Chefs Without Borders
Chefs Without Borders
Carousel’s movable feast, by Ed Templeton
Chefs. Industry folk. Fatties like us… We opened Carousel to bring people together. Our ambition? To connect food lovers from both sides of the kitchen pass who might otherwise never get the chance to meet. We pitched ourselves as curators, rather than restaurateurs, trusting in our ability to unearth breakthrough talent more frequently than most restaurants change their menus. But however hard we worked behind the scenes and however much of ourselves we poured into the experience, we knew we were only ever going to be as good as the people we lined up to join us in the kitchen. In other words, we knew from day one that we were leaving a hell of a lot to chance.
What we’d imagined was an ever-changing line-up of emerging talent from around the world taking it in turns to change the face of eating out forever (or there or thereabouts) – the reality we were faced with wasn’t quite so straightforward. At least not to begin with. For those first few months it felt like we were driving in the dark through fog, struggling to see more than a few metres – or, in our case, chefs – ahead of ourselves. Pretty soon we were going to find ourselves wrapped around a tree. But the most wonderful thing happened. As word spread, the fog began to lift, revealing a community of like-minded people who got what we were doing and who wanted to get involved. Just for the hell of it.
Step forward (in no particular order) Henrik Norén, Céline Pham, Sebastian Mazzola, Selin Kiazim, Tom Ryalls, Javier Rodríguez, Mathieu Perez, Olia Hercules, Shaun Presland… the list goes on. All of them creative, collaborative, inspiring people whose immediate response wasn’t ‘how much?’ but ‘when do we start?’ The life of a chef can be pretty rough – antisocial hours, subterranean working conditions, violent, sociopathic colleagues – but the opportunities for self-expression and for making people happy (because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?) aren’t outlandish dreams like they are for most of us, they’re an everyday possibility. Creativity is what makes them tick. So why not provide them with a platform to bring their ideas to life?
Of course, we’re not alone. Chefs have long travelled the world like Sadhus in search of their own culinary interpretations of nirvana. Stay still for too long and ideas get tired, people get tired, inspiration falls flat. Ours is a growing trend. Take projects like Postrivoro in Faenza, Italy, where the next generation of Ferran Adriàs and Magnus Nilssons gather two or three times a year to break bread together, working closely with local suppliers and mentor chefs to produce a series of special one-off collaborations, served to twenty guests at a time in hushed, candlelit surroundings. This is one place you definitely don’t want to ask for ketchup. Carousel alumni Oswaldo Oliva, Leandro Carreira and Leonardo Pereira are just a few of the rising stars to have taken centre stage, experimenting with new recipes and techniques without fear of criticism or failure. Or condiments.
Meanwhile, up on Mount Olympus, last year’s Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle saw thirty-seven titans of the food world like René Redzepi and Massimo Bottura swap ‘lives, identities… and restaurants’ for one memorable night in July. What their wives had to say about it is anyone’s guess but you get the picture. Then you have the Fat Duck’s six-month ‘pop-up’ in Melbourne, Noma’s winter residency in Tokyo… Restaurants are global brands these days, their menus a back catalogue of greatest hits to be performed in arenas far and wide. Cynics may point to the obvious merits of setting up shop elsewhere for the duration of an extensive refit or a harsh Nordic winter, but that’s only the half of it; the challenge of working in new surroundings with new people and new ingredients continues to motivate chefs to seek inspiration further afield, whatever their level.
Take our new amigo, Santiago Lastra Rodríguez. Santi left Mexico a few years back to gain experience in some of Europe’s most illustrious kitchens. Working in the R&D team at Mugaritz is all very well and good but it wasn’t long before the poor guy started to miss his mother’s mole (mo-leh ). No matter what he tried, he just wasn’t able to recreate the authentic flavours of home. So he went back to the drawing board, saying no-way-José to Old El Paso’s finest and switching his focus to the ingredients available to him locally. Wherever he goes, he now uses unusual regional produce to realise ambitious dishes rooted in his own Mexican heritage, from pistachio and foraged beach coriander ‘guacamole’ to buckwheat ‘tostadas’, achieved with a pioneering technique of nixtamalisation developed at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen. The results change every time he sets foot in a new country.
In a (pistachio) nutshell, Santi’s approach is what Carousel is all about. Our ambition is to bring a different kind of experience to the table every time, something you wouldn’t otherwise be able to find in London. It keeps things fresh for everyone. Our regulars trust us to put interesting food on the table and are willing to overlook the occasional acquired taste, while Carousel’s own chefs are presented with a new challenge each week, from procuring industrial quantities of cockscombs at the drop of a hat to sneaking past the Chiltern’s Firehouse’s security team to ‘borrow’ Nuno’s vac pack machine. That’s the pay-off. We get to work alongside all these inspiring people week in, week out. It’s like a never-ending stage, without the rubbish bits. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun. Sure, we’ve had some low points – the ghost of Lee Skeet’s burst appendix will attest to that – but calamities are thankfully rare and, what’s more, we now have a sofa to kip on in multiple cities around the world.
We put this theory to the test when we embarked on our inaugural tour last autumn, an impromptu Eurotrip that gave Ollie the chance to road test dishes from his work-in-progress winter menu on unsuspecting punters across the continent, aided and abetted by an ensemble cast of Carousel friends old and new in Céret (Pyrénées-Orientales), Stockholm and Berlin. On the face of it, Percherons, Gro and The Store Kitchen have very little common – it’s not often that sleepy Rue de la République, well-heeled Sankt Eriksgatan and oh-so-trendy Torstraße are mentioned in the same breath – but all three share a locavore approach to produce, a commitment to natural wines from small, family owned vineyards and a mi casa es tu casa style of hospitality that mirrors our own. But the best thing about them, and the thing we ultimately identified with the most, is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. Mathieu Perez and Yannick Ferez, Henrik Norén and Magnus Villnow, Johnnie Collins and Tommy Tannock… these are all guys you’d want to share a beer with and that’s a quality that goes a long way when the kitchen porter’s knocked himself out with a broom or you’re short of several portions of pork belly.
We were only gone for eleven short days but we returned home to Marylebone with renewed purpose and the confidence that maybe, just maybe, we might be onto something here. The next phase for Carousel promises to be our most exciting yet as we widen the net and open up our kitchen to talented individuals from even further afield, expanding our community to Tokyo, Portland, Reykjavik and beyond. Now is the time to build on what we’ve started. We still have a lot to learn but the promise of new friends, fresh perspectives and more “Fuck, That’s Delicious” (© Vice Munchies) moments makes the hard work behind the scenes all the more worthwhile. We hope you can join us for the next episode.