Tuorlo magazine meets Andrea Petrini

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Before the latest edition of Gelinaz! sprang into action on Sunday 29th August, Tuorlo managed to sit down with Andrea Petrini, the man responsible for creating one of the world’s most cutting-edge culinary events.

A forward-thinking culinary expert and influential member of the food scene, Andrea strives to free modern gastronomy from the constraints of marketing and the social media ‘dictatorship’. For him, a true creative talent is someone who is not afraid to be bold and break the rules – and that’s certainly reflected in his own style.

With his quick-witted chat, Andrea shared with us the reasons why he thinks the modern restaurant model needs a reboot, what restaurants should have done to succeed during the pandemic, and why Miles Davis is the ultimate artist on his Sunday lunch playlist.

Gelinaz! in 2021

In every edition of Gelinaz! we increase the stakes with different concepts and goals. This summer is going to be the second chapter of our Silent Voices series, which will see the inclusion of an array of international restaurants and chefs – from Chile to the US and from Japan to France. The chefs will be reworking recipes that were written by ‘Silent Voices’ – those who lost their restaurants or projects as a result of the pandemic, or those who simply used the lockdown time to write some recipes.

On our part, we see this as a crafty way to give a voice back to those people. It’s also our way of reacting to the opportunistic way in which some major brands supposedly want to support restaurants, when in reality their support is just for marketing purposes. In these cases there is no real artistic engagement from their side. In contrast to that, we want to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, away from their world of hypocrisy.

It seems that lockdown changed the rules. Are there any really good examples of reinvention in the culinary scene?

What has the year and a half of Covid brought to the food scene? Has it provoked new ways of thinking, or pushed chefs further? I am afraid to say that I don’t see any results suggesting that. We all share the blame for this – after all, we are all scared of what tomorrow might bring. If you look at restaurants around the world, most of them have just been waiting to be able to reopen and get back to normal. I haven’t seen much reinvention.

During the past few decades of food globalisation, it has almost been like a contest between those could speak the loudest. There has been a constant shouting of ‘I’m the best, I’ve got the best techniques, look how clever I am’, and people travelling non-stop to promote themselves at all these different food congresses and dinners.

In my opinion, people need to be more open and more inclusive, and speak more softly. Now that we are mostly dealing with our immediate neighbours, maybe we should be adopting a gentler tone. This is the moment to take a risk – though of course this depends on how committed your team is and how masterfully you manage your food grammar and research.

If you ask me what Covid has brought, generally speaking I think it has proven to be a step backwards.

Perhaps that’s not surprising. Everybody needs to be reassured during these moments, and what’s more reassuring than some comfort food? If you look at most places, they are not pushing out new ideas; instead they are trying to be more comforting and less provocative, and to buy themselves some time.

The pandemic has led to a tendency to put things on hold and see what will happen next. After all, these are strange but intriguing times.

I think the best way to move forward may be to stop the reliance on mass-market needs like constantly feeding Instagram or having to come up with new ideas all the time. Maybe we all need to get back some of the humbleness that we’ve lost.

So, would you now agree with what Alain Ducasse once claimed about fine dining? Will there be ‘fewer and fewer fine dining restaurants’?

After opening his first restaurant in Paris, Alain Ducasse claimed that in 10 years there would be fewer and fewer fine dining restaurants than there were 20 years ago.

He backed up this idea by saying that the market is changing through globalisation. He believed that raw products would become more expensive, and as a result it would be more difficult for fine dining to survive. He thought that the market would be led by more casual restaurants where you could eat weekly, alongside just a few restaurants that would be more isolated – top-notch fine dining restaurants that had inaccessibly high prices. Even then, he felt that it was already beginning to happen.

As a general trend, the once-a-year Michelin-starred meal is becoming more expensive. And this reminds me that something that I feel is missing from the dining scene – something that I am obsessed with – is a certain way of questioning yourself. You have to ask yourself, ‘who am I working with? Is my product niche or is it for everyone?’ I don’t get the impression that restaurateurs ask themselves these questions. Instead, they just cook as they please and run their restaurants according to an economic model that was created a long time ago – one where only people from the middle and upper classes can enjoy them, customers with a certain taste.

We need to reboot this restaurant model, but unfortunately I don’t see that happening. The Covid pandemic has not challenged this traditional model.

Farm-to-table is cool, but what’s next?

I admit that restaurants and chefs have started to take more care of their suppliers – and that’s great, but what’s next?

Alain Chapel was using the concept of farm-to-table back in the 70s. He used farmers who provided him with in-season game and the best fresh produce, carefully enriching the grammar of the food available to work with. He paid tribute to those suppliers too, highlighting them on his menu – and he died more than 30 years ago…

So for me, this ‘trend’ is yesterday’s news. Really it’s the least we can do, caring about the products. It is important, of course, but let’s now move forward and create something more.

So, who are the cool kids from Italy?

Italy is an interesting country for food. While most European countries were working with a heavy-duty French model of fine dining, for a strange mix of reasons, a new generation of chefs from Italy began to emerge at the start of the 90s. They were taking a lot of risks and trying to develop a different style, interpreting modern Italian cuisine.

If you think about the pioneers of Italian food that gained the spotlight in the mid-90s, you think of chefs like like Carlo Cracco, Massimo Bottura, Moreno Cedroni, Davide Scabine… They were part of an informal avant-garde group of young chefs who were setting a new precedent around the world.

At the beginning of the new millennium, these guys were the generation that got the power by getting themselves into the leading positions in all of the major food guides.

Why is modern Italian cuisine less talked-about than other cuisines?

Italy has so much variety from the north to the south, and also people here are such individualists. And perhaps that means they will never be a great and united national team, like the Nordics or the Spanish have been.

Having sad that, when you look at the younger chefs in Italy, there are plenty of them doing a fantastic job and already gaining international reputations. Chefs like Antonia Klugman, Juliano Baldessari, Riccardo Camanini, Giglio Boys and Viviana Varese – those are the ones to watch.

But again, it is difficult now. Maybe 10 or 20 years ago it would have been easier to get to centre stage, but today you question yourself constantly. One day a place is full of tourists, the next you are nearly alone just cooking for a small number of locals.

In terms of talent, though, the new Italian chefs are the avant-garde. Some of my personal favourites are coming out of Italy.

What does it take for a restaurant to surprise you nowadays?

I can’t answer that. I can’t find a restaurant that blows my mind – and that is a good thing. I must say there is one idea that I believe is poisonous, and that’s how we refer to going to a restaurant to ‘experience food’. Or we say ‘which restaurant have you tested lately?’ as if everything there just needs to be grabbed and consumed.

The restaurant that would surprise me would probably be one with no dichotomy. One that doesn’t claim ‘hey, I’m cooking vegetables to be sustainable’, but instead just focuses on cooking things differently, thoughtfully pairing vegetables with meat and fish.

At the moment here is not enough dialogue between chefs, suppliers and clients. Restaurants should start giving some attention back to all of them. Give them some freedom, the right to vote and to express themselves, instead of constantly trying to show how forward-thinking they are.

Some places that I can say that always surprise me are the restaurants of Riccardo Camantni or Paolo Lopriore. Paolo is creating some of the most avant-garde cuisine in the world. When he left his historic restaurant in Siena to come back to an area of Lake Como so deserted you would hardly even be able to find an Airbnb, he started creating simple and utterly focussed Italian cuisine.

At lunchtime his mum cooks for the locals, then during dinner he delves into the essentiality of the cuisine, getting rid of any superfluous garnish. He focuses on the quintessential taste of the dish but leaves space for just a little provocation – like his playful pasta dish, which you have to assemble yourself. He knows better than anyone what it means to go back to the essentials. And for that he is one of the most respected chefs in Italy

What would be the Gelinaz! event of your dreams?

I’d really love to do a Gelinaz! where the food is inspired by art, whether it be at an intimate art gallery or a grander event. I would want the dialogue between the art and food to work at a deeper level. Something where we could collaborate with a musician – not just a DJ, but with a proper, serious musical score.

We could do that one day if we get rid of all the gimmicky stuff that still pollutes us, such as the constraints put on us by sponsors, who usually don’t have a deep understanding of food.

Is food art or craft?

It's a craft that shares the same logical process as art. That is what we proved alongside Nicolas Bourriaud during ourCookbook.19 exhibition in 2013 at La Panacee MOCO in Montpellier. We asked chefs to create a piece of art using the same logic they use while creating a dish, and we had some great results.

So in the end, although food and art are different languages I believe they might share some factors that link them together through the process of creation.

What is your perfect playlist for a pleasing Sunday lunch?

At the moment I am enjoying Miles Davis. I’m listening to all of his records from the end of the 60s. I would also listen to the latest Fiona Apple album, but my wife would definitely ask me to change it.

What does it mean to be a part of the Gelinaz! family?

You might be the most skilled and talented chef, but if you only come to show off, to play solo, for some publicity or to be fashionable, that will be felt by me and by the other members of Gelinaz! – and implicitly the common agreement is that this person will not come back

Who are the crazy geniuses of modern gastronomy?

Definitely Paolo Lopriore; Colombe St-Pierre is one of a kind - I have the greatest admiration for her. Also,Gabriela Camarra, who succeeded in running modern Mexican restaurants in San Francisco and Mexico. I admire those who don’t play by the rules, who don’t pay attention to the Instagram dictatorship.

What is the best way to cook an egg?

You should ask Carlo Cracco, the ultimate chef who knows how to cook the most sublime egg.

It is a huge debate, but I prefer them poached, or a slightly runny omelette – to feel that it is running for its life.

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