One of the first presentations I saw during the Starchefs ICC was Mathias Dahlgren’s workshop, wherein he took apart a whole New York cauliflower and reassembled it on various plates. As soon as these were distributed, the morsels on top were quickly devoured by a hungry and hung-over Sunday morning crowd. As good as Chef Dahlgren’s cauliflower was, that was not the reason for his presentation. Ironically, the most informative and beautiful part of his workshop was the video he prepared to show off his philosophy, his methods, and the two restaurants that he operates at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden. You can see a shortened version here: http://vimeo.com/37654192.
Though unified under the banner of great food, each restaurant serves a different purpose. The Food Bar (Matbaren) focuses on high-quality food prepared quickly, and in an exciting environment. The Dining Room (Matsalen),on the other hand, is more refined and operates at a slower pace. Though each restaurant operates differently, they both follow Dahlgren’s close attention to detail and innovative spirit which won him the Bocuse d’Or in 1997.
What is it, exactly, that distinguishes Chef Dahlgren’s food from the competition? He emphasized – both in his workshop and his main stage presentation – that he cooks without recipe. Each day he cooks depending on what is the best food in his kitchen, and each day he adjusts proportion appropriately. This, he says, is the secret to great cuisine. Since ingredients do not stay constant – they vary not just seasonally, but daily too – as a chef it is his responsibility to stay aware and provide his customers with the best experience based on his intuitions.
This philosophy constantly informs his choice of menu at his two restaurants, and also how he performs similar dishes over time. It informed his cauliflower presentation on Day 1. He did not come over from Sweden with a pre-planned preparation; rather, he claims that he found the best-looking cauliflower at the market and came up with his course on the spot. I can confirm that it was a beauty, and he proved skill in manipulating the various parts of the cauliflower (stalk, leaves, bulb) in different ways in front of everybody.
His main-stage presentation was similarly impressive, if less intimate by its very nature. After watching the same video he showed on Day 1, Chef Dahlgren and his sous-chef prepared a few other examples of more-complex (but no less complete) courses out of more than a single ingredient. Indeed, the New-Naturalist movement is in good hands if Chefs Dahlgren, Redzepi and others continue to do what they do.
All Photos by John M. Sconzo, M.D.