The Gelinaz! Chef Shuffle, as told by someone facilitating the actual shuffling.
A bunch of super famous chef people switch places, because they can!
August 10, 2015 ● 5 min read
Last month, thirty-seven internationally acclaimed chefs secretly traded restaurants and homes to stage a series of dinners rolling across the globe, culminating on Thursday, July 9. As the co-author of the forthcoming Atelier Crenn cookbook, I was asked to be the ambassador to the restaurant. Our visitor turned out to be Claude Bosi, the French-born chef of 2-Michelin starred Hibiscus in London. The experience wasn’t glamorous—my role as ambassador was closer to chauffeur or concierge. Presented here are a few moments from that heady week.
July 3. Friday.
I pick up Ian Scaramuzza, Hibiscus’s chef de cuisine (or “head chef,” as they say in England). He’s come early to eat dinner at Atelier Crenn before it closes for the Fourth of July weekend, but first I take him to an apartment above Dominique’s forthcoming second restaurant, Petit Crenn. She says the visitors will be more comfortable in a two-bedroom, which also provides a convenient excuse to keep them out of her own one-bedroom place.
July 5. Sunday.
Ian emails to say the apartment has no hot water. I text Dominique’s staff. They tell me they’re on it.
July 6. Monday.
I go to the airport to pick up Claude Bosi. When I call him from the cellphone lot, he says he’s already taken a cab into the city and is at a bar with Ian. When I join them, I discover that Ian is brutally sunburned from a weekend of sightseeing—it seems four years of 16-hour days at Hibiscus breeds intensely enthusiastic touristing. Within minutes, Claude is asking for my fried chicken recommendations. I’m embarrassed to tell him Popeye’s, so I deflect. He also wants to know: Where can he get a taco? What about hot dogs? Where are the food trucks?
We meet up with Jock Zonfrillo—chef of Orana and Street Adelaide—for dinner at Kin Khao, which is owned by Pim Techamuanvivit, whose boyfriend is David Kinch, whose restaurant Manresa is where Jock will be cooking.
He wants to use local foods, including live native yeasts, so his ambassador, Lydia Itoi, took him foraging for seaweed, then to Love Apple Farms, then to The Cultured Pickle Shop in Berkeley. Apparently, Jock laid on the charm for 30 minutes to convince the owners to sell him a 12-year-old kombucha mother. He shows us a picture of a jar filled with a dark red cloud. He’s written on the lid: “What do we do with you???” (He later serves it sliced thin, with geoduck.) Claude is silent.
Me (quietly to Claude): Do you like fermentation?
Claude (equally quietly): No.
Me: (whispering) Me neither.
Claude: (normal voice): I don’t understand it.
Jock: You’re such a dickhead.
Claude: If you have fantastic veg, why would you degrade it?
Jock: Why don’t you think of it as another product?
They agree to disagree.
Bosi & Zonfrillo at Kin Khao. Original photo courtesy of Lydia Itoi.
July 7. Tuesday.
Still no hot water.
In the morning, we head to the Ferry Building farmers’ market and meet up with Andoni Luis Aduriz, the chef of Mugaritz, in Spain. Andoni seems gratified that Claude has nothing planned. Chris Ying, editor of Lucky Peach and ambassador for Coi, joins us on a walk through the market.
Claude wants tacos. He’s chasing the proverbial taqueria dragon from his last trip to San Francisco, when he enjoyed take-out burritos from La Taqueria in Coi’s dining room. In the car, he takes pictures of food trucks through the window. We hit up a taco truck, then progress to La Taq, where Chris and I tell Claude to order a taco instead of a burrito. He gets both.
Over beers, it’s revealed that Claude plates all the food at Hibiscus, while Ian floats among stations; when Claude visits the dining room, Ian plates. Chris says he can’t think of another restaurant where the chef does all the plating. Claude looks pleased.
Back at Atelier Crenn, the CDC, Rodney Wages, seems anxious to place the seafood order, but Claude won’t make firm plans until he eats dinner there tonight.
I stop at home to change clothes. My husband, who’s away cooking at Noma with the Mission Chinese crew, texts me: “They distilled habanero in a rotovap and made a non-spicy habanero vinegar that just tastes floral and unmistakably like hab. People said they were sweating or like clenching up when tasting it just out of Pavlovian reflex.”
At dinner, Claude inspects the menu, famously written as a poem, and wonders how he will adapt it. Who will the word “I” refer to? Claude decides, “I’ll remember her childhood.”
Ian is working service. Claude loves the oyster, lobster, wagyu, and chocolate...he’s very respectful, but his eyelids are drooping. I’m texting under the table with Pim, who’s hooking up a hotel room. After dinner, we move their luggage, and Claude dozes off in the car.
July 8. Wednesday.
We meet Rodney at the Civic Center farmer’s market, where Claude discovers pluots. For lunch, he wants hot dogs, so I take him to Lucky Dog, a hole in the wall around the corner from Atelier Crenn. He makes me choose for both of us, so I panic and order chili cheese dogs. He likes his, and announces that we’re also getting fried chicken, at some spot located between Saison and Benu that Rodney recommended. Junk food wedged between Michelin-starred restaurants—my Gelinaz! in a nutshell.
When we get there, Claude sighs happily and exclaims, “A Real American Bar!”
July 9. Thursday. Day of the Shuffle.
8:30am: Claude and Rodney hit another market, then head back to the restaurant. They hold a kitchen meeting, punctuated by murmurs of “Oui, Chef!” from the staff. Claude is in a bright blue dress shirt, no apron. The kitchen is quiet and focused.
12pm: Ian decides Rodney is the most laid back CDC he’s ever seen.
3:15pm: In the pastry kitchen, out of earshot, a line cook is bagging some extra foie in the cryovac.
Rodney (yelling): What are you doing?! You’re ruining them!
Cook: What do you want me to do? I have 3 people telling me different things.
Rodney (no longer yelling, but testy): Ok. Just seal, no pressure.
Cook: I’m sorry.
Rodney: It’s just stupid that [another cook] is telling you what to do and you’re listening.
3:45pm: A woman appears to deliver the Wagyu. She’s four hours late.
4:00pm: Ian seems stressed. He has “bad OCD,” but is trying to be polite while he’s in someone else’s kitchen. Claude (who has changed into a crisp white dress shirt, still apron-less) freaks out at him over late deliveries.
4:30pm: Staff meal is fried chicken, per Claude’s request.
5:00pm: FOH meeting.
GM: Let’s make this beautiful.
Server: And fast!
GM: Like a lady of the night…
5:10pm: Claude puts on an Atelier Crenn apron and runs through the dishes. They need to change proportions of components on the dessert, since the chocolate here is stronger than he is used to. The consommé also needs to be thicker.
5:30pm: Service begins. Most of the dishes are served cool, and Claude and Ian both plate. Claude periodically enters the dining room to deliver plates, chat with guests, and sauce the scallops.
7:45pm: Between seatings, I find Claude sitting in the courtyard by himself, reading a thank-you note left by diners from Portland. He was recently diagnosed with a glandular disorder; the doctor told him to take three months off work, but of course, he couldn’t step away from his restaurant, so he never fully recovered. He looks down again at the thank-you note and the gourmet chocolates they’ve given him, and sighs contentedly. “It’s nice, don’t you think?”
8-10pm: Over at Coi, Andoni is in the back corner, neither talking nor moving, watching intently as the cooks move purposefully around the tight space.
10:00-1:00am: After service, I take Claude and Ian for celebratory beers with Andoni and a few Coi cooks. Everyone is tired. It’s awkward.
July 10. Friday.
Goodbye brunch is at Tartine bakery, where the group is crushed under a mountain of pastry. Claude bites into a croissant. “I feel like I’m back home,” he says. Meanwhile, Dominique is in France, more than likely savoring one final croissant herself. It's time to head to the airport, where Claude will probably find room for one last taco.
By Karen Leibowitz.