Friday, February 27, 2009

OFF4 - Ominivore Festival 2009 Deauville

This week I attended something called OFF4 2009 - Omnivore Food Festival that was held in the Normandy coastal town of Deauville. It's a relatively young event - it just had its 4th year. Deauville is an easy two hours by train from Paris and is better known for its annual American Film festival in September. However, I suspect that OFF will put Deauville on the map for another reason!

I love the Omnivore Food Festival. I think it's a great event. It's attended by professionals in the industry - chefs, cooks, vineyard owners, restaurant owners and the like - but it's also open to the public. The two-day schedule was filled with highly talented and creative chefs (young and old) who shared their savoir-faire (know how) and philosophies. The music was modern, the vibe was good and the stage was well-equipped with a mega-projection screen suspended in the air, allowing everyone to have a good view, even back row seats.

In each 35 minute segment (approximately), these guys (yes, all were guys...) either gave an actual demo (anywhere from 1 - 7 dishes) while being interviewed (not easy!) -- or -- they participated in a "one-on-one" talk, seated at the couch area over a cup of coffee (called Café Confidences by the festival).

Demo with Chef Laurent Chareau

Café Confidences, with Pierre Hermé

I appreciated the caliber of the demos. The chefs assume you already know the basics. My head got a little overloaded, however, just a couple of times, and not because it was mostly in French. The logic occasionally slipped into lapses of complexity when the more avant-guarde chefs explained their subject. I should say tried to explain. It actually became amusing in all its complexity, where, at some point, the explanations went around in circles, out there and back again, still not fully understood....finally, the interviewer, equally perplexed at times, reached out to the audience for help to understand some of the more obscure ingredients or ideas being used!

And I was at a momentary loss when occasional terms were used very casually, such as "yuba", "umami" and "methyl cell" (that's New York speak for "methyl cellulose", you know, because...well, it just is). These moments were rare however, and the caliber of what was shared was consistently high and extremely professional. I enjoyed the Café Confidences for different reasons. They were simple and straightforward: questions were asked; responses were given. The dialogue was all highly personal, anecdotal and refreshingly honesty. No recipes given here, but better than that, we gained an understanding of someone's philosophy and integrity.

I attended the festival one day last year with Ecole Ferrandi (as part of the Sup 2nd year class). Everyone was impressed. In fact, throughout the rest of the school year, we tried to recreate some of the ideas we had seen that day. This year we also came home equally inspired to try to recreate and reinterpret. I'd say this is definitely a sign of a good event.

The first guest was Pierre Hermé (of my macaron addiction), and it continued with others such as Alexandre Bourdas, Laurent Chareau, Bertrand Grebaut, Emmanuel Renaut, Jacques et Laurent Pourcel, Mads Reflund, Franck Cerutti, Peter Nilsson, Jaques Marcon (son of Regis), several Italians, one chef from New York (David Chang), and chefs from Denmark and Spain - including Adrian Ferra, last but not least. Here are a few highlights:

Asparagus, egg, parmesan - Bertrand Grebaut

Chef Bertrand Grebaut - Agapè, Paris 75017

Salad Caprèse - Stephano Baiocco (Italy)

Brandade de Morue, PDT Vitelotte (Cod and Purple Potato)- Riccardo Camanini (Italy)

Eel, seared foie gras & mango - Katsumi Ishida (Lyon)

Explanation of how dish was created - Jordi Butron (Spain)

Ferran Adria - el Bulli (Spain)

The MC - who did an oustanding job! (Don't know his name though)

The take-aways for me were:
  1. Figure out what inspires you - it's where you can draw creativity. The Scandanavian chefs highlighted this point with the greatest flare and enthusiasm. They are absolutely crazy about nature - the changing of the seasons, the first fish eggs of spring, the first onion greens pushing their way through the spring snow, feeling the water on your face at the beach, walking in the forest....these are things that have inspired their plates.
  2. Stay open-minded. Always. Even if the idea sounds strange initially, or avant-guarde (examples: eel and foie gras with mango, or "dirt dessert"'s not really dirt, it just looks like dirt since it represents the forest! Refer to #1 above...well, maybe you "had to be there" for that one, and unfortunately,no photos to help explain!).
  3. Food artistry = a combination of perfectly executed technique + elevated artistic presentations.
  4. Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Strange ideas or concepts can lead to "creativity". We saw some pretty amazing creations.
  5. You won't suit everyone's taste, so don't even try. Do your own thing. I saw several chefs who seemed to embody this notion. They have launched new horizons by doing their own thing. And they have done it quite successfully, too, according to their own definition of success (ie, not necessarily financial).
  6. Simplicity on the plate - people want to see & understand what they're eating (even in the molecular food world). Modern. Clean. Simple.
  7. Push the limits of comfort zone, but bring us back to something familiar.
  8. New ideas come from questioning everything without prejudice. No assumptions; no presumptions; no thoughts about why something can't work...a child's approach to seeing the world can perhaps lead to more creativity than a rational-minded approach!
Donc, voilà. These are my interpretations of the event. None are necessarily revolutionary, per se. Haven't we heard some of these thoughts before? (ie, "think outside the box"....stay "young at heart"....etc, etc). It still serves a purpose to me, however, and that is to refresh my memory - something I need from time to time. Looking forward to OFF5 2010, announced to be held again in Deauville. Bravo.

P.S. Wondering what Omnivore means? Click here to see if you were right!
P.P.S. There's also a wine expo at OFF, but I didn't have time to check it out...too bad.
For more information about OFF, see their website (in french): Omnivore


Ludovic said...

I followed the link from and liked your posts about OFF4. I read that you did not know who was the MC. Well he is Sebastien Demorand, a french food writer.

girlcookinparis said...

Hi Ludovic,

Thanks for your comment, and for helping me out with Sebastien's, I finally know!