With each Facebook connection, a notifications pops up, an anniversary, a reminder of events one year ago, it was to be the last. At the time we did not know, but a year later a sad reality.
2016 was the first year I would not and could not cook, with an Achilles injury caused by one to many silly jumps to the left. This gave me an unique opportunity to observe the whole commotion as an outsider, which in itself is a very hard thing to observe as a chef with limited movement, for me it was like watching the heart beat during open heart surgery being performed by a team of masters.
When you work as a chef on a project as big as chefs who share, you want to give everything, you want to leave that final personality that final piece of yourself on the plate. This is not a small function, on this night each set of chefs might be cooking for 36 people, with seven different menu’s born from the creativity from fourteen very gifted chefs, it is intimidating as boundaries are stretched and rules broken…. One step beyond…as I watched the chaos as I was perched on my bar stool I was slightly over come with a sense of jealousy but also one of pride. Chefs come together in place unfamiliar and share their time, share art and leave visions of emotions on a plate for something bigger than themselves. It is unconditional.
The art of giving was born from a conversation in 2013 while at a diner prize giving with a room full of chefs and press, I was fortunate enough to be seated next to my old friend Bertus and on the other side was Barbara Lennard. As we were catching up and sharing stories about giving and sharing, the discussion on the night went around the possibility of doing an event that was big, the rest is history. The seed was planted and we needed water, lots of it.
Over a four year period we saw how the event got bigger, the first three years in Cape Town and last year Johannesburg. Always in the heart of the city, making City Hall look glamorous as it should.
Every year new chefs joined, for some it was a reunion, for some a new experience and in some way a little intimidating. We are extremely blessed in South Africa, having such talented people, talented chefs, wine makers and sommeliers.
The process with creativity is vicious, with each chef removed from their kitchens and placed in an environment of basic functionality changes chef changes the animal. Each chef is given the opportunity of the basic operating equipment to make the event work. If you know this animal the boundaries and limitations will be broken. They want to give more than just a plate a food, it is a show an experience. So bugger the basic, they will cart everything including the kitchen sink across country to show what true hospitality is all about.
As the afternoon progressed plates, bowls and glasses of different sizes get unpacked. This is a show after all. With this Paco jets, thermos mixes, smoking guns and sous vide baths all in the name of sharing. Silly bunch if you think about it, I thought so. But not really, if you consider that when ones writes seven menus the personality of 28 dishes must be given life for all to see and enjoy, part of this creative process goes far beyond just giving parameters of what plate that must be used. The thought process of a chef does not live in a box. Food is experienced because we love the taste, smell, sound and most of all the thought process behind the creativity bringing all the elements together that makes sharing food memories.
As the night started and guests started filling the magnificent hall, we were informed that proceedings were running late! It was a mean itinerary. We had to catch 20 minutes of lateness. This night is jam packed and co-ordination of chefs, sommeliers and artists is essential to a good nights entertainment.
As I hobbled from kitchen to kitchen and station to station, one cannot avoid to notice the skill and time each chef gave and display on their plates, nothing is half baked. Each starter is so different with personality shining on every plate. As we wait for our call, random guests and fans come into the kitchen for quick photo and chat with their favourite chefs. The level of anxiety is high as each set of eyes stare back at me, waiting……
The aboyer(that would be me) barks for a pickup of starters …..15minutes, seven brigades shift in to gear and the noise levels increase, finishing touches engaged and the focus immediate. You never notice this when you are cooking next to Bertus, Gregory, Chantel, Margot, Chris or George, as we all busy at that moment. And when the last starter leaves we would continue bantering again, just as we did before and just as we would in our own kitchens.
The waiters start lining up dressed in purple aprons while each sommelier starts pouring one of 28 wines for the evening. It is just people everywhere as food leave the kitchen, guided by a chef, table by table as descriptions are given at each table of each dish. It is chaotic, but also organised at the same moment.
When all of this happens you realise the moment and the sense of the occasion. As all of us joined in a common goal in giving at that exact moment we chose to be there to be part of a great event.
As the night draws to a close the true magnitude of what each chef has contributed is realised, as they clean and pack away. Some enjoy a glass of wine and we say our farewells till next time.
It is hard to understand why we keep on coming back, because it is hard, it is not glamourous cleaning up after twelve at night, and tomorrow we are back at our respective jobs and life caries a on. As chefs in South Africa we are very privileged working with beautiful food. Everyday we get to experience smells and tastes and sharing our experiences with others is in small part what keeps us going.
It hard to choose a favourite dish or a favourite chef. But standing outside the circle gives a different perspective to all the madness.
Thank you to all the chefs who contributed and gave up their time, thank you to all the sommeliers for sharing their knowledge, all the wine makers giving, sharing wines and the artist who donated beautiful pieces. Thank you to the sponsors who gave generously to make it possible. Lastly thank you to the guests for supporting the art in giving and sharing. It will be missed.