Today chefs are superstars. Reality TV idols, prima donnas on various food channels, authors of best-selling books, online food gurus, guests of honor of important culinary events … you name it.
But what seem to be most exciting to the public are TV chefs battling against each other. Sure, such shows are entertaining, but what about chefs who can be maestros at their art and communicate without having to feed our thirst for “blood”?
Last summer, I traveled through Europe and I had the pleasure of meeting five chefs who do not need to cook in a boxing ring to be exciting. Each of them communicated in their own style. Meet them, and join the tour.
Let’s start with Lithuania’s splendid capital: Vilnius. Chef Linas Samenas could not have chosen a better location to express his culinary inspiration than the self-proclaimed independent Republic of Uzupis, a new area cherished by artists and avant-garde people. It is a city within a city, with its own constitution — somewhat serious, often ironic — written on the walls of Paupio Street.
His tiny restaurant, the eponymous Linas Samenas, is open for lunch only, and its menu changes daily. Samenas is on top of everything: He grows all products in his farm, entertains you about his specialties, takes orders, cooks, coordinates assistants and serves the dish at your table with a glass of delicate berzu (birch water). I tried his delicious saltibarsciai, beet root soup with sour cream.
A great chef can run the show solo without being selfish and pretentious.
Beautiful Riga, Latvia
I went to Riga’s exclusive Vincents Restaurant, where I ordered a beef tartare as an appetizer. Chef Martins Ritins approached to my table, carrying a paper bag.
More from Zester Daily:
“I apologize,” Ritins said. “The beef tonight wasn’t recommendable. Fortunately, there is a fine deli close by, and I got some canned tartare. I hope you like it.”
Well, it was just a funny hoax: The can was actually made and labeled for Vincents and once I opened it, I found one of the freshest tartares I have ever eaten, topped with a quail egg.
After this opening number, the chef was ready for the drama. He brought out a metal squeezer, so similar to a Middle Ages torture machine. On the plate was a red wine-marinated and slowly roasted baby duck. A muscular assistant started the squeezing, with no mercy for the bird’s carcass. The duck was served in tender slices with the extracted natural juices copiously irrigating the meat.
The process, emulating the famous “canard au sang” of the prestigious and rather stuffy La Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris, here got a standing ovation from the audience.
A great chef can keep a sense of humor while running the show.
The imperial city surprised me with the discovery of Konstantin Filippou, a no-showman chef who leaves the fame to his creations.
There is choreography between waiters and assistants that somehow reminds me of a ballet. The dish delivery is like a religious ritual, from the kitchen to the waiter to the maître d’ who finally lays the plate on the table. Food presentation and ceramics are amazing. Art is in the plate, somehow referring to a Picasso or a Kandinsky.
The taste? Imagine minimalism meets adventure, in total freedom. Lamb tongue with chanterelles, artichokes and orange. Konstantin seems to be very reserved. He doesn’t like to be interviewed, and rarely gets out from the kitchen.
A chef can appear as a creative genius and remain humble.
Back to Vilnius. Dinner at 1Dublis.
This is a trendy restaurant where Chef Pirmas Dublis operates in the open kitchen that looks like a puppet theater where the assistants carefully finish the plates cooked in the adjacent kitchen. The ritual is captivating.
Dublis is supervising the action with a perfect harmony of movements and constantly checking the food preparation reflected in the mirror over the kitchen counter. He loves to join the table just seconds before the dish is served and explains the origins of ingredients and the technique he uses. With only 25 seats, intimacy and attention to details are highly valued. In my opinion the biggest hit was the fish stock, crayfish and brown butter.
A chef can offer a show and not be a show-off.
Milan: Antonio, cameras with a mission
Meet the entertaining chef Antonio Marchello, former TV comedian, writer and excellent connoisseur of Italian cuisine, traditional and innovative.
Antonio hosts “Social Kitchen,” a one-hour online show that airs live on Tuesdays (vegan dishes only) and Wednesdays (anything else). Antonio goes online at 8 p.m. Italian time and prepares the dish interacting with fans and amateurs who follow him from home. At 9 p.m. the dish is ready. A quick selfie is sent to the Social Kitchen Facebook page with an invitation of “tutti a tavola!” (everybody eat now!) to enjoy the meal.
I visited him during the show and I tried the spaghetti with Gubbio saffron, pecorino cheese and a zest of Sorrento lemon. Simply divine.
“I love to learn and to teach,” says Antonio. “I hate those commercial cooking shows, but I found the way to compromise and still fulfill my inspiration.”
A chef can have a show online and prefer sharing over fighting.
Main photo: Chef Antonio Marchello. Credit: Copyright Rosanna Curi