By: Patrick Hieger
(Originally published on 09.16.13)
If the GELINAZ! is dinner, it is madness. Nine hours of drinks and food, performance, dance, poetry, magic and 24 courses worth of interpretations of a single dish, done almost spontaneously, often with no practice. Chefs come from literally all around the world to cook for one night, often unfamiliar with the central ingredient they’re asked to use. If the GELINAZ! is art it is chaos. A show with far too many players attempting to recreate a scene over 70 times on a plate, 24 times in a row. Hands moving, tweezers pinching, dancers girating, the crowd humming, candles flickering. And more. The end of this story is that in order to understand the GELINAZ!, or rather to fully appreciate it, you must experience it for yourself. But to get to such a point, to the summation of the story, the final lesson or to find closure, you must first have a starting point. A reason. The impetus. And so I will attempt to explain.
The GELINAZ! begins not with a plate, with a collection of the world’s finest chefs or even with an idea. It begins with a man, a critic, a food writer. A genius? (Perhaps) It begins with Andrea Petrini, the mad man behind the idea. The French chairman for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, founder of Cook It Raw! (again, the exclamation point) and, now, the road manager for the GELINAZ!, what he describes as a roving ‘culinary rock band’, of sorts. If these events are, in fact, a culinary concert more epic than any hour-long wank of ‘Free Bird’ that Lynnrd Skynnrd could have ever put forth, Petrini is the maestro, the road manager, the hype man and the roadie in one. He (along with GELINAZ! co-founder Fulvio Pierangelini) is the spirit of the event, the energy that drives it forward. He wants to be Malcolm Mclaren to the Sex Pistols. In my opinion, he is better.
To compare the GELINAZ! to music, one need only go back to The Rolling Stones’ Rock n’ Roll Circus, which was, perhaps, the single greatest menagerie of rock n’ roll talent ever put together for a single event. Some say it is the grouping of the world’s best chefs for singular, one-night-only events to which only a few lucky diners are invited. However, some of the chefs aren’t on any 50 Best lists, have no Michelin stars or aren’t even past the age of 30. The spirit of the event has less to do with competition, numbers or fame. It is about innovation and forward-thinking. Richards and Clapton together, at long last.
Fine dining, though, has nothing to do with rock and roll, chaos, or madness. It is exacting, and requires discipline. It is measured, calm, and collected. The chefs gathered at these happenings have worked for years to perfect a standard, a consistency, that has given their restaurants a reputation nearly impervious to criticism, so why put fine dining in a situation where it cannot be what it is? Because it’s fun. Because it fucks with the paradigm and pulls people out of their element. The GELINAZ! is disruptive because that’s what it is supposed to be. It shakes off the pretension of high awards and press and fame and makes us, the diners, the guests, the patrons, remember that food is for eating. Food is for experimenting. Food is for failure. If these chefs never failed, their restaurants wouldn’t, nay couldn’t, become great.
The GELINAZ!, though, isn’t for everyone, the chefs included. For some, the task looks arduous. Attempting to plate 70 plates with dozens of fans, photographers, dancers, groupies, waiters, and more hanging around. One chef picking up a part of the the assemblage for the plate while another tries to lead the attack. The chef / author of the plate watching, trying to make sure things go correctly. “I don’t know if I’ll do this again,” is a common phrase heard ‘round the plating area. This is far from Michelin-star dining. It is controlled chaos, with food somewhere in the middle.
Don’t call it art, though. Please, for the sake of the word Art do not call the GELINAZ! art. It is not art. Petrini himself, the mastermind and singular embodiment of the event, from behind his thick, large glasses and eccentric attire, doesn’t even go so far as to call it art. A merger, a fusion, of food and performance, yes, but not art.
Having seen the photos from the event in Ghent, Belgium, from back in June, I was skeptical that the GELINAZ! was nothing more than a pretentious grouping of connected press, famous chefs and those wealthy enough to purchase one of the seats that were only sold by auction on EBay. I was even more turned off by the $750 price tag for a seat at the event in Lima. While it may not be art, the price tag and exclusivity are enough to turn away would-be fans and believers, leaving only the same select group of international journalists to attend and keep the party all to themselves.
I was wrong, though, and proven so by Alexandra Swenden, the GELINAZ!’s financial manager and producer. The price tag, the exclusivity, the buzz surrounding the event – they’re purely logistical. Fusion or not, the GELINAZ! does still involve an up to 24-course meal as prepared and plated by the world’s leading culinary minds. Feeding exacting food to 70 diners 24 times in a row isn’t easy. So getting in shouldn’t be either.
I look forward to going to more GELINAZ! events when I can. As a trained chef myself, and having had the privilege to eat at some of the world’s leading restaurants, I’ve grown tired of fine dining, tasting menus, the hope of great service and brilliant wine pairings. I find them rigid, and a bit stuffy. The GELINAZ!, for me, was the perfect combination of a backyard barbecue, fine dining, a night out with friends, the drunkenness of an art opening, and a good old house party. It was social. We were eating. Laughing. Enjoying ourselves. We weren’t worried about dropping a fork and having the whole restaurant think us pedestrian for such bad table manners. Being loud was encouraged. Getting out of your seat was necessary.
But going to more events like the one I experienced in Lima won’t be easy. They don’t happen very often, and they’re hard to get into. Their location varies, from city, to country, to continent. And that’s okay for me, because I like hearing about the buzz. The frenzy of people vying for tickets. Sending provocative emails to the organizers just to try and get a seat. I like knowing that, at least somewhere in the hype surrounding the GELINAZ!, people want to eat and try new things. That aside from simply being in the same room with the world’s best chefs, they care about food, and where food–that big, amorphous word/trend/hot topic that is at the forefront of modern popular culture–is heading. That they simply know who is involved and that these singular events will never be duplicated.
Though never duplicated, and hopefully never poorly replicated by groups like those who believe that molecular gastronomy is a fad that anyone can play with, the GELINAZ! will ideally grow and become something more, or perhaps less, a degeneration within itself. The GELINAZ! could become an amazing pizza party or pool party, a take on the backyard barbecue. Ideally it will continue to play within and develop its own genre, playing itself and playing with itself (figuratively speaking, sort of). Maybe that’s just what I want – a degeneration of the restaurant as a whole.
I want my concert, my play, and my meal as one. I want something to look forward to as well as something completely unexpected. I want the GELINAZ! all the time. Or maybe I was just want to eat with my friends, listen to music, watch movies and drink all the time. It’s the best kind of gluttony, as the event in Lima reminded me.