Man at His Best

When Chefs From Different Restaurants Cook Together

Our columnist looks into the currency of culinary collaboration.

BY Ming | Jan 23, 2017 | Food & Drink

It is commonplace now to see foreign chefs cooking in restaurants overseas, turning their short visits into highly publicised events. Festivals, wine dinners, themed nights and celebrations are all fair game for collaborations. Even on home ground, chefs are meeting and hosting food events that see them interacting on an unprecedented level.

Famous, high-end joints stack their annual calendars with visiting crews from equally hip establishments, creating meals that feature a blend of flavours and identities, and are invariably oversubscribed. Chefs actively forge partnerships with counterparts who have the same approach to food, resulting in complex meals born out of bromance.

All of it is documented feverishly on social media and lapped up by in-the-know patrons.

It is easy to assume that this is a very natural thing, that industry folk must travel in the same circles and work together constantly. The image of cooks hugging each other after a six hands dinner—hasn’t that always been the case?

Quite the opposite.

Not so long ago, the template for any dining establishment had its roots in traditions laid down by established masters of their respective cuisines. These hospitality giants codified procedures where previously there were none. Chefs rarely spoke to the media, and the physical kitchen was behind closed doors. The developed sets of rules were absorbed, internalised and adhered to religiously.

You will recognise parts of this codex today as the generally accepted ways of getting shit done, such as washing sushi rice till the water runs clear and the precise methods of making mother sauces in French cuisine. The process for learning this information took years of training and invariably meant moving to the places where you wanted to work.

Before the age of food tourism and budget carriers, visiting temples of gastronomic pursuit meant making special trips. The Michelin Guide started as a driving guide for road trippers who wanted to know more about the French countryside and where to find good grub.

In other words, dining and the craft behind it was a localised, regional, cloistered thing. It was inevitable then, that because of the isolation and the effort taken to reach a high level of proficiency in their craft, chefs and their kitchens were not open to sharing. Add the bravado of having painstakingly perfected a technique through years of practice and hardship, and you can see why cooks viewed each other with suspicion.

This is the exception rather than the rule now. Where there used to be suspicion and cold judgement, there exists respect and actual warmth. The food is bloody delicious, and the range of cooperative meals will surprise you.

Like mushrooms sprouting near each other, kitchen crews that are touched with the urge to seek partnerships end up growing in many ways, spreading the feels about with other institutions of similar ilk.

I’d like to think that this improvement in attitude towards The Other represents a confident new breed of kitchen that has realised in timely fashion what it means to stay current.