The live chickens seemed like a good idea at the time, as did the parrots. That sort of thinking is perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the Grand Gelinaz Shuffle, the international chef "happening" that took 40 name cooks from 16 countries and dropped them all on the other side of the world to cook a dinner in an unfamiliar restaurant last night. It's an event designed to push creativity and was conceived with more than a dash of mischief, so the spectacle of live birds wandering around a dining room didn't seem like too much of a stretch. (Check our explainer on how it works.) Alex Atala had parachuted into Momofuku Seiobo, Australia's number-one restaurant, from São Paolo, and though his restaurant, DOM, is every inch the fine-diner, and not really a live-chickens-wandering-the-dining-room sort of place, he thought it might bring the evening a certain something.
Ahead of the chef reveal, black plastic covered the Momofuku Seiobo kitchen.
Several phone calls and Facebook requests later, it turned out that the only live animals legally permitted in Australian restaurants are seafood and guide dogs, neither of which fit with the mise-en-scène. "This isn't about me bringing DOM to Sydney," said Atala. The Shuffle is, rather, all about a one-night-only response from the chef and their host kitchen team to the meeting of minds. Some chefs had spent the week at their adopted restaurants, walking miles in the shoes of chefs who had in turn shuffled to other parts of the globe - Jock Zonfrillo swapped Adelaide and Orana for Brooklyn and Blanca, for instance, while Seiobo's chef, Paul Carmichael, found himself at Le Chateaubriand, in what was not only his first trip to Paris, but his first visit to Europe full stop.
Atala briefs the Momofuku Seiobo staff.
Atala, though, arrived later to Sydney, reaching the kitchen only the day before the event. He didn't seem particularly fazed by the tight turnaround, though, and hit the ground running. "I'm not nervous because I know I've got great support here." With Seiobo's sous-chef, Cian Mulholland, he tasted his way through the Seiobo menu, and shared around the Brazilian bounty he had brought with him or found here - vibrant jaboticaba, which the kitchen nicknamed "mystery grape", and bacuri, a fruit with a texture something like mangosteen but a remarkable sweet-sour-savoury depth.
Chicken hearts with soy sauce, chilli and coriander.
Brazil shares some of the same mix of culinary influences as the Caribbean, and Atala has spent time in the islands, so he found plenty to play with in Carmichael's Barbadian larder. The menu evolved quickly: chicken hearts with soy sauce, chilli and coriander, a stunning fish rice made with calasparra in a stock made from slow-roasted grouper heads. Mangoes were roasted smoky, their juice used to accent the rice and fish, the flesh puréed and served with macadamia and olive oil at dessert.
Atala serves chicken hearts and spring onions with Paul Carmichael's hot sauce.
Atala has visited Australia on several occasions and had been dreaming about the chance to cook with marron again. "The flavour and texture - it's the perfect expression of the taste of freshwater fish." He decided to use the koji butter it's teamed with on the Seiobo tasting menu, but gave the garnish a Brazilian twist: black ants crushed to a powder. "Your ants here - they're quite elegant."
Marron, koji, ants.
Come dinnertime and the playlists switched to Atala's tunes as the room filled with the scent of coconut and cassava. Caipirinhas poured from the bar and diners filtered into the room, not knowing who would be cooking their dinner, the open kitchen shrouded in black plastic ahead of the big reveal.
Atala rips off the kitchen's cover to reveal himself.
Meanwhile, in Melbourne, a room full of expectant customers at Attica find themselves transported to Hong Kong via Paris in the hands of Adeline Grattard, chef at Yam'Tcha, from Les Halles, while at Brae, two hours west, Blaine Wetzel brought a taste of Washington State's Willows Inn to Birregurra ("Everybody in the room left saying 'we need to go to this guy's restaurant straight away'," reported GT's Michael Harden), and in Adelaide, Swedish chef Mikael Jonsson, from Hedone in London, wowed Orana's Shufflers with his world-beating bread and inventive takes on Australian ingredients - not least the "Vegemite royale" with pea and radish flowers.
Three hours later in Sydney the Alex Atala fans were delirious with pleasure and those members of the crowd less familiar with his reputation had been well and truly won over. The Momofuku staff, both front and back of house, seemed thoroughly energised by the experience. "This is the first time any of us have cooked this food; I can't believe the team here," said Atala at the end of service. It's one Shuffle everyone seems keen to repeat. "They're happy, the customers look happy: I'm happy."