Mid September – still summer temperatures and sunny in Sibiu, still plenty of tourists taking photos of our medieval old town, still the main squares of the city bustling with concerts, outdoor events and a big crowd. And somewhere on the Mitropoliei Street, right next to the Big Square (Piata Mare), at Jules Bistro, in their summer garden, a handful of well known Romanian chefs from all over the country get together for 3 full days to bring gastronomy to a next level.
Transilvania Gastronomica – Food Culture Festival
Transilvania Gastronomica is at its forth edition and it has evolved year by year, considering the trends in gastronomy adapted to Romania and Sibiu. If in the first years of organizing Transilvania Gastronomică the aim of the organizers was to connect the restaurants of Sibiu to the small local producers of the county and to create and bring to life the concept of the Transylvanian New Cuisine, this year they wanted to bring chefs, restaurant owners, gastronomy passionate together to share knowledge, to learn from each other, to find ways to take advantage of the rich diversity of this country and to make it accessible to as many people as possible.
Through masterclasses, plenary discussions and presentations, the team organizing the event had one main message to deliver: that we should all learn from each other, that we shouldn’t see each others as competitors, but rather support each other in order to make a change in a country and food industry that relies mostly on processed and unhealthy food and that almost completely ignores local and small producers and healthy and fresh products, that also have a story to tell, not only about the taste, but also about the region and culture from where they come.
Because it’s via this approach that a country and its producers can still grow, keeping the globalization movement at a lower level and it’s via this approach that the identity of a region or a country is kept, adhered to and promoted. And in this way we can work on giving our children a better education regarding what they are eating, so they can develop healthy eating habits that they will later on transmit to their own children and so on.
Why in Sibiu?
Sibiu will be the 2019 European Region of Gastronomy. If it’s not enough, I would be adding to this a rich diversity of products and recipes and a multicutural society in a 900 years old city, plus some very talented and passionate chefs and some really cool restaurants that have opened in the recent years.
The Sibiu county cuisine is something to say the least, special. It’s incredibly diverse, a culinary mosaic with so many influences. In this region, we are talking of about no less than 11 different cuisines: we first have the people that have lived here (Romanians, Saxons, Hungarians, Armenians, Jews and Roma), but also the influences from Austria, Turkey, Russia, France and Greece.
Highlights of the festival (for us)
The three days of the festival were full of events and we attended some of them. From discussion about where are we heading to, to cooking workshops with some very cool and talented chefs, to presentations of professional cooking instruments, to visits to local producers, we had a bit of everything.
New Romanian Cuisine by Alex Petricean (Maize Farm to Table, Bucharest). Maize is said to be one of the best restaurants in Bucharest, that perfectly combines traditional Romanian recipes with a modern touch and with as much as possible local products. Alex Petricean is its head chef and before coming to Maize, he has worked in Geranium(3*) in Copenhagen, La Vie (3*) in Osnabruck, Quintonil and Central in Latin America, and Noma, which was declared 4 times the best restaurant in the world.
During his workshop, he presented some of his signature dishes from Maize – 3 classical Romanian dishes, but cooked for a fine dinning experience: a polenta dish with matured cheese and octopus, a traditional burger with Moldavian meatballs and a fish dish on a charcoal bed. During the workshop, Alex did a live cooking and explained all the steps of making the dishes, plus he shared some of his working secrets with the public.
Molecular Gastronomy by Mădălina Șanta – Mădălina has studied at the Paul Bocuse Institute in Lyon and is now mainly creating menus for Romanian restaurants. She is very passionate about the chemical reactions behind every dish, about making unexpected mixes of ingredients and super modern cooking techniques.
Her workshop on Molecular Gastronomy made us feel like we’re in a little lab, creating this time tasty and good looking food, not chemical experiments . She explained the basis of the molecular gastronomy, we played with all sorts of textures, we experimented the chemical reactions of mixing different ingredients together.
Wild Mushrooms by Alexandru Dumitru (Bistro Ateneu, Bucharest) – After working in the US and Germany, Alexandru has worked for the last 3 years at ATRA Doftana and starting this autumn, he is opening his own place in Bucharest. Alexandru loves to work with fresh ingredients and to cook simple recipes, but full of taste.
His wild mushroom workshop was one of my favorite. I declare myself a true fan of wild mushrooms so finding out about new ways to cook them is always a pleasure. Porcini mushrooms soup, chanterelle stew and pickeled chanterelles were the dishes that Alex prepared. During his live cooking session, he also encouraged us to cook and eat wild mushrooms, buy them from the people who go and pick them up from the woods, to learn to take advantage of such a versatile and tasty ingredient, during its season.
Truffles by Radu Rughiniș – Radu is a specialist in working with truffles. Via his project TrufArt he delivers fresh Romanian truffles, coming from local producers. About his workshop, what else can we say when it comes to truffles? That they are extremely delicious, needless to say.
The combination that Radu made with a fresh and fat butter bought the other day from a small local producer in Rîu Sadului and fresh truffles was a true delight for everyone’s taste buds. He insisted on the fact that the Romanian woods are full of truffles and that the Romanian cuisine should rely more on this ingredient when cooking. It’s a pity to see such a big amount of Romanian truffles going for export.
Besides all these masterclasses, a value added of the festival came from the plenary discussions that happened every day – specialists from the industry shared their knowledge – either talking about the relationship between local producers and restaurants, about the identity of the Romanian gastronomy, about trends and ethics in gastronomy.
Future through education was this year’s motto of the festival. And yes, this phrase says it all, it comprises all that I’ve mentioned above and in the end it it’s all about one main direction – being a model for others and a promoter of fresh, clean and close to you. Simple as that!
See you next year, on the 13 – 15 September, @ Transilvania Gastronomica!