EXCLUSIVE: Discover The Intricacies Of European Cuisine With Four Top Chefs At The European Culinary Week
What is European cuisine? With such diverse culinary traditions in European countries like Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, are there really any unifying characteristics that embody “European cuisine”? In the spirit of European Culinary Week being celebrated this September 10 to 16 in Manila and Cebu, we sat down with four top European chefs to find out their thoughts on the topic. They are all here to participate in this much-anticipated event that brings together acclaimed chefs from Europe and the Philippines for a grand week-long celebration of the dishes and ingredients from Europe.
Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, Chef Gavin McDonagh continuously finds ways to modernize traditional Irish flavors as part of the Dylan McGrath Group. He recreates his childhood dishes, putting his own flair on them. Chef Gavin brought his son Lee with him on this culinary adventure to the Philippines, in order for this young chef to learn about different cultures and flavors, and help him grow as a chef. “I can open opportunities for him but he has to work on them on his own,“ shares Chef Gavin about his son.
According to Chef Gavin, Ireland twenty years ago was different from the Ireland we see today. The dining scene has truly evolved, moving away from fish and meat, and towards more plant-based dishes. For Chef Gavin, what is fascinating is that European cuisine evolves all the time, with new techniques emerging in cooking, plating, and serving. He observes, “I’ve noticed that the portions that people are getting from restaurants in Ireland are becoming a little bit smaller and there are two ways of looking at this—the social aspect of dining and of course, still the fine dining. And this is new for Dublin and it’s an interesting challenge. And if we get it right, it’s going to be successful.”
For Chef Gavin, one common denominator for European cuisine is sourcing the best ingredients. However, Paolo Nesi of L’Opera, the longtime Italian fine dining restaurant in BGC, believes there is no such thing as one European cuisine. Each European nation has a different approach when it comes to food. The different cuisines of Europe developed based on the climate, the products and ingredients available, and the nutrients people need in order to thrive. So the farther north one goes, the heavier and fattier the food, with a preponderance for meat, to help endure the longer winters. But in the southern part of Europe, like Italy, the food is lighter, which is more suited to the climate, and is borne out of necessity or what is available in the area.
Chef Marc Chalopin may be from France, but he has called Manila his home for several years now. Chef Marc finds a way to compare European cuisine to Filipino adobo as a way to illustrate its diversity. He says, “If you ask me for one recipe of adobo, there are almost 100 different kinds of recipes!” The same, then, with the cuisines of Europe. He is a passionate and dedicated culinary instructor at Enderun Colleges, who finds joy in sharing his culinary knowledge with his students, from really basic facts to complex techniques. “It’s very interesting to teach, to explain how do you sublime or elevate products,” states Chef Marc. He was one of the lucky ones who trained under the late Chef Joël Robuchon, one of France’s most celebrated chefs, and the greatest nugget of wisdom that he learned from him is to be rigorous—be strict, exact, and thorough.
From Italy, Chef Francesco Brutto is fortunate to have won one Michelin star for his restaurant. Located in Treviso, Undicesimo Vineria is an experimental eatery that doesn’t have menus for diners to browse before ordering. Instead, he prefers to surprise patrons with innovative dishes that trigger the palate. This Manila first-timer finds joy in getting lost in the culture of another country, exploring new ideas and techniques wherever he may be.
Perhaps that’s what binds these European chefs together—a passion for looking for new ideas and techniques to continually evolve their respective cuisines. It’s true that there isn’t just one European cuisine, but a variety of cuisines that somehow interconnect thanks to shared traditions and history—wine and beer making, bread, and the advent of New World ingredients like tomatoes and potatoes that brought new vitality to the continent. Other guest chefs who will be expressing their interpretations of European cuisine include Scotland’s Chef Colin Mackay, Chef Laetitia Moreau and Chef Nicolas Pasdeloup from France, Spain’s Chef Ivan Saiz Sordo, Chef Santiago Guerrero , Chef Chele Gonzalez, and Chef Oscar Calleja , Chef Nickolai Stoyanov from Russia, Chef François-Xavier Lambory from Belgium, and the Philippines’ very own Chef Michael Aspiras.
Organized by the EU-Philippines Business Network and co-funded by the European Union, European Culinary Week runs from September 10 to 16 at the Grand Hyatt Manila BGC and Crimson Mactan Resort and Spa, Cebu. There’s still time to sign up for Culinaria on September 12 at the Grand Hyatt Manila, a walk-through dinner prepared by six chefs, complete with cheeses, wines, and beers. Or join the Culinary Weekend happening September 14 to 15 in Crimson Mactan Resort and Spa in Cebu.
For registration details, visit the official website.
Photos by Paul del Rosario