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.

CULINARY MISCHIEF 5 (Medium)

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.

CULINARY MISCHIEF 2 (Custom)

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