FOUR magazine’s columnistAndrea Petrini experiences a cultural drought as the curtain rises for GELINAZ! in Ghent

“GELINAZ! performs food. Playing with concepts, it is the right of way between the culinary and performance worlds.”

The statistics are in: over the last six months my culture consumption has decreased by at least 47 per cent. Only two miserable shows and plays, a dirty dozen blockbusters and three busy weeks to get to the bottom of the new Martin Amis novel. Considering the fact that it has been a while since I bought anything from Amazon, it should be asking itself if I’ve abandoned ship in favour of the black market. I haven’t, of course.

What is the reason for such a great cultural desertion? It is all down to one lazy afternoon, when I was chatting on the phone with René Redzepi, and we had the idea of doing a tour with GELINAZ!

GELINAZ!—yes, GELINAZ!, always with an exclamation mark—is not a bunch of cooks self-promoted as the new Messiah of the foodmania, ready to appear on TV at any time. They’re not in charge of saving the world from the threats of the third millennium. More of a culinary rock band, an agricultural and food anti-multinational, a variable collective that does more than just prepare food. GELINAZ! performs food. Playing with concepts, it is the right of way between the culinary and performance worlds.

At first sight it might look like a big get together of old friends. Bottura and Redzepi find the patriarch Pierangelini, while Andoni Luis Aduriz, Davide Scabin and Inaki Aizpitarte play the Young Turks. For this reason, over the last six months I haven’t watched shows of Peter Stein or Romeo Castellucci or the last Biennale of Venice. Worse still, I still haven’t listened to the entireRandom Access Memoriesby Daft Punk either.

Nobody would have imagined just how much work was going to be involved in bringing together—to the world’s culinary stagethe most infamous of culinary line-ups.

Personally speaking, I confess that I’d like to rename myself Andy McLaren, to pay homage to the old Malcolm who was also able to make Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious toe the line. But, without the Herculean work of Alexandra Swenden, GELINAZ! would have never been possible.

And what about the GELINAZ! plays Wylie Dufresne in NY? After all, this is how it all started, with the idea of paying tribute to this American pioneer—the chef patron and creator of the futuristic WD-50, with the great American chefs—Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali, Daniel Humm, Thomas Keller among the many others. The idea was for each chef to recreate one dish chosen by Wylie, read, interpreted and remixed by the other participants.

It’s not an easy task to explain, to the dedicated press and guests, that when GELINAZ! sits down to eat, depending on the number of chefs in attendance, they can eat five, ten, twenty dishes and more—the same signature dish that we call THE MATRIX. But how do we fund this on the east coast, USA? “What about organising performances in Europe in order to fund the US tour?” Asked Magnus Nilsson from his hermitage, Fäviken, lost in the great north of the Swedish Lapland.

Kobe Desramaults, the young Belgian star of In De Wulf, added: “Let’s do a GELINAZ! in Ghent to coincide with the Flemish Food Festival.” Which explains why, after more that six months of hard labour, Ghent, the old and pleasant Flemish village became, for one night, the new capital of international cuisine.

The copyright age is over. Chefs are the new DJs! The greatest chefs on Earth (or at least 25 of them) gathered, from Russia to Chile, Australia to USA, for an unprecedented experience in Ghent.

As a way of testing the sensory limits of resistance, 72 guests were invited to try 23 variations—no holds barred—of the same dish: chicken flan en chaud-froid with vegetables and pig trotters. The author? Philippe Édouard Cauderlier, a food writer from the 1800s, the equivalent of a Belgian anti-Escoffier, who had a long association with Ghent, where he died in 1887.

The historic flan was reinterpreted in several ways: in an aspic dish by Blaine Wetzel, Inaki Aizpitarte turned it into a cocktail through chicken maceration, while René Redzepi reused ‘the scum off the skin’ and made a sacrilegious host. Chilean chef Rodolfo Guzman made a dish resembling a dessert (‘Disshert’) and Italian chef Fulvio Pierangelini reassembled the flan and made ravioli with chicken, scampi, lard and ice cream. Certainly the most conceptual was Massimo Bottura’s re-visitation, paying homage to Torno Subito (‘Ill Be Right Back’).

Performances accompanied each chefs’ dish, included a violinist’s reinterpretation of an Iron Maiden track—accompanying Magnus Nilsson’s dish—and a troupe of dancers accompanied Mauro Colagreco’s dish.

It was, however, Massimo Bottura’s dish, accompanied by a label from Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan and a video of a burlesque performance, which was the height of the night. As guests awaited to give Massimo a standing ovation, out came his brother—a doppelganger of the chef —Paulo Bottura, who announced to those present: “My name is Paolo Bottura. I’m not even a cook. I sell cars for a living!” Massimo’s point? To highlight his food, not his face, by sending out his brother.

Soon I will need to cancel my subscription to theNew Yorker,Paris ReviewandLondon Review of Books;especially with my band ready to leave for an international tour. GELINAZ! plays Gastón Acurio on 9 September in Lima, then next spring in NY and finally, even if it is too dangerous from a political point of view (so please do not tell Vladimir Putin!), there will be the ‘free Pussy Riot tour’ in Russia.

There are murmurs among those in the know that the great final of COOKBOOK, at the Beaux Arts in Paris (from 17 October to 20 January), will compare chefs (Adrià, Alléno, Andoni, Bottura, Bras, Gagnaire, Redzepi, Troisgros) to experimental artists of the new generation.

This could be the ideal occasion for another GELINAZ! rave party to honour one of the Founding Fathers of French cuisine. We shall wait and see. Meanwhile, in order not to lose the pleasure of reading completely, I listen to audiobooks while I’m sleeping…

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