Mauro Colagreco on his Gelinaz! Shuffle Experience

Colagreco was already back in his kitchen for the busy Friday night service at Mirazur but took time to dish on his Gelinaz Shuffle experience in the article below published earlier today.

Chef Mauro Colagreco
Chef Mauro Colagreco

Chef Mauro Colagreco on the Gelinaz Shuffle: “I really played the game”

by Geeta Bansal, Food Examiner

Mauro Colagreco is a two Michelin-starred Argentinian chef cooking in France at his restaurant Mirazur in Menton, south of Monaco. Colagreco rightfully refers to his cuisine as one sans borders and frontiers, utilizing the best products of both the sea and land, dominated by bitter and acid tastes, enhanced with herbs and flowers. It was no walk in the park for this outsider to be accepted and become part of the French culinary community, a feat requiring patience and determination. Now possessing two Michelin stars and the 11th spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list no doubt contributes to the self-assurance of having arrived.

The former sous chef from the L’Arpege kitchens of Alain Passard can be spotted at international events around the globe doing cooking demonstrations, collaborations with other top chefs, and visiting his overseas ventures. Just yesterday he participated in the Gelinaz! Shuffle, a food event that had thirty seven chefs exchanging identities and kitchens and traveling to undisclosed locations around the world. The Gelinaz, according to its colorful founders Andrea Petrini and Fulvio Pierangelini, is a collective culinary entity comprised of a wild bunch of worldwide cutting-edge chefs. This first ever shuffle since the inception of Gelinaz in 2005 spanned a spectrum of chefs from Alain Ducasse to “indie chefs” just breaking out on the international culinary scene.

The sold out event set social media on fire around the world with conjecture about the identity of the guest chefs and excited diners who were clueless until the last moment about who was cooking their meal. Thirty seven well-known chefs from France, Spain, the US, the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Thailand, Canada, Turkey, and Slovenia set out on journeys three days before the event taking them in to new kitchens to work with new teams and products.

Colagreco just returned a few hours ago from his culinary adventure and we spoke to him in the Mirazur kitchen. Chef Blaine Wetzel, the mystery guest chef from the Willows Inn at Lummi Island in Washington, had already departed for another event in Portofino, Italy. The exhausted but ever cheerful Mauro was still excited about his adventure.

Examiner: How far ahead did you find out where you were heading?

Mauro Colagreco: About a month ago I came to know I would be going to Hisa Franko, Chef Ana Roš‘ restaurant in Slovenia.

When the ballots were picked, was there some place you were hoping you wouldn’t end up going?

Not really we were all very open minded and really wanted to play the game. All 37 chefs were open to going anywhere since all of them have something special about their kitchens and I was OK with going anywhere.

Were you familiar with the location?

No, I had never been there before and I really tried to play the game so I kept the mystery. I left without any idea about the cuisine, the products, or what would happen. It was really an amazing place with a lot of nature, mountains, and the sea. There was a river where I went fishing, and there were beautiful fruits and vegetables in season.

Was language a problem?

No, we conversed in English so it was easy in that respect.

When did you arrive to prepare for the dinner yesterday?

I arrived there on Monday night and Tuesday I visited some farmers, and then started my work on Wednesday morning. I worked mainly with the produce from Ana’s garden. Yesterday morning I woke up at five to pick herbs in the forest since later it in the day it was very hot. I also picked some wild fruit for my menu. I used some really good quality lamb from Slovenia in my menu for the night with fruits and beet roots. Some of those beets were huge, almost 3kg.

How were you received by the dinner guests?

They were wonderful and they were very happy with the experience from what I saw and heard from them.

Was there some unusual product that you had never used before?

Yes, it was bear meat! I tasted it for the first time but did not use it in my menu. The rest of the ingredients were all very familiar for me. Slovenia is a little bit like our area because like us they have the sea and the mountains.

Was it similar to Menton in that both locations are close to the Italian border?

Yes as Ana also has a very nice garden and the team was wonderful. Ana has a very fresh cuisine, with a lot if herbs, but of course some things were very different.

Did you carry any products with you?

No I wanted to follow the rules of the game and play the real game.

Did you pair Slovenian wines with your menu?

Yes they have some amazing wines and I paired all local and some excellent natural wines. I met one of the producers, Marco Pone, and visited his operation where he is doing some excellent work.

Were you communicating with other chefs during the three days?

I did stay in touch with David Kinch in Japan, Virgilio Martinez in Denmark, Rodolfo Guzman, Massimo Bottura in New York, Ana of course, and then Blaine Wetzel since he was here in my kitchen.

What was the experience of your crew with guest chef Wetzel?

All of my staff is very happy with the experience as they get to meet and work with another chef and learn new things. It was an interesting experience for people in the kitchen and the dining room.

It’s different when you go to work in another kitchen, you get a fresh perspective and its was a fun learning experience. It was great to see the enthusiasm of the guests and to see people taking to Twitter and Instagram.

Were you at that secret meeting in Tuscany where this shuffle scheme originated, apparently suggested by Blaine Wetzel?

I was there last year and it was amazing to see the enthusiasm of all the chefs for this whole idea. Blaine Wetzel did suggest it but then it was fine-tuned by all of us. It was a lot of hard work and organization. Thankfully it worked well all the chefs arrived in time and the thirty seven restaurants worked it well.

Were there some missed connections and late flights?

Absolutely, even Blaine missed his flight coming here but in the end it all worked out everywhere.

Where was Andrea Petrini, the Gelinaz grandmaster, during the worldwide event?

He was in Paris and then in Turkey with Fulvio Pierangelini

Where are you traveling next?

I cooked recently with Massimo Bottura in Milan for his kitchen project for the homeless using leftovers at the Milan Expo, and he has asked me to come back in September. Then I travel to Mexico, California, and later to Peru.

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