis Aduriz (the intellectual culinary magician). Presented by Matt Preston.When: March 21. Where: Federation Square. Cost: $85. Earthly Abundance - the DinnerFROM the farm to the table, this is the evening Prahran Market transforms into an edible nocturnal garden as America's leading chefs make stars of Victoria's wine and food bounty with a lavish three-course meal. When: March 17. Where: Prahran Market. Cost: $195.Langham Melbourne MasterClassIT IS the heart of the festival: MasterClass, where the movers and shakers in the global food and wine industry come to inspire with demonstrations of culinary magic married with talk of technique, ethos and passion. Tastings of two dishes provided per session.When: March 20-21. Where: The Langham Melbourne, 1 Southgate Avenue, Southbank. Cost: from $320 for a full-day pass.Acqua Panna Global Wine ExperienceDISCUSS, debate, taste and learn about wine with world-class panels. Two-hour session.When: March 20-21, 10am-12.30pm and 2-4pm. Where: Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Cost: $160.Wine Retreat INFORMAL, entertaining events with knowledgable wine personalities. When: March 20-21. Where: The Langham Melbourne, 1 Southgate Avenue, Southbank. Cost: from $320 (part of Langham Melbourne MasterClass full day or weekend pass).MasterClass Chef DinnersMasterClass spills into Melbourne's top restaurants. Thomasina Miers at MoVida, Bourke Street, Alex Atala at Jacques Reymond, April Bloomfield at Breezes, and David Kinch at Number 8.When: March 17-23. Where: Melbourne's best restaurants. Cost: from $110.MasterClass Winemaker DinnersSix exclusive dinners. Italian winemaker Giuseppe Vaira shares the wines and passion of his heritage, while Sarti's Riccardo Momesso creates a five-course degustation celebrating all things Piemonte, or sip from Rockpool restaurateur David Doyle's $40 million wine collection over a four-course dinner prepared by Neil Perry.When: March 19-21. Where: Melbourne's best restaurants. Cost: from $150.