STYLE

New book 'Cook It Raw' tells story behind influential chefs gathering

05/21/2013 04:12 EDT | Updated 07/21/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Some of the world's most avant-garde chefs are invited to experiment, share ideas and even fail among their peers at an innovative annual event called "Cook It Raw."

In a new book by the same name, Alessandro Porcelli, founder of the culinary adventure, reveals the group's philosophy and creative endeavours in anecdotes and photos.

Each year, he invites about a dozen influential and creative chefs who are dedicated to exploring place through cuisine to various spots in the world where they stretch their skills as they work with farmers, hunters, cooks and artisans, and also examine the future of food.

At the end of the event, each chef prepares a course that is an interpretation of what has been learned.

Cook It Raw's philosophy is based on four principles, Porcelli said in an interview while he was in Toronto to attend this spring's Terroir Symposium — nature and environment, creativity, collaboration and tradition.

"On these four pillars I want to build every time we go to an area. These will be the themes that will drive our journey to explore the world through food."

Cook It Raw was a culmination of Porcelli's love of food and travel, which has taken him to Australia, Canada, Ireland and Spain over the past 30 years. It was also an "epiphany and coincidence," he explained.

Porcelli, who was born in Trieste, Italy, worked in 2004 at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, which has earned accolades in the culinary world thanks to chef and owner Rene Redzepi's creativity using local ingredients.

He was asked by the Danish Ministry of Economics and Business Affairs to help promote the country as a gastronomic destination.

"But what interested me the most was what was happening behind the scenes of the food conferences because that was where the action was," recalled Porcelli, who is director of the food events company Nordic Gourmet Tour.

"When you do have a food conference you don't smell the food, you don't taste the food, you see the food through a screen. ... Behind the scenes the guys are getting drunk and sharing ideas."

For several months, he had it in his mind to devise a plan to combine environmental issues with food.

"I went for the famous afternoon nap. I never forget it in my life," he said. "I woke up with this phrase in my head — 'cook it raw, cook it clean.'" From there his chefs gathering took root.

In late May 2009, 11 chefs gathered in Copenhagen for the first Cook It Raw. Their goal was to rethink how energy is used in cooking, producing cutting-edge food with native and wild foods and energy-saving techniques.

Leaving their egos at the door, the chefs got their hands dirty collecting raw ingredients from the fiords and forests.

"The dinner it was like so incredible, the food was incredible, the atmosphere was incredible and what was happening again in the kitchen was incredible. I wanted to incorporate this even more, even more.

"So that's when I said let's do something really interesting. There's more into the social aspect of it. That's why I had to keep it very intimate but always thought about how I could reach a larger audience and that's why the book."

"Cook It Raw" (Phaidon Press) was published in April. Anthony Bourdain wrote the foreword and the book contains photo essays and anecdotes by the participants — including award winners Redzepi, David Chang of Momofuku in New York, Albert Adria of Spain's elBulli, Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana in Italy and Magnus Nilsson of Faviken Magasinet in Sweden.

Raw in English has many meanings, Porcelli said, hastening to note he does not mean the movement in which raw foodists don't cook food above 41 C to 48 C (105 F to 118 F).

"Raw is unfinished, raw means nature, raw means savage, so to use raw as a common denominator ... for instance, in Copenhagen it was a meditation on nature, in Collio (Italy) it was raw as savage, rough winter. In Lapland, raw very much about wilderness, but also we become more ambitious.

"We want to explore how chefs can collaborate together and after raw started to evolve into what is traditions and that's when we went to Japan and to meditate on how the Japanese also treat food as kind of a religion. It was so incredible."

Porcelli said he's considering the southern U.S. for this year's meeting, an area he calls a contradiction.

"There is some of the richest food culture in America but also the part of the country (that) is the poorest."

MORE:cpStyle