Let’s burn food!

The kitchen at Mugaritz (by Krista – CC license)

When you look at what Michelin-starred top chefs are doing these days, it looks like everyone is into burning food. Ash is on the menu at NOMA, with celeriac rubbed in hay ash and cooked in salt-crust pastry and at MUGARITZ, with an interesting dish of brined squid and ginger, garlic paste and a broth of burnt vegetables, as well as a grilled toast of bone marrow with herbs and radish ash.

Mugaritz – Dices of brined squid, ginger garlic paste and a broth of burnt vegetables

At NOMA, MUGARITZ and EPICURE, and some others, burnt leeks can be found on the menu, as the humble leek appears to be one of the most “burnable” products available. Heston Blumental makes hay-smoked mackerel, layering hay and mackerel fillets in a fish barbecue clamp and then blowtorching the hay-fish sandwich…

Danish chef Christoffer Hruskova does beef fillet in burnt hay. He burns 500g of hay until black, blends it into a fine powder and rolls his cooked fillet of beef in the hay.

Mugaritz – Grilled toast of bone marrow with herbs and radish ash

Using a slightly less direct approach, Pascal Aussignac, at CLUB GASCON, makes a juniper ash flavoured olive oil. He roasts 10g of juniper berries, uses a blowtorch to make juniper ash and then mixes it with 400ml of olive oil.

Adam Byatt, at TRINITY, simmers partridge, adds hay to the pan, sets it alight “to get the smoky notes coming through” and finishes cooking it in the oven.

Tom Sellers, at STORY, does a dish of burnt onion, apple, gin and thyme.

Clément Leroy, at AUBERGE DU JEU DE PAUME (2 Michelin stars), cooks “burnt mackerel & pink radish”. The fish is marinated in salt and vinegar before being lightly blowtorched. The flavor is more progressive than if the flesh had been smoked and the product retains its almost raw and unadulterated nature.

“It is a technique of Japanese origin named yakisaba, explains Leroy, yaki means “grilled” and saba “mackerel”.


Finnish chef Mickael Viljanen, at GREENHOUSE, uses burning branches of juniper for cooking shellfish on. He also burns liquorice root until it turns amberish and roast carrots on it. As he says, “There’s so much you can do. There are no rules. Last year I got some reindeer moss and smoked that with hay and it smelt like the woodland when it came out with the venison.”

At YLAJALI (Oslo), the menu includes (or included as the restaurant is apparently closed) three “burnt” dishes: grilled leek, hazelnuts, cress & löjrom with Røros sour cream; quail eggs glazed in brown butter and leek ashes, with potatoe and leek ash chips; and mussels baked with hay (which makes me think of picnics on the beach in Brittany, with mussels carefully positioned in a single layer on a plank, then covered in hay or straw, which you set fire to).

At EPICURE (Hotel Bristol), Eric Fréchon (3 Michelin stars) cooks “grilled leeks from Ile-de-France, seaweed butter, tartare of oysters, white pear, spring onion and lemon”.

Huge leeks, as black as charcoal, are used as containers and contain a mix of the leek’s creamy pulp, whole oysters, oyster tartare, spring onions and toasted rye bread.

To round things off, here’s an interesting little recipe which I encourage you to try: Burnt onion butter

Chop a small onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary, until dark brown and very soft. Let cool. Mix the butter and caramelized onion, season with salt and transfer to ramekin, smoothing the top. Meanwhile, oven grill sliced onions on a baking sheet, turning occasionally, until dry and completely blackened. Once cool, grind to a powder and finish by dusting the butter with your burnt onion powder.


Discover Chef Laurent Petit

A few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting Laurent Petit, who runs his two-Michelin starred restaurant “Le Clos des Sens”, in Annecy (France) together with his wife Martine Coin. The son of a butcher, he defines himself as a “culinary artisan” and offers an elegant cuisine that is totally grounded in his local terroir, in his case the three lakes of Annecy, Geneva and Le Bourget and the soil of the Savoie region. For more information about Chef Laurent Petit, visit https://www.closdessens.com/

« La création est un état d’esprit, toujours en éveil. La création est mon quotidien. D’un objet, d’une matière, de mots, d’une rencontre, d’un produit naîtra la prochaine recette.»



Discover Brazilian Chef Alex Atala

At 49, Alex Atala, chef and owner of D.O.M., in Sao Paulo, looks like a rock star. Sporting a red beard, prominent tattoos,  the man is one of the stars of world gastronomy. His restaurant in Sao Paulo, D.O.M. -Deus Optimus Maximus, “God the Greatest and the Best” – has been ranked among the top ten in the world for four years.


Alex Atala (CreativeCommons image by Lucasdeandrade6)

A prestigious status for someone who left school at 14 to discover the “big city”, became a punk DJ and did more than his share of drugs, as he freely admits.

Milad Alexandre Mack Atala, a descendant of Palestinian immigrants, grew up in Sao Bernardo dos Campos in southeastern Sao Paulo. At 20, he is backpacking through Europe. With empty pockets and a Belgian visa about to expire, he decides to enrol in a cooking school, the “École Hôtelière de Namur”, in order to stay in Europe. He discovers a passion and works at Jean-Pierre Bruneau’s 3-star Michelin restaurant in Brussels. He will then spend 10 years in France, working under Bernard Loiseau at Hôtel de la Côte d’Or in Saulieu, then in Montpellier and finally in Milan.

In 1994, he is back in Brazil and works in Sao Paulo in a Japanese restaurant before being offered a redesign of Filomena’s menu. This earns him the ‘best young chef’ award of the Brazilian Association of Bars and Restaurants. In 1999, Alex Atala opens Namesa, his first business. A few months later, he opens D.O.M. in one of the beautiful neighborhoods of the economic capital of Brazil. In just three years, D.O.M. gains national acclaim and, in 2006, it is included by British magazine “Restaurant” in its list of the world’s 50 greatest restaurants.

The Amazon as a culinary paradise
Alex Atala owes his fame to the Amazon, this “new frontier of flavors” where he draws his inspiration. The region has become his favorite territory, “a universe in its own right with an almost infinite wealth of products”. Atala is an explorer and can spend days in the forest, looking for new ingredients, from which he will create new dishes.

“The Amazon makes up 47% of Brazil, so it is normal that it occupies at least 47% of my culinary research.”


His menu includes insects such as saúva, a large Amazon ant, which tastes of lemongrass and ginger, served on a piece of pineapple. Atala serves pirarucu river fish, pitanga fruit, tucupi, a yellow juice extracted from the traditional cassava root of the Amazon, priprioca, a herb that was previously used in the cosmetics industry, but also flower ceviche with local honey or wild boar.

“The difference between being good, very good and exceptional as a cook,” says Atala, “is in having the flavours in your memory. If I tell you mozzarella tastes of Italy and miso speaks of Japan, then tucupi [fermented manioc juice] and ants are the taste of Brazil.”

A chef with a mission
Recognized as one of the best chefs in the world, Alex Atala has also launched the ATA Institute, which aims to rethink the relationship between man and food. “Far from Facebook, food is the biggest social network on the planet. It is food that connects us with nature on a daily basis,” says the chef, who believes in the power of social transformation of cooking. He now strives to defend regional ingredients, to protect nature and to defend small producers. “Knowing the path food takes to reach our plate already causes change and raises awareness in society.”

His other self-assigned mission is to save traditional knowledge before it is lost and keep alive “the recipes of the great grandmothers”. Atala claims this forgotten heritage, which he considers must be respected and safeguarded in the face of national laws that “aim not for diversity but pasteurization”.

D.O.M.: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients. Alex Atala. Photo © Phaidon.