It was the night when 37 of the planet's hottest chefs switched restaurants. All at the same time. On Thursday, July 9, across the globe, some of the best kitchens in the world had a stranger at the helm. For one dinner only.
Guest-chef gigs may be an official spectator sport in today's gastronomic arena. But such mass-scale global gallivanting could only be the work of a crazed "culinary entity" such as the Europe-based Gelinaz! chefs' collective (subtitle: "Beyond Food and Evil"). The aim, according to Gelinaz! founder Andrea Petrini: "To push chefs out of their comfort zone. And to see what new identities emerge." To add to the chaos, each chef's destination was secret, hinted at only via obtuse posts on social media and the Gelinaz! blog.
Welcoming the Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle challenge was Australia's Ben Shewry, of Melbourne three-hatter Attica. "I like taking the occasional risk," he says. "It's great – a free fall, a leap of faith – a chance to share your restaurant world with another chef in an incredibly honest way."
Farewelling his staff and family, Shewry set off to bed down with their counterparts in the wilds of rural Flanders, at the famed locavore fine-diner, In de Wulf.
Unpacking his bags in Shewry's modest crash-pad above the Ripponlea (suburban Melbourne) restaurant, meanwhile, was Japan's most highly ranked chef, Yoshihiro Narisawa. His eponymous 30-seater in central Tokyo is a dizzying number eight on this year's World's 50 Best Restaurants list.
The chefs' mission was simple, if not a little stressful: to observe the host restaurant's menu, service and ingredients over a few days, then to create a one-off dinner. "A kind of morphing between the two chefs' personalities, a new cuisine," says Petrini.
"To go to a new country, a new restaurant, with new staff and new ingredients and to be chef for three days …," says Narisawa. "Every chef dreams of that."
For someone who collaborates closely with small producers in Japan, Narisawa was confronted by a true Australian dream: oysters (Sydney Rocks preferred), tiny local mussels, fat marron, fresh Australian truffles and chocolate grown in the Daintree. "Amazing quality. Very good indeed."
And then there are Attica's extensive kitchen gardens. Inspired, the Japanese chef composes a wish list of tiny leaves and fronds (180 boronia flowers, 120 sprigs of sea blight, "many many" fronds of corn salad and more). Attica's "garden guy", Sunny Sharma, gets to work.
Brainstorming, tweaking, cooking and testing with Shewry's right-hand man, sous-chef Peter Gunn and junior sous Matt Boyle, slowly produces a menu. A plan to use "Aussie beef" is ditched, in favour of kangaroo. "I've never tried it before. It's good. Like deer," says Chef-San. Shewry's Fragrant Garden dish – chicken broth poured over a forest of garden herbs – becomes Narisawa's Luxury Garden, with his signature chicken, pork and cured ham bouillon. "Superb" is the collective verdict from the kitchen. Ditto for Narisawa's pure onion essence, served with suckling pig. Boyle admires the visitor's "tips and tricks": baking marron with miso, curiously fermented from overripe bananas. And wasabi fluffed into foam with a fish-tank aerator from the local pet shop.
"An absolute masterclass," concludes one diner. "What a privilege to experience."
Joanna Savill was an embedded "Ambassador" for the Gelinaz!Shuffle, spending five days with chef Narisawa courtesy of the Attica team.
See shuffle.gelinaz.com for the full picture.