The Politics of Food

Anthony Bourdain Heads to Cook It Raw

What does the chef and owner of the world's best restaurant do in his spare time? He finds ways to make cooking more challenging and intellectually stimulating. Rene Redzepi, of the famous NOMA in Copenhagen, also founded Cook It Raw. CIR is a food event that gathers 15 chefs in an unfamiliar setting and requires them to forage, fish, capture and cook only what they can find in their surroundings.

Most recently, it was held in Japan, and Anthony Bourdain of No Reservations was there to see it all.

Fifteen world-class chefs were invited by Redzepi to forage the Satoyama Forest in Kaga Hills, Japan, where they found mosses, ramps, Japanese ginger, wild sorrel, leaves and numerous mushrooms. They had to prepare a dish for 50 people on what they could forage, fish, hunt and capture themselves.

Redzepi is known as the godfather of foraging. Bourdain said they all needed T-shirts that say "I foraged with Rene Redzepi." Maybe Houston could get T-shirts that say "I foraged with Randy Rucker," our local expert. The dishes the chefs created were bold, experimental, strange and unbelievable. Sometimes they made colossal mistakes, but the chefs didn't hold anything back.

Cook It Raw is about friendship and an exchange of ideas. There is nothing like it. One of the chefs, Sean Brock from the U.S., said, "I love feeling scared. It makes the whiskey taste better at the end of the night." The 50 people in the audience are invited dignitaries and VIPs. You cannot buy a ticket to CIR; you must be invited. There is a hope of doing something really special or failing brilliantly -- nobody goes for timid. The idea is, as Bourdain said, to "blow their fuckin' minds."

Redzepi and Bourdain met before CIR and talked about the state of gastronomy. Redzepi said CIR is the biggest inspiration he has every year to create new dishes. Bourdain wondered if there is anything worse than a signature dish. Chefs today seem too focused on playing to the customer. "The customer expects it, they want it, so the chef leaves it on the menu," Redzepi said. "Signature dishes are the biggest problem in your innovation. You get to know what they like and enjoy, and then your frame of reference becomes smaller and smaller." Giving people what you know they like is soul-destroying, Bourdain feels.

Chef Art Smith got it right when he said he won't serve fried chicken every day. He serves it only one day a week because any more than that and it ceases to be special.

Chef Sean Brock said, "There is an evolution of food. You do it for so long and realize what is important. Put food on a plate in its most perfect state. America doesn't understand this. We have to take that (points to a live fish) and sear it, put it on risotto with butter sauce." Bourdain countered with, "We are getting there. Baby steps. Enlightenment comes a little at a time. You want to serve brains, start by putting it in ravioli and put a shrimp and truffle on top."

The chefs at CIR all have a plate or serving vessel designed for them by a local artisan in order to influence their ideas for their final meal. From the famed Utatsuyama Craft Workshop, in Kanazawa City, 15 artisans were selected, and each created a dish using traditional Japanese techniques but influenced by the contemporary vision of the chefs. They were made from pottery, china, glass, paper, leaves, rocks and fabric.

Again, CIR is not about perfect execution. "It's about going balls-out with unfamiliar ingredients and no support team," Bourdain so delicately put it. The chefs have perfection in their arsenal, but this is not the time or the place for the exquisite. Instead, it is a hothouse of bold mistakes and unlikely successes. One chef said, "I don't even know what this is, but I found it in the woods and am using it to flavor the sweet potatoes." That statement sums up the attitude of the chefs at CIR.

The event is stressful but fun, and there's a lot of off-the-cuff cooking. Redzepi said, "You get to see what people are made of. In terms of their technique, how they view food, and you see their individuality on the dishes that come out." Some were really fantastic failures, but everyone wanted everyone else to do well. Food conferences are dead, Redzepi said. "No one wants to sit in an auditorium and watch someone cook food. This is the future."

Watch Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations on the Travel Channel, and catch him in Houston on his Good vs Evil tour with Chef Eric Ripert in November. Below is a list of the chefs invited to Cook It Raw.

Rene Redzepi - Denmark (founder) Albert Adria - Spain Iaki Aizpitarte - France Pascal Barbot - France Claude Bosi - UK Massimo Botura - Italy Dave Chang - USA Ichiro Kubota - UK Daniel Patterson - USA Davide Scabin - Italy Alex Atala - Brazil Quique Dacosta - Spain Yoshihiro Narisawa - Japan Petter Nilsson - Switzerland Magnus Nilsson - Switzerland Frederik Anderson - Sweden Hans Valimaki - Finland

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Patrise Shuttlesworth