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Paris des Chefs

On the stage of a large Parisian theatre, chef David Kinch, of Manresa restaurant in Palo Alto, California, arranges Pacific abalone slices over yuzu-scented raw-milk jelly in a Japanese lacquer bowl. A few steps away, jazz legend Wynton Marsalis watches before lifting his trumpet and playing an improvisation that reflects the mood and tone of the food his friend is preparing. The music is cool, Asian, introspective and elegant, just like the dish. A packed auditorium of foodies, chefs and food writers listens, entranced, as it follows each move the men make on a giant screen above the stage. Clearly, this is no ordinary cooking demonstration.

Paris des Chefs is a three-day food festival with a difference,” says Andrea Petrini, an Italian food writer living in France. Responsible for scouting many of the cooking talents from around the globe, he also serves as one of the event’s two presenters. “Our idea,” he says, “is to pair each of the 24 featured chefs with a creative person of their choosing: artist, musician, designer, architect, filmmaker, ad man or winemaker. The chefs and their chosen partners give 45-minute presentations with results that take our understanding of food way beyond recipe demos.”


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David Kinch's abalone dish. Credit: Carla Capalbo

This year the event was held on the Left Bank in the Maison de la Mutualité in the 5th arrondissement, a vast Art Déco building with a theatre that has recently been refurbished by architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. Paris des Chefs is open to the public which, for a nominal fee, can watch the presentations and visit food stands and attend cooking lessons taking place in other parts of the building. French is the primary language.

Chefs from each generation

The chefs range from established international stars such as Alain Passard, Albert Adrià, Alex Atala, Daniel Patterson and Fulvio Pierangelini to the best known of the younger generation, including Alexandre Gauthier, Enrico Crippa, Anne-Sophie Pic, Yannick Alléno, and Björn Frantzén. Up-and-coming chefs include Virgilio Martinez from Peru, Bertrand Grébaut and David Toutain from Paris, and Sean Brock from Charleston, S.C. Here are few of the highlights.

Brazilian star chef Alex Atala, of D.O.M. in São Paulo kicked the event off with a diverting creative exercise. He teamed up with the design duo Fernando and Humberto Campana, and while images flashed of their multimedia work — from buildings to chairs to shoes — Atala gave the brothers simple pulled-sugar candy, like taffy, with which to make something. “This candy, of sugar and coconut milk, is usually given to children to keep them occupied,” Atala laughed as the three grappled with a sticky white taffy that never quite seemed to harden. Atala is known for his pioneering work with the ingredients and culinary customs of the Amazon. Atala’s concept was one of the festival’s simplest and most creative. “The Amazon is mysterious even for Brazilians,” he says, “but sugar is available to everyone.”

Skin, scales and architecture

The theme for the festival chefs this year was “skin.” Fulvio Pierangelini, one of Italy’s most revered chefs, illustrated the concept graphically. He took two small rock mullets, removed the scales from one, then cooked them both in the same way in a pan with olive oil. The fish whose scales had been removed fell apart when skinned after cooking, while the unscaled fish maintained its structure, its juices hermetically sealed by the scales. “The skin with scales acts like a natural sous vide,” Pierangelini said. Meanwhile, Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas showed images of his work: buildings whose skin was a critical part of their structure. “Façades are like skin,” he explained. “They can be used to hide things, but also to allow luminosity.”

Of the new entries, 25-year-old Blaine Wetzel offered an original take on sustainability. The talented chef from Washington state cooks at Willows Inn on Lummi Island between Seattle and Vancouver. He trained with René Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen, and his experience of Redzepi’s ground-breaking work with wild and local foods fit right into the locavore ethic of the inn’s owner, Riley Starks, whom he met through Craig’s List.

Geoducks and eagle dances

“I share many ideas with René Redzepi, but whereas Noma’s cuisine philosophy is modern, ours is more primal,” Wetzel explained. He appeared with Gene Tagaban, a native Indian actor from Lummi, whose storytelling and spectacular eagle dance thrilled the Paris audience. Wetzel’s dish centered on the oversized, phallic-looking geoduck, a giant clam-like mollusk that lives two yards below ground. He skins and slices the flesh while the geoduck is still alive, and serves it with a purée of wild winter cress and toasted pine nuts at his 27-seat restaurant. “We’re so isolated there,” he said of island life, “we have to be self-sustaining.”

It would take three days to describe all the presentations. Mikael Jonsson, of Hedone in London, made his point about sourcing quality ingredients by bringing a whole Japanese deer carcass from the U.K., where the breed has naturalized in some areas. He skinned the animal right on stage before preparing a dish from its loin and brain. This performance was recorded, live, by photographer Richard Haughton, who darted around the animal taking abstract pictures of the meaty textures.

Enrico Crippa, of Piazza Duomo in Piedmont, used kitchen waste — including potato skins and bread heels — to create slabs like large tiles on which artist Valerio Berruti painted icons in real time.

Virgilio Martinez of Central Restaurante in Lima, gave a fascinating exposition of Peruvian indigenous ingredients, some of which don’t yet have foreign names. His stage partner, Gonzalo Figari runs the successful D6 ad agency in Madrid and kept us amused with images of its whacky, irreverent campaigns. The duo brought an entertaining finale to this multi-cultural gastronomic festival.

Carla Capalbo is an award-winning food, wine and travel writer, as well as a photographer, based in Italy for more than 20 years. She writes regularly for magazines and newspapers, including Decanter, BBC Olive, The Independent, World of Fine Wine, Bon Appétit, Departures, Food & Wine. She is a long-time member of Slow Food, the Guild of Food Writers and the Circle of Wine Writers and has won Italy’s Luigi Veronelli prize for best foreign food writer. Her articles have been included in anthologies Best Food Writing 2011 and How the British Fell in Love with Food. Carla is a co-organizer of Cook it Raw, an itinerant think tank featuring top international chefs. In 2006, she and designer Robert Myers were awarded a gold medal at the London Chelsea Flower Show for the Costiera dei Fiori garden she produced for the Campania region.

Carla was born in New York City to a theatrical family and brought up in Paris and London. After getting a degree in art history, she made sculpture in London, wrote about design, and later worked in Manhattan as a food and interiors stylist for photography, for clients that included the New York Times. She moved to Italy in 1989 and worked as the Milan correspondent for Vogue Décoration before writing her first cookbooks on Italian food. Her spirit of adventure led her to undertake three personal and detailed guides to the food and wine culture of Italy. The first was The Food and Wine Lover’s Companion to Tuscany which took three years to research and write (Chronicle Books, 1998, shortlisted for Food Book of the Year by the Guild of Food Writers).
Naples book
It was followed by another three-year project: The Food and Wine Guide to Naples and Campania (Pallas Athene, 2005) which was illustrated with her photos. To write it, Carla lived in fishing villages and mountain communities in diverse parts of the large region to meet and write about the many restaurants and small food artisans of Campania. Her most recent book, Collio: Fine Wines and Foods from Italy’s North-east (Pallas Athene, 2009-10) is also richly illustrated; it won the coveted André Simon Award for Best Wine Book 2009. Her other books include Cheeses of the Amalfi Coast and The Ultimate Italian Cookbook. Carla divides her time between Italy, Bordeaux, London and further afield. When she has time, she leads food and wine tours in Italy and France.

Her travelog, Assaggi, has just begun on her newly launched website:

Top photo: Wynton Marsalis plays while David Kinch cooks at Paris des Chefs.

Photo and slide show credits: Carla Capalbo

Zester Daily contributor Carla Capalbo is an award-winning food, wine and travel writer who has been based in Italy for more than 20 years. Her book "Collio: Fine Wines and Foods From Italy's North-East" recently won the André Simon prize for best wine book, and her website is