Imagine 148 chefs and restaurants across six continents, 38 countries, 17 time zones, doing a massive exchange of thousands of recipes for just one dinner. That’s the concept of The Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle Stay In Tour recently held this December 3, 2019—and the Philippines got to participate for the very first time. And as this year’s Gelinaz! involved a recipe swap, then that meant that one restaurant somewhere in the world ended up cooking Toyo’s Filipino recipes—and what a surprising one it turned out to be.
What exactly is Gelinaz!? It’s not actually that easy to pin down, as the Gelinaz! events that have been held irregularly in the last 10 or so years continue to evolve. The idea was first concocted around 15 years ago by Italian chef Fulvio Pierangelini and famed food writer Andrea Petrini as a way to bring chefs together through collaboration. The word “Gelinaz” is a combination of “gelin” in Pierangelini’s name, the virtual band Gorillaz, and the famous Géline breed of hen from Touraine, France. The Gelinaz! website provides clues to this initiative: “Gelinaz! is a collective of chefs, made by chefs, for chefs.” In the site’s overly enthusiastic prose, it further describes the Gelinaz! as “an experimental playground always on the lookout for new languages, for uncharted collective expressions.”
GET READY ! 💪🏻 THE GRAND GELINAZ SHUFFLE IS BACK! 🌏 NEAR YOUR HOME 👉 TICKETS AVAILABLE FOR SALE ON NOVEMBER 5. 😚 @Aaharnhk @aimsir_restaurant @alainducasse @albert.adria.acosta @albertolandgraf @alexatala @alterego.tokyo @amassrestaurant @andreas_caminada @anthonygenovesechef @antoniaklugmann @antoniogalapito @Aqua_Crua @asafdok @askanyc @atomixnyc @baileychef @belcanto_joseavillez @billywagnerwirt @bistro_ambrosia @bledar_kola_ @bo.lan_essentially_thai @bonbon_christophehardiquest @boon_cafe @boragoscl @braerestaurant @brandoj @bulgarihotels @calasf @casamarialuigia @celine_pham_ @chambreseparee @cheffmattstone @chefmattstone @chefmomofiso @chefvickycheng @chefvickylau @chrifrapug @coirestaurant @come.an.d.seehof @corebyclaresmyth @dagoriniristorante @daladk @daterrarestaurant @davidwjthompson @dillrestaurant @dok.restaurant @dyansolomon @eatmerestaurant @ekstedtrestaurant @elchatobogota @Elena_reygadas #soonsoonsoon #gelinazSIT #nearyourhome #swap #chefs #recipes #38countries #148chefs
Previous Gelinaz! Shuffles involved an exchange of actual chefs, rather than just the recipes. But this year, the organizers opted for a more sustainable, carbon free Shuffle, and had the chefs stay home, with their ideas doing the traveling instead.
The Gelinaz! menu at Toyo Eatery
It’s no surprise that Toyo Eatery was the lone Philippine restaurant lucky and deserving enough to be invited to join this singular global event. After all, this restaurant helmed by Chef Jordy Navarra has won much international acclaim, from winning the Miele One To Watch award in 2018 to placing No. 43 in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2019.
With Toyo participating in the Gelinaz! for the very first time, Navarra and his team were tasked with creating an eight-course menu using recipes (called “Matrixes”) from another restaurant chosen by lottery. But not knowing where the recipes come from, the Toyo team was challenged “to undo each one of them, to remix them all and create eight new, spontaneously rethought and totally remodeled dishes” to be called the “Remixes.”
The Toyo team had barely a month to figure out the recipes, the ingredients to source, and the flavors to achieve, while still staying true to their Philippine-centric identity. It was an unusual challenge that brought out all of the team’s experimental juices, buoyed by their enthusiasm.
On the evening of December 3, Navarra committed to opening Toyo’s doors despite the onslaught of Typhoon Tisoy. Arriving for the second seating at 8:30 pm, I knew to keep an open mind, trusting that the kitchen had the skills and the know-how to figure out any recipe they’d be given. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed with an eight-course menu that was playful, experimental, intriguing at times, but that didn’t really feel out of place at Toyo, despite its seemingly obvious “foreignness.”
Just for that night, Toyo was decorated with table centerpieces evoking a seascape of rocks, coral, seaweed, shells, hinting at a largely seafood-centric menu. Among the standouts, Remix #4 was Asian-like in flavor, involving steamed local apahap, smeared with a green curry paste, then wrapped in banana leaf. Navarra went from table to table, adding a spoonful of sizzling hot oil on the fish, then topping it with fried shallots. The clincher was we had to eat the fish with our hands, messily but with obvious glee.
Remix #5 played like an in-house joke with the servers claiming it was duck with duck sauce, but at first bite, it was obvious it had the texture of fish. At the end of the dinner, the servers finally owned up to the joke, sharing that it was actually horse mackerel, sliced and sauced like duck to trick diners.
The highlight of the dinner had to be Remix #7, a large smoked goat’s leg, presented whole to diners before it was sliced thinly and served with a refreshing zucchini salad.
With the intent of the Gelinaz! to bring down borders and create a global community among chefs, it was clear by night’s end why Toyo Eatery fit right in. The restaurant has always championed more of a horizontal rather than vertical structure, with servers, cooks, chefs just as engaged with the experience, sharing their enthusiasm with diners, and erasing the obvious divide between restaurant staff and diners.
We were all equally clueless about the origin of the dishes served that night, and collectively applauded when the chef and restaurant were revealed to be Chef Alexandre Silva of one Michelin-starred Loco in Lisbon, Portugal. The restaurant does a 17-course tasting menu, with Silva, according to the Loco website, “known for his creative takes on seasonality developed by the harmony between passion, creativity, and research work.” Indeed, these are words that Toyo Eatery take to heart as well in its own Pinoy way.
Toyo Eatery’s dishes at Noma
While the Toyo team celebrated pulling off this never-to-be-repeated-again dinner last Tuesday, on the other side of the world, seven time zones away, Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark was still preparing for its own Gelinaz! experience.
Noma really needs no introduction. It rose to the top of the culinary world when it garnered the No. 1 spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, and even more crucially, pushed Nordic cuisine to the forefront, with its chef René Redzepi gaining international acclaim and influence. Even the current 2nd version of Noma, after having shut down and moved in 2017, is making waves, coming in at No. 2 in this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
With Noma being one of the most high profile restaurants participating in the Shuffle, the question was, whose recipes would land at Noma? While the source of the recipes is supposed to remain a secret until the grand reveal on December 3, Noma came out with an intriguing social media post that mentioned they were working on a “matrix” of certain Filipino dishes. It didn’t take much to deduce that Noma was referencing Toyo’s recipes. May Navarra shares, “The moment it was posted on social media that Noma got the Philippines, we bought our tickets right away knowing how rare it is for René Redzepi and his team to create a Pinoy-inspired menu!”
May Navarra and Toyo’s sous chef and business partner JP Cruz flew to Copenhagen to attend the Noma dinner to see and taste for themselves how one of the world’s most celebrated chefs would interpret their recipes for kwek-kwek, kinilaw, sinigang, buro, banana catsup, silog, halo-halo, and tsokolate at tuyo.
The day after the dinner, Navarra recalled Noma’s “amazing” homage to Toyo’s Silog, “They steamed the rice in bay leaves, mixing in brown crabmeat and aligue, sea urchin, and our very own buro. Then they topped it with an egg yolk that you break and mix in with everything—just the way we do at Toyo.”
Redzepi and his team tried to interpret Filipinos’ approach to sourness and acidity, but using much of their own local ingredients. “They worked around their ferments, which in turn gave that umami and acidic flavor profile that we have in our cuisine. Some of the things they used were ramson leaf, local berries, wild boar meat, mushrooms, and king crab,” Navarra recounts.
Navarra and Cruz were fortunate to touch base with Redzepi both before and after the dinner, and marveled at how difficult it was for him to recreate flavors that he has never been exposed to before. They did bring with them some condiments from Toyo to help him understand the flavors a bit more. She relates, “Since he’s never been to the Philippines and has not eaten Filipino food, he mentioned that it was a challenge for him and his team to come up with a menu. They usually do more research but due to lack of time, they were limited to what they could find online, and discussions with some of their Filipino friends.”
But at the end, the dinner was a success, with Navarra feeling more than honored to have Toyo’s dishes presented by the Noma team. “We thought it was amazing. Especially how they tried to understand our cuisine in such a short amount of time. And when we had the dinner, they were spot on with the seasoning and flavor profile, while still staying true to how they do things in Noma.” She concludes, “In the end, they were able to pull off a beautiful Nordic-Filipino menu that can make any Pinoy proud!”
Whatever one thinks of the Gelinaz! as a grand collective culinary event, it was certainly high time that the Philippines was finally invited to participate. Past Gelinaz! events have been criticized for the lack of female chefs represented, and its continued emphasis towards Europe-based restaurants. Even this year’s event had only one restaurant in Ghana representing the entire African continent. This year as well, one participating Italian chef, Gianluca Gorini, had the misfortune of posting what was perceived as a racist photo referencing Asians, while a French chef, Hugo Roellinger, posted a similarly racist Instagram story (since deleted) regarding Native Americans. In truth, it’s not surprising that the more people from around the world collaborate, there is always the risk of cultural insensitivity and misunderstanding. But with such exchanges as the Filipino-Portuguese one at Toyo and the Filipino-Danish dinner at Noma, there’s always much to learn and appreciate with these kinds of collaborations.
Noma dinner photos by May Navarra