Social magic at an evening of Culinary Mischief – we spoke to head chef Gabriele Bertaccini about his creative approach to curating dining experiences

We recently had the pleasure of being invited to an evening of food, fun and frivolity at chef Gabriele Bertaccini‘s roving international pop-up dining experience – the delightfully named CULINARY MISCHiEF. Hosted by the Marriott’s County Hall Hotel in Westminster, London, Gabriele and his team turned the stunning and imposing location into a familiar setting for a remarkable seven course Italian meal. Inventive, gregarious and charming, the head chef managed to conjure an evening in the image of himself – some feat considering that the meal was attended by a group of total strangers. Brought together by a mutual appreciation for good food, however, this evening did not disappoint any of the guests. Indeed, the Spring themed menu was a triumph, balanced beautifully by a wonderful ebb and flow to conversation and accompanied by exceptional individual wine pairings and introductions from Gabriele to each course.

We caught up with head chef Gabriele to discuss his approach to creating a cultural dining experience, rather than just another pop-up restaurant:

To book your place at London's next Culinary Mischief event, click here to make a ticket inquiry

Gabriele – first of all, congratulations for organising such a spectacular event (CULINARY MISCHiEF: Primavera) in London this April! I understand that this was only the second time you had organised an evening of ‘CULINARY MISCHiEF’ here in the UK – what took you so long?!

Gabriele: Well, thank you guys! The pleasure was truly all mine as the evening is only as good as our guests, so YOU really ended up making the evening, not me.

To go back to your question, CULINARY MISCHiEF has been the premier roving underground dining event in the United States for the last five years now and we were ready to expand oversea. London especially has been going through a change when it comes to food and beverage offerings including a more underground food scene -which is the category into which CULINARY MISCHiEF falls. People are hungry for more experiences where food and wine is, yes the center of the attention, BUT it is also – and most importantly – a tool for new and old friends to connect, to create memories together, to go back to a simpler and more experiential life. London has been amazing and the welcome we received is exciting and inspirational.

All the guests were raving about your menu that night – six courses including a superlative pea soufflé, specially made hand-rolled gnocchi that looked and tasted out of this world and an incredible meaty main course of veal. All were cooked to absolute perfection. Perhaps you could talk us through your process for deciding upon your menu for each event?

Thank you for your kind words. The menu was indeed a good one and like everything else in life it becomes even better when you know you will not be able to enjoy again and anywhere. That is also why all our menus are a one-time-only culinary creations. We never repeat a dish once. Never a menu one. Each experience is truly unique to its location, inspiration, time of the year and overall theme.

How do you replicate this concept all over the world to such a high standard when using a different team each time?

I take a lot of joy and pride in teaching and sharing my culinary and entertaining skills with the different people I have the pleasure to work with. For me, it is all about passion. You can teach skills, you can’t teach passion. I can sit with you and walk you through a recipe, but the love you put in it IS in fact perceived by your guests – and that I cannot control. It takes a lot of preparation, and it is important for me to make them (my team) understand that the success of the evening is mostly due to them.

To book your place at London's next Culinary Mischief event, click here to make a ticket inquiry

At the Primavera meal, the wine was selected by the head of F&B at the Westminster Marriott Hotel, your location partner for the evening. How involved are you with choosing the wine pairings for the meal?

Very involved indeed! We usually select the wines after I craft the menus and we go through a tasting to make sure that the ones we selected are going to work and if not, what we can change. The relationship food and wine have together is comparable to being married. It is important that both elements are in harmony and that they know when to balance each other. The sum is greater than its parts.

We love the name CULINARY MISCHiEF – it captures the sense of theatre in what you do. The events are about more than just food, they are about social interactions with like-minded people, and, primarily, an evening of entertainment. Do you think that, with a growing number of themed restaurants and pop-ups appearing (particularly in London!) that people have come to expect this level of entertainment in addition to a purely gastronomic experience when eating out?

Everything I have done and I do is about much more than food. It is experience-driven. And so is CULINARY MISCHiEF, which marries the art of entertaining with the one of cooking, and guests have come to expect that from their ‘nights-out’. They want to be entertained, they want to be surprised, and they want to feel special. It is the host’s job (whether is the Chef or not) to do so, to make their experience unique.

To book your place at London's next Culinary Mischief event, click here to make a ticket inquiry

How do you pick the themes and menus for each CULINARY MISCHiEF event?

The inspiration comes from many different elements but location has to be #1 on my list. The place where the event is held often dictates the type of menu, set up and overall feel the dining experience is going to have. Seasonality is my second most important inspiration as food has to adapt to its surroundings.

You have already grown CULINARY MISCHiEF internationally to Phoenix, LA, NY in America, Florence in Italy and London in the UK. Any plans to expand further? Either way, what lies in store for you and Il Tocco – what can we expect to see next from you?

As a Chef I am always on the hunt for new and exciting ways of sharing my passion and love for food and wine with the greatest number of guests possible. Of course, iL TOCCO FOOD & CULINARY MISCHiEF will keep going and going strong in the USA, UK and ITALY. I am however, working on creating a different and more permanent experience both in the USA and UK. You may want to get your calendar open, as it will be my pleasure to soon host you at our first brick and mortar concept….!

To book your place at London's next Culinary Mischief event, click here to make a ticket inquiry

Thanks Gabe – we’re looking forward to it already!

You can book yourself in for Gabe’s next evening of CULINARY MiSCHIEF in London on June 1st and 2nd by emailing Gemma Waters for ticket inquiries

The Primavera dinner menu included:

Light pea souffle with carrot juice vinaigrette and salsa verde;

Silky asparagus soup with quail egg yoke and parsley infused croutons;

Cloud-like squash gnocchi dressed with brown Italian butter and Treviso Radicchio;

Grilled veal chops marinated in fresh thyme and served with a ‘Sicilian caponatina’;

Sharp tasting palate cleanser with notes of Campari and Lemon

…and a Lavender cannolo with lemon thyme sauce.

Culinary Mischief – London’s newest gastronomic experience

It’s no secret that gastronomical extravagance is in vogue in the UK at the moment. From food markets and pop-up restaurants to an upsurge in culinary blogs and fashionable (or oft-watched, at least) TV shows, it seems that society’s defiant response to ongoing questions about weight issues has been to flood the market with good food. Key to the development of this trend has been the highlighting of the experience – be it social, sensuous or cerebral – as the most important factor of any meal out.

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The problem with this approach, of course, is that it rarely leaves much room to maneuver. Inevitably, the real focal point of any dining event is bound to be the food. With that in mind, we are excited to see a relatively new pop-up restaurant return to the UK for only its second event. Culinary Mischief London, organised by Il Tocco Food, is refreshing when set against the backdrop of a myriad other contemporary ‘dining experiences’ insofar as it dares to focus primarily on the menu.

It is a sign of the times that this is now seen as break from the norm but it is fair to say that Italians will continue to speak from the heart as far as food is concerned – and Gabriele Bertaccini, head chef at Culinery Mischief, is no exception. Although theatrically themed evenings can occasionally result in raging success, all too often they can rely on gimmickry to mask deficiencies with the quality of the primary product.  By contrast, the Culinary Mischief evenings are themed only to reflect both the national and seasonal nature of the menu.

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Gabriele Bertaccini, head chef at Culinery Mischief

The upcoming London event, Primavera, looks like one not to be missed – particularly after the first event last year received such widespread praise from various food critics. Taking place on April 3rd and 4th, the Primavera dinner includes six individually designed courses of the finest Italian food accompanied by six different wine pairings. Held in a unique secret location to respect the privacy of a small number (30) of like-minded guests, the evening is priced to reflect that it is set to be an intoxicating experience for true gourmands. At £175 per ticket, we are excited to see what this touch of Tuscan magic can bring back to a jaded London food scene.

The April menu will feature asparagus, artichokes, leafy greens and Italian beans, with a stated aim of maximizing flavour by using the freshest produce. April is also a month of celebration and, during Easter lunch in Italy, lamb and eggs are always served, so guests can expect to see these on the menu as well.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, (only 30 seats available) please visit www.billetto.co.uk/en/events/primavera

We Love London: Buddha-Bar

Photo credit: Paul Winch-FurnessSpotlight: Buddha-Bar London
145 Knightsbridge
buddhabarlondon.com

 

To say that Buddha-Bar London is a chain restaurant seems odd, but it’s true: The first Buddha-Bar was established in Paris in the fall of 1996 by the late Raymond Visan. The last 17 years have seen the Buddha-Bar empire expand from its original incarnation on Rue Boissy d’Anglas to outposts all around the world: Dubai, Cairo, Kiev, Mexico, and even Saint Petersburg all have their own Buddha-Bar restaurants. (At last count, there are 16 restaurants that dot the globe from East to West.)

After all these years, the first Buddha-Bar (situated cosily between Madeleine and Concorde) is still widely heralded for its signature Pacific Rim cuisine. The same East-meets-West vibe that made Buddha-Bar Paris so famous can also be found at its Knightsbridge location in London. Housed in what was once a Chicago Rib Shack, Buddha-Bar London is one giant feast for the senses.

As I walk through the front doors, I am greeted by the smells of Asian spices and the soft thump thump of the bass line of a house track being broadcast over the speakers that are discreetly placed throughout the dining area. I am led to a small table where an eager waiter recommends that I peruse the menu while sipping on a glass of champagne. I accept the glass, because … Well, what person ever actually turns down a glass of champagne?

The menu is filled with so many delicious options—pan-fried sea bass, foie gras gyoza and smoked duck come to mind—that it becomes quite obvious that I will need a little help choosing tonight’s meal. (Although I didn’t know it at the time, I would later find myself thanking my lucky stars that I brought a guest with me, because the sheer amount of food I was served could have easily fed a family of five!) Although Buddha-Bar is synonymous with Pan Asian dishes, it is interesting to note that all of the ingredients are sourced locally. This means that each Buddha-Bar location around the globe has a menu that reflects not only the Pacific Rim cuisine the chain is known for, but the flavours of the local region as well.

To begin, the exuberant Lucian brought out a dizzying mix of starters: miso soup, edamame, a line of volcano rolls and Buddha-Bar’s now-famous chicken salad. (After sampling it, I can honestly say that I fully understand why it’s become Buddha-Bar’s signature dish: It is—without a doubt—the best chicken salad I have ever eaten.) He places the food in the center of the table and tells me that, unlike most of the other restaurants I will visit in London, sharing is a central part of the Buddha-Bar experience: To share food is to share life itself.

Buddha-Bar's famous chicken salad.

Buddha-Bar’s famous chicken salad.

As I sit sipping my glass of white wine, Lucian returns bearing a plethora of suggestions for main course dishes. My guest decides to try the five spiced barbecued chicken, while I opt for the black cod with steamed vegetables. While I wait for my actual meal to arrive—although the starters I just consumed could have constituted a meal in and of themselves—I wander over to inspect the two enormous crystal dragons that flank the staircase leading to the downstairs dining area. One of the dragons curls sinuously upwards while the other slinks downwards, away from the viewer. The ruby-red crystals that make up the eyes seem to blaze in the low light, sensuous and all-knowing.

The downstairs dining area is more private and a great deal darker. The space is dominated by an impressive “floating” Buddha created by the artist David Begbie. Constructed of moulded chicken wire, the Buddha is suspended from paper-thin cables attached to the ceiling one floor above. Thanks to some clever lighting, the reflection of the Buddha looks as though its head is bowed in prayer.

This sense of calm introspection seems to flood the space. The laughter and hubbub I witnessed upstairs seems strangely far away as I peek into a private booth set back in a little niche in a corner. If this room isn’t quiet enough, book the private dining area, which can seat up to 60 guests for lunch and dinner.

As I climb the stairs and head back to my seat, I see a waiter carrying a tray laden with food in the direction of my table. Sure enough, my dinner has arrived! Just like the appetizers, all of my food is delicious. The cod—which is marinated for three days in miso sauce—practically melts in my mouth and pairs wonderfully with my glass of wine.

Before all is said and done, I have experienced a wonderful three-course meal that puts to shame any Asian-inspired cuisine I have ever eaten. If I wasn’t already exhausted from my busy day of touring—Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and Parliament were just some of the stops I made that day—then I would have happily traipsed over to the bar across the room and whiled the night away, cocktail in hand. Maybe next time … .

We Love London: Brasserie Chavot

bc_02v2Spotlight: Brasserie Chavot
41 Conduit Street, Mayfair
brasseriechavot.com

 

Before I came to visit London, a lot of my friends and colleagues warned me that the food across the Pond wasn’t exactly five-star worthy. In my head, I pictured an endless line of plates piled high with greasy fish ’n’ chips, cold lumps of mash and mushy peas. However, after dining at Brasserie Chavot on my first night in the city, I am happy to report that all those tales of terrible London food are a thing of the past: This city knows how to cook.

If Brasserie Chavot doesn’t sound familiar, it’s probably because it’s still quite new: The restaurant’s doors opened to the public in March 2013 (to rave reviews, I might add). A stuffy, pseudo-French restaurant this is not. Brasserie Chavot is the real deal.

Born in France, executive chef and owner Eric Chavot has spent the past few years in London trying to bring the creative vision he had of opening his own restaurant at the age of fourteen to life in the most fantastic of ways. Before that, though, Chavot spent time working with some of the greatest culinary artists in the world: He held esteemed and highly-coveted positions at restaurants such as London’s La Tante Clair and Le Manoir Aux Quat Saison. (Chavot also famously held two Michelin stars for a period of ten years after he joined the team at The Capital Restaurant in Knightsbridge as head chef.)

So what is the Brasserie Chavot experience like? Two words: Pure opulence. As I walk into the restaurant, I am immediately taken with the décor: Rich, red leather banquettes climb halfway up the walls to my left, while a series of small, elegant tables laid with fine china are placed throughout the remainder of the space. (The impressive leather banquettes are a nod to the space’s history: it used to house a leather shop.)

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Although the space is moderately large, I feel as though I am sitting down to eat in my own private restaurant. This feeling of very private, personalised service has at least a little something to do with the kind and very generous waiting staff who cater to my every need. When I confess that I am unsure of which white wine will best compliment the home-cured salmon I ordered as an appetizer, my waitress is more than happy to offer me her expert opinion.

The delicately arranged salmon (complete with gravlax dressing) is followed by a miniature rack of lamb with couscous and creamy mash. (Coming as I do from the Southern U.S., trust that it is a big deal when I say that these mashed potatoes are like something out of every foodie’s dream.) If my meal doesn’t seem wonderful enough, never fear—there are plenty of other delectable dishes on the menu, from snails bourguignon to choucroute garnie, all which feature locally-sourced ingredients from France and the British Isles.

And what meal wouldn’t be complete without dessert? I sample a lovely cheesecake—compliments of Monsieur Chavot—and some pistachio concoction that causes me to rethink my decision to cut desserts out of my diet.

Just as I am about to head off for a night cap, out traipses Eric Chavot himself. He is all smiles and jovial laughter as he embraces me and covers my cheeks in a flurry of kisses. Waving a friendly greeting to the staff out on the floor, he nestles himself down beside me on the banquette and begins to treat me to a tale that ends up encompassing not just the brief history of Brasserie Chavot, but his life’s history as well. When Chavot speaks about his namesake restaurant and the food that he has created here, his eyes light up—I swear, they’re literally sparkling. “Ever since I was a little boy, this”—he reaches out and sweeps his hand through the air—“is what I’ve always dreamed of.”

This restaurant, this food … the entire experience of dining at Brasserie Chavot is the result of Chavot’s love of cooking. And, as far as experiences go, this is one that I won’t soon forget.

FAULT Favourite: Long White Cloud Café in Hoxton

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We recently stopped off at Long White Cloud Café in Hoxton for a quick bite after work. This bright, intimate venue opened recently on Hackney Road to fill a gaping hole in the market for those who prefer their after-work sustenance in a less alcoholic form to that offered by the plethora of trendy cocktail bars in the immediate vicinity.

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Long White Cloud – named by Kiwi owner Nikki and business partner Zuzie after the Maori name for New Zealand – offers excellent Monmouth coffee and simple, filling food in a relaxed, homey  environment. The space doubles up as a gallery for ongoing exhibitions of the team’s favourite artists so there is always a new talking point for regular customers. Our visit coincided with the opening of the aptly-named ‘Feast Your Eyes’ show by McGunnMedia, which featured some stunning and evocative food and  travel photography.

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Long White Cloud’s evening menu is organised by the day – Mondays and Tuesdays are all you can eat Pasta nights, or you can visit on Wednesdays for pies, Thursday for Mexican (beef/veggie burritos or nachos) or Friday for burgers. The latter is famous locally for its brilliantly named ‘Fleetwood Mac and Cheese Beef Burger‘.

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Morning/lunchtime is also a great time to stop by for a wide selection of tempting breakfast or brunch choices, including French toast, omelettes and various fritters and frittatas. With most meals here costing under £10 for a hearty plateful of locally sourced, free range and organic food – and a locally brewed beer or a perfectly brewed cuppa – it’s a delicious and affordable alternative to eating at home. Fridays also see weekly live jazz performances from 8-10pm – so what more reason do you need to check it out?!

Long White Cloud Café
151 Hackney Rd
London
E2 8JL

For more information, visit www.longwhitecloudhoxton.com