Keep in mind the name of Bledar Kola, a young and passionate Albanian chef who has built himself up through kitchens of Fäviken and Noma, to then return to his homeland, open his own restaurant Mullixhiu in Tirana and start a culinary revolution. One of his projects is Rrno Për Me Gatue (live to cook), a culinary initiative aiming to reinvent the Albanian cuisine. Three generations kick-started this mission at the renovated city market Pazari i Ri in Tirana: The grandmothers who kept the legacy alive, the skilled and experienced expat chefs eager to reconnect to their fatherland, and Albania’s young culinary talents in need of education and inspiration. I was so happy for having been invited to this exciting event and to get to learn about the traditions of a country where I have never been before, but sadly I had to cancel my attendance because of private reasons. What I did is looking at the event from the afar with a big admiration. What is it all about?
Isolation and poverty during 45 years of communism and its agrarian reform have almost destroyed any gastronomic traditions gathered in centuries by dismantling the ecosystem of small farmers and artisan producers. At the same time Albanian cuisine has always been strongly influenced by strong surrounding culinary cultures and it has been often considered the melting pot of Mediterranean, Balkan and Ottoman cuisine. However, the real identity crisis of Albanian gastronomy was faced during the post-communism transition years. Globalisation, along with massive migration and the chaotic industrialisation of food systems is the current big challenge of Albanian gastronomy.
The Albanian culinary industry and cuisine face great challenges. Albanian traditional cuisine is at the moment more curiosity than prevalent, and it is easier to find restaurants serving international cuisine than Albanian one. There is an urgent need to document and develop these traditions before what is left of the living sources are gone. In addition, Albania faces a big challenge in recruitment in the culinary industry. The educational system is not on the international level and the majority of cooking schools are mostly privately owned, and too often closely linked to commercial interests. The youth also need new and inspiring role models and they need to experience that their talents are wanted and needed in Albania and that they may have a future in this industry without going abroad.
Reinventing Albanian Cuisine
Albania needs to reinvent its cuisine in a modern way based on old traditions, in the similar ways as local chefs are doing it all over the world, finding back to its countries culinary roots and reinventing it, based on local and seasonal produce. This is a global trend that contributes to preserving and developing cultural heritage in a sustainable way, a strong counterforce to globalisation and mass produced industrial food. There are few chefs living in Albania working on these tasks, but this community is very small with limited resources. To strengthen this community, to be able to take on this great task, they saw the need to engage the elite, wherever they are, both in Albania and abroad, to be able to confront and work on this mission together. To turn this trend, they fell the need for a strong professional community. Albania’s diaspora is large and many of the country’s best resources are abroad, also within this field. That’s why they created “Rrno për me gatue”, an international network of the best Albanian chefs, inside and outside Albania, to reinvent the Albanian cuisine.
During this event they have facilitated discussion, experimentation, reflection and collaboration among Albanian emerging chefs. During the event they were discovering the evolution of Albanian food systems, their historical, social, geographical, economical influence and impact on local cuisine.
This event has been a new start for Albanian cuisine, raising consciousness both among professionals and the public, promote a reinvented Albanian cuisine based on local and seasonal produce and be beneficial both for the tourism and the agricultural industry.
The event and the network are engaging the Albania’s young, aspiring chefs and contributing to new hope and pride among these, showing them that it is possible to grow and develop professionally based on the Albanian legacy and reality without leaving the country.
As a reflection of the diaspora’s important role in this work, they started investigating what has happened in their country’s oldest living diaspora, the Arbëresh. In these communities, mostly in Calabria in Italy, Albanian culture and cuisine have survived and have been preserved for centuries.
Investigating the similarities and differences between Arbëresh and Albanian cuisine is sending a strong signal that they are acknowledging the importance of both foreign influence on Albanian cuisine and also the vital role of their diaspora in the preservation of this cultural heritage. They have collected a database of Albanian traditional dishes from which they selected 12 most authentic ones. These dishes have been presented to 12 Albanian expat chefs working at renewed restaurants worldwide. Each of the chefs has worked on a reinvention and creation of a new modern dish based on the old recipe.
During the event both the original recipe and the reinterpreted version were presented to an audience consisting mainly of young talented Albanian cooks invited to this event.
The traditional dishes have been presented by 12 selected grandmothers as an appreciation of their crucial role on preserving the traditional Albanian cuisine. After each presentation of the traditional dish; one of the invited chefs has demonstrated the techniques and methodologies used for the reinvented dish. The main purpose of the reinvented dish was to present modern cooking techniques, while strictly maintaining the structure and the authenticity of the traditional one.
Another important element of the show was the use of local products for all the recipes and dishes. During the event they have invited the local producers to present their products.
Who were the chefs who participated?
• Etiana OSMENZEZA Firenze Italy
• Roland BUKRI Osticcio Enoteca Italy
• Mario PEQINI Piazza Duomo Italy
• Ardit CURRI San Marino 26 Italy
• Bleri DERVISHI Lomoi Italy
• Loris Pema Milan Italy
• Fejsal DEMIRAJ Noma Denmark
• Besnik GASHI B.A. R Malmo Sweden
• Albert HAZMA Elounda Greece
• Rahman BUQAJ Brussels Belgium
• Erion Karaj London UK
• Pol Pocari New York USA
All best to Bledar Kola and his team. I am really looking forward to following the future of this fascinating project.
Enjoy some more of the amazing dishes: