A Cuisine's Defining Moment
Italian food entrepreneur Alessandro Porcelli kicked off Cook It Raw eight years ago. Now, he is looking to this year’s iteration of the event in Alberta to slow things down and refocus on what really matters.
The concept behind the event was epic from the get-go: take a bunch of famous chefs and chuck them into the wilderness sans entourages and their pimped out commercial kitchens.
Previous Cook It Raw events have visited well-hyped locations like Copenhagen, Lapland, and Ishikawa Prefecture with a line-up of celebrity chefs like René Redzepi, David Chang, Inaki Aizpitarte, and Massimo Bottura.
In a vice.com Munchies piece, Porcelli says he wanted to use Cook It Raw -- Alberta as a platform to change the way the international chef community works, the values it stands for, and the way it treats both newcomers and peers inside the kitchen.
As part of the process, he reshaped the event itself. The 2015 iteration of the event features 14 inspirational Alberta chefs participating in two distinct phases, five months apart.
The first phase took place back in May, with an island retreat on Lac La Biche in northern Alberta. There, the participating chefs – which included MRCA’s own Chef Cam Dobranski – got hands on with local ingredients and participated in an Aboriginal sweat lodge ceremony led by a First Nations shaman.
“It was magical to witness what kindness, slowing down, and having time to think can generate. We caught more than 50 pikes over the course of three days, cooked together without the usual stress and pressures… It was an intense and emotional experience for all,” Porcelli said.
This week, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains outside Calgary, the group of Alberta chefs has been joined by a handful of international talents to distil that experience into a series of dishes designed to define and refine a regional cuisine.
Local food writer and personality Gwendolyn Richards @gwendolynmr describes the process in a recent Calgary Herald piece.
She says that, removed from the familiar confines of their restaurant kitchens, the chefs will be drilling down to the basics of cooking and embracing the ingredients that have fed those in this area for generations: canola, bison, honey, Red Fife wheat, Saskatoon berries, beef, root vegetables.
Each of those ingredients has been assigned to one of seven teams of three, made up of two Alberta chefs and one from farther afield.
Those taking part in this instalment are Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen, Elizabeth Falkner, Albert Adria from Spain’s Tickets and 41° Experience, Magnus Ek of Sweden’s Oaxen Krog & Slip, Brandon Baltzley — who is no stranger to cooking with local ingredients after running a month-long pop-up in WineBar Kensington in 2013 — Juhu Beach Club’s Preeti Mistry, Syrco Bakker of Pure C in the Netherlands, and JP MacMahon of Aniar and Cava Bodega in Ireland.
They will join MRCA’s Chef Cam D., and Calgary notables Paul Rogalski, Connie DeSousa, Duncan Ly, John Michael McNeil, Darren MacLean, Liana Robberecht and Justin Leboe, SAIT instructors Scott Pohorelic and Andrew Winfield, along with Canmore’s Eden Hrabec. Edmonton is represented by Blair Lebsack, Shane Chartrand and Brayden Kozak.
For Chef Cam, Cook It Raw is an important event as it draws international recognition to Alberta. But what excites him more is it will also see the chefs trying to establish a local cuisine.
“What’s most intriguing is we’re trying to define a cuisine,” he says.
That means looking back at the history of the province, the First Nations people and their approach to food and the settlers who came from Europe and made homes here.