Aylin Öney Tan - [email protected]
To follow the track is almost impossible! It is 37 chefs at 37 restaurants from around the world, plus the 37 ambassadors in each restaurant, not to mention the kitchen teams and families of all chefs affected by the greatest, crazy game ever, namely “The Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle,” an experience of a lifetime.
On July 9, 37 of the greatest chefs in the world traded their places with each other to cook an eight-course dinner in an alien kitchen, with a completely foreign staff, attempting to adapt their cuisine using the most unfamiliar ingredients normally not on their menus. Many were visiting the country for the first time and most also stayed at each other’s homes, witnessing the daily routine of the chef they replaced; alas, a good amount of them were too jet-lacked to enjoy the experience, not to mention the stress of the dinner yet to be prepared, a dinner they will be never be able to repeat again.
One follower of the event listed the swap on a map enthusiastically. It was posted on the Gelinaz website, on the digital wall of Claude Bosi, by the 14-year-old son of Dominique Crenn, one of the participating chefs, who was about to lend her San Francisco restaurant Atelier Crenn to the famed chef of Hibiscus in London. Crenn, in return, was going to cook at Le Chateaubriand in Paris, while Hibiscus gave its lead to Sean Gray from Momofuku Ko in New York City, who was leaving his shift to Massimo Bottura, who, in turn, left his Osteria Francescana in Modena to Sean Brock of McCrady’s, Charleston. The list goes on and on. Even trying to follow the track was mind-boggling. For myself, having had the privilege of attending the dinner in Istanbul at Mikla, it is still not easy for me to comprehend the immense scale of this wild happening. As one gets curious about the experience of others in the other 36 locations around the globe after having witnessed one, I’m still trying to extract information about other’s experiences through the website of the event, a site that is not particularly user-friendly to navigate. The Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle presented by S. Pellegrino is over, but its aftermath still prevails.
In Istanbul, it is usually very hard to keep a secret. Endless talks about conspiracy theories are like a national sport here but that particular secret was successfully kept up until the very last moment and diners did not have a clue which chef would turn up from the kitchen. When Fulvio Pierangelini walked out of the kitchen for the pre-dinner cocktail to mingle with the guests, only some suspected he was the guest chef and only because he wore chef’s apron. Many of the diners were torn between focusing on the dishes and trying to follow via social media what Mikla’s chef Mehmet Gürs had served only a couple of hours ago at Orana, in Adelaide, Australia. It was crazy, like watching New Year’s celebrations on TV, slowly approaching your own geography.
The Istanbul shuffle had one particular thing of importance compared to other chef shuffles around the world. Together with chef Pierangelini, Andrea Petrini and Alexandra Swenden, the founder curators of the event were also in Istanbul. Actually, before the worldwide shuffle idea was raised by chef Blaine Wetzel (Willow’s Inn, Washington) at last year’s spiritual retreat event in Tuscany, this year’s project was thought to take place in Istanbul. According Gelinaz! rules no event can be repeated again, so next year there won’t be a swap scattering chefs around the world. Instead, next year’s event will be about focusing on a single spot, concentrating on the same ingredients, on the same dish, technique or cooking method. What will happen is yet to be decided, but the venue of the event is certain and announced: It will be Istanbul! After a year’s lapse, the initial idea for 2015 project will happen next year on May 11 in Istanbul. Thus, the only city embracing two continents will be hosting the global embrace of culinary masters. We need to mention the unsung heroes of the whole operation in Istanbul: Cemra Narin, the city ambassador to chef Pierangelini, the Mikla team and Sitare Baras of Turkish Cuisine Association that made this dream possible. Stay tuned!
Istanbul was once the Big Apple of its time, about millennia ago. The Millennium Stone, situated in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet
square where once a Roman hippodrome stood, marked the time just like Greenwich does today, being the zero meridian point of the world, dividing the globe into Eastern and Western hemispheres. The city has been the capital of three empires: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman, successively. This city has been ruling the lands that are considered the origin of the world’s first cuisines. Domestication of animals started in Upper Mesopotamia in South East Anatolia. The first wheat was cultivated in Anatolia, again in Upper Mesopotamia, and in the fertile plains of inner Anatolia. Viticulture started in the Bronze Age in Eastern Anatolia and in lands stretching beyond today’s borders to Georgia, Armenia and Iran. Hittites, founders of the first state in Anatolia, wrote the first laws on agriculture, husbandry and trade. Lydians minted the first money in Sardis, not far from Izmir on the shore of Aegean Sea. The first known tomb dedicated to a cook was of Ateş Baz-ı Veli, the cook of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi in Konya, the land of whirling dervishes. Coffee spread from Istanbul to the rest of the world. This is the home to many ingredients we cook with today. Now it is the time for the top chefs to explore this amazing gastronomic heritage unfolding layers of culture that have covered this piece of earth like a maternal blanket. Together they will erect a new milestone, a culinary obelisk, meeting east with west, north with south and past with future!