As part of the Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle, chefs will play an elaborate game of musical chairs. Who will be cooking in your city?

By Nikki Ekstein
May 04, 2015
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Credit: Ian Allen

Usually you have to pay a pilgrimage to enjoy the culinary creations of chefs like Rene Redzepi, Massimo Bottura, and Alex Atala. But on July 9, one of those chefs—or 34 of their contemporaries—may be coming to you instead.

Presented by San Pellegrino, the Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle is the first global event by the ever-eccentric culinary collective Gelinaz!, run by Andrea Petrini (respected food writer and chairman of the World's 50 Best Restaurants Award jury) and named in equal parts for founding member Fulvio Pierangelini (of Gambero Rosso fame), a Tuscan chicken, and Gorrilaz (yes, the band).

The concept, in a nutshell: 37 chefs will swap restaurants, homes, and lives, all to cook one simultaneous eight-course meal on July 9. Here’s what Petrini himself had to say about what inspired the crazy idea, who will be cooking where, and how to land one of the coveted seats.

Who came up with this crazy idea?

Last July, Gelinaz! was in Tuscany for a spiritual retreat—we were planning future Gelinaz! events and throwing a dinner party where we “remixed” traditional Italian recipes. We thought our next project would be a restaurant in Istanbul—we had all these great ideas and were ready to make the next steps. But then Blaine Wetzel (of the Willow’s Inn, on Washington’s Lummi Island) raised his hand like a boy in a classroom with a whole new idea: The Grand Gelinaz! Shuffle.

Did everyone think he was completely nuts?

First Daniel Patterson looked at him with a stern, serious expression for a few seconds, and then took up a cheesy grin—just like that everyone was on board.

But this isn’t as simple as chef’s taking over each other’s kitchens.

Not at all. These chefs are exchanging restaurants, homes, and lives. Each chef will live with the family of the chef whose restaurant he’s visiting. And each one will have to live in the other’s shoes: when they arrive at their homes, they’ll have to water the plants, or walk the dog, or pick up the kids from school. It’s like an Eddie Murphy movie or reality show. Remember that Trading Places film from the 80s?

Why go through all that trouble, though?

Imagine the chefs going to the market early in the morning, going foraging, going out with the guys in the kitchen for drinks—for three days leading up to their dinner. After three days of living as the other chef, they will have a deeper understanding of what goes into their restaurants, how differently they work, and the practicalities of living, working, and cooking in another city.

So who will be cooking where?

It’s a mystery! When you buy your tickets to go to Noma, the only thing you’ll know is that Rene will not be there. You will have no idea who will be cooking your dinner. The identity of the chef will be kept secret until the end of the dinner. There may, of course, be some leaks. At the Plaza Athenee the kitchen is downstairs, so you’ll have no idea. If you’re at Momofuku Ko, where there’s an open kitchen, you might recognize who’s behind the bar. But the chef will reveal himself at the end of the dinner.

How did you dole out the assignments?

We did a lottery. At first people were making requests, based off where they’d like to cook or where they wanted to travel. But that wasn’t fair—so we decided to do it completely randomly. We had two bags: one bag had the names of the chef, one bag had the name of the restaurant, and we drew pairings at random. We were all there and did the drawing together, it was a lot of fun.

Are you expecting to deal with any language barriers?

Not particularly. Even before doing the lottery, we asked all the chefs and restaurants to fill out an information form including the number of seats, number of services per night, number of kitchen staff, languages spoken, and so on, so that we could be prepared. The chefs will also arrive with an ambassador—a journalist like Alan Jenkins in London or Christine Muhlke in New York—who can show them around, help them source ingredients, and even translate if need be.

How do we get tickets?

The tickets will be on sale on Gelinaz! website starting May 13. You’ll need to be fast to get tickets—all 37 meals will probably sell out very quickly.

What comes next?

After this, we all need to get back into the kitchen! This is totally anti-profitable—you can’t imagine the amount of emails, corresponding, logistics, travel planning, that goes into an event like this. And it’s all a big passion project. So it’ll be a little while before the next event. We’re thinking the Istanbul concept will happen in March or April of next year. Stay tuned.