Food Glorious Food
dREAMSCAPE was both delighted and honoured to have the opportunity to witness the culinary showmanship of world–renowned genius chef Heinz Beck in his natural element—the kitchen of the exclusive Michelin three star La Pergola restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Rome.
La Pergola is one of the most romantic restaurants in the Italian city, with a glorious view of Roman city with Michelangelo’s dome of St Peter’s Basilica shining in the distance.
Chef Beck is famous for bringing adventure and a modern twist to his menus that goes beyond all normal imagination as he delights in breaking the rules of traditional culinary presentation with a touch of eccentricity.
He is very much an old school luxury chef, preparing his dishes with a twist of modern tricks through his one-of-a-kind kitchen appliances, including one that separates the liquid from the matter in vegetables that was deigned to be used for medical, not culinary purposes.
World-renowned as a Master of Gastronomy, Chef Beck’s unique interpretation of the “modern” kitchen goes beyond his undisputed culinary talent, and includes the utmost attention toward the selection of ingredients and their transformation into highly innovative flavours.
Beyond an excellent career as a highly decorated chef, he has been heralded as a leader in Italian and Mediterranean culinary traditions. Receiving numerous awards, Chef Beck has been recognized by Michelin, Bibenda, Gambero Rosso and L’Espresso, to name but a few.
His profound understanding of culinary culture is revealed in his numerous books, which address more than culinary practices, including his recent best seller L’Ingrediente Segreto (The Secret Ingredient).
As executive Chef at La Pergola since it’s opening in 1994, Chef Beck has carefully crafted the restaurant’s reputation, receiving its first Michelin star in 1999, it’s second in 2001, and it’s third in 2006.
Every single one of his dishes is a result of intense experimentation, sometimes taking up to six months to perfect – testimony to the talent, attention to detail and very high standards and expectations of Chef Beck.
How do you get the inspiration that is transcended into your cooking?
Inspiration touches you on a daily basis and in everything you do. I can be taking a walk and see a beautiful flower, then ask myself questions that will then lead to the way I present my food.
How do you compare yourself against other celebrity chefs?
I don’t really study, be aware or watch what other chefs are doing. Innovation should come from within and, in fact, from life outside of your industry. My innovation comes from the way I ask myself questions and find out the answers, rather than copying what other chefs have done and perfecting them.
Can you give me an example of your innovations?
Well, I was once a judge here in Italy for choosing the best pizza made by famous Italian pizza bakers. In conjunction with the competition, I was asked what could be done to innovate the pizza making. I humbly took up the challenge and started by thinking through which part of the pizza could be enhanced. A pizza basically consists of three components: the dough, the filling and the topping. But through generations the best flour for the dough, the best ingredients for the filling and the best toppings have already been tested and developed. So I asked myself, what has not been tried before to my knowledge, and I came to the conclusion that the water used for the dough could be innovated. After lots of experimenting in my kitchen, I came up with a water composition for the dough that came from the water centrifuged out from one cubic metre of basilica and a dozen fresh tomatoes. By adding this water to other best ingredients, a pizza was created that even surprised the Italian pizza bakers.
When I had the pleasure of trying your food at yesterday’s dinner, you served a delicious desert consisting of a sorbet ball beautifully matched with a chocolate cake and berries. How did you make that fantastic and light sorbet ball that only had the sorbet on the shell of the ball and was empty inside?
Instead of answering the question, Chef Heinz took us to the kitchen and showed us. A small balloon is filled with a melted sorbet, tied up as a small ball and rolled by hand quickly in a machine filled with very cold carbon hydrate. After a couple of minutes of rolling the sorbet content is frozen on the inside of the balloon and the plastic balloon is removed. Voila! a thin sorbet ball has been created with an empty inside
As part of our adventure theme, we sat down with Philippe Capezzone, the owner and developing force behind the Le K2 Altitude and Le K2 Palace in Courchevel–one of themost expensive skiing areas in the world–to discover his vision and learn why he builds and runs his luxury adventure experiences.
So, what’s the attraction of Courchevel, and Le K2 Palace and Le
K2 Altitude, for travellers?
I think it’s a mistake to sell the ski resorts solely only for advanced skiers. Today you
want to target people who don’t know how to ski, but then learn to ski, and find the beauty of skiing, and combine this with gastronomic delights – there are six Michelin two stars in Courchevel. I think there are many clients who want to travel like this. Another important factor is the shopping. If you don’t know how to ski, it doesn’t matter. Outside of skiing, we sell fresh air and nature. We combine skiing, lifestyle and food.
How did you get into the hotel business?
I was a property developer, building many chalets. We have roughly 60 chalets in Courchevel. I developed chalet concepts and had my own construction company. Some 18 years after it was first built, the whole Kilimandjaro Hotel was for sale, and my company bought it. We bought it because we wanted to build chalets, but in the end we decided to be a hotel. Back then we didn’t know the hotel business when we started, but our concept was chalets which are run like hotel bedrooms.
I surrounded myself with fantastic people in the beginning, trusted people, and people from the hotel business. This is where I learned to be a hotelier. I didn’t want to go into hotels to copy, I wanted to develop, decorate, be an architect, and make my own service. When you build something, you need to build your soul. When you start something, you need to make it your signature.
How long did it take you to learn the hotel business?
The hotel business, you never learn totally. You need to improve all the time. I love another of my hobbies. I fly helicopters. I compare it to the hotel business. After 10 years of being a pilot, I still learn new things everyday. You have to be humble and be open to new things, you need to learn new things, you need to learn forever. The day you don’t learn new things, you’re finished. If something is too easy, I don’t want to go into it.
I met one of my clients who is one of the UK’s top richest. He wanted to buy a chalet, but at 55 he was not sure if he could continue to ski. He asked me if I had anything, so I told him that in few months I would let him know. Then I sold him two chalets at Courchevel. There, even when he is 80 years old, he can still ski, because Courchevel has that flat easy going area up to advanced. Plenty of space to move and ski to everyone’s skills.
You specialize in chalets, how did that come about?
I never liked big buildings. Chalets have a human size. And the materials play around rocks and wood – you have to adjust to nature. A chalet has roots for a family. Before
becoming a ski chalet, people used to live here, a family. People have a chalet, with the animals, they farm, it’s a way of life. I didn’t feel it was interesting to build big buildings like apartments. Family and nature are important as they give you quality of life.
How did you end up with Tibet as your main theme for K2?
My first hotel was K1 – Kilimandjaro, from Africa. The name was already there. So, for the second hotel, I thought, which name is not too far from that? K2 is a mountain in Tibet. If you build an apartment on a mountain, you don’t want it to look like it’s in New York. Tibet is on a high summit, in a mountain area, so K2 and Tibet seemed perfect for the second hotel at Courchevel. We then started to develop the concept of Tibet, did the research, hired a designer – a French designer. The décor is more of my wife’s concern, the designer and the team.
When you build something, you need to feel the energy of the area. When I bought the K2, it was a forest. I knew this place was a good place. I feel the energy; I feel I’m at the right place. People told me that the area is on the side of the mountain, so you don’t have the sun the whole day. But I don’t care; it’s the view that counts. You will be outdoors anyway. You have the energy that was the blessing. The view is the most important thing. I saw the mountain turn orange, and felt “WOW!” In the morning you see the sun. I feel it’s the right place to develop a project.