When, in a cold morning of November, I flew to Sibiu, I flew into unknown. I have never been in Romania and I have never met Petra and Paul (You can read who are Petra and Paul here).. But I knew they were with I.D.E.A.L. Evolution creating something amazing and I was really happy to be invited to come and see.
What is I.D.E.A.L. Evolution?
“I.D.E.A.L. Evolution (Ideas/Development/Evolution/Abilities/Local) is our baby, our soul project,” says Petra. “It was born in Ireland, when we decided that it was time to return back home after all this time abroad. We were talking about this for years, but till last year it lived within us just as an idea that was slowly evolving.
In Galway, where we were living for almost 1 year, we have been at Food on the Edge (FOTE) symposium, and that was the point when we knew that we have to return home and do something for us and for our community. FOTE was a big inspiration for us, and Chef Jp McMahon gave us lots of information and support regarding organisation of this kind of events.
For the 1st edition, the I.D.E.A.L. conference has focused on “Building bridges through food,” because we want to create a a strong bound between the people from the industry, but on an international level. We had guests-speakers from 10 different countries who shared with us lots of inspiration and knowledge.
With this kind of events, the information is one step closer, just join us and engage. You have a chance to meet amazing guests, with different stories, from different countries, with different backgrounds. And at the same time the guests have a possibility to see a bit of the real Romania, with amazing produce, farmers, wines and great people.
This year, we are working on the second edition that will focus on a question : “How can help?” – it is again about community and how everybody can help each other and support each other in this industry. We will talk about the farmers, winemakers, chefs, sommeliers, front of the house … all of them are connected in a way or another. We just need to find ways to support and help people around us. Together we can be stronger and become a voice, not an echo.
Apart from the annual conference that takes place every year in November, I.D.E.A.L. Evolution is involved in other projects as well, for example pop-up events with #friendsfromaroundtheworld. We create an event with a chef from another country and invite him for a week in Transylvania to discover our terroir. We go directly to the farmers and take the produce from the fields, we go into nature with our biologist Miruna and pick mushrooms or wild herbs in the forest, we visit vineyards and meet the people who are engaged with them. So we create bridges and friendships and we exchange knowledge.
Now we are also working on a nice project with Astra county Library from Sibiu to create a programme for teenagers, especially the kids who are studying at the food technology colleges to allow them to get more information about what to expect after they graduate (in Romania we don’t have any catering and tourism schools anymore), to inspire them to work in gastronomy. There is a big staffing crisis in this moment also in Romania, nobody wants to work anymore in this industry. We believe that the culinary education is the base for the future. Without education you can’t achieve good standards in a country like Romania, where the food culture is basic.
So I.D.E.A.L. Evolution wants to be a big community of food & wine lovers, of people who help each other and support the farmers, who are proud of their terroir, of foragers and all the hardworking people who are doing big steps in this field. And the most important thing is that we want to be part of the change and create more educational projects.”
What was the greatest challenge?
“The greatest challenge was to make people understand what is the goal of what we are doing and what we want to achieve. Most of the chefs here still believe they know everything, and that there is no point in participating in events like I.D.E.A.L. Conference. It is very hard to change a mind of a person who never goes out of their comfort zone – the informations they get may challenge their point of view.
Another big challenge was and still is sponsorship. For the 1st edition, we only had two sponsors who believed in our project. Not even the hotels were interested to do a deal with us (getting tickets to the conference in exchange for accommodation for our guests). It is very hard to make them understand that everybody benefits from this kind of project. The most rewarding part instead was going around Romania and finding people who share the same mentality as we do. The support that they give us is a great opportunity to connect and keep the conference at a high level.”
What is otherwise happening in Romania foodwise?
“We are a country that keeps a strong contact with our roots and traditions. In the villages you will still find the old cooking techniques, our grandparents still follow the seasons and work in the fields. Without a base, we are nothing. This is our past and the base of our future.
We are happy to see year by year young people getting involved in farming and winemaking. They understand that by building on traditions they can create a premium product. These people with vision are the future of the new generation.
In the last 5 years, in Romania, the things are evolving in a good direction.
The wave of chefs with a new mentality is raising the Romanian gastronomy to another level. They have a massive respect for traditions, for the past and for our terroir. With the knowledge and information that they get abroad, in culinary schools or staging in the kitchens around the world, they are building a new wave in this field. Romania is not an easy country. We need to fight for every single step with a rotten system, a system that we believe will slowly disappear.
There are a few people, beside us, who are trying to bring the Romanian gastronomy to a high level.
Going to Bucharest, you will find Alex Petricean with his inspirational project NOUA, Alex Dumitru with Anika (to be open soon), Irina Marasoiu with the amazing Romanian spirtits PATER or Radu Ionescu with Kaiamo restaurant. Coming back towards Sibiu, you should stop in Brasov at Bistro de l’Arte where Oana Coanta, with her amazing energy and vision, creates new versions of the traditional Romanian food. Arriving to Sibiu, in the middle of the Carpathian mountains you’ll find La Pasaj, a family owned restaurant, where Andrei Luminea and his team promote the local products and the best Romanian wines and spirits. Ioan Bebeselea bring a different twist on the local recipes and Cristi Cismaru with his great project My Transylvania organized rural brunches. The producers are in close contact with all of the above. We have people like Daniel Limbasan (mangalitsa pork) and Food Hub Sibiu who try to establish the grounds for tradition. There are many winemakers as well who are carrying with pride the Romanian flag, people like Balacz from Crastelec Winery or Nachbil who are supporting all the new initiatives and projects. They will be happy to greet you as guest in their vineyard, so you can discover Transylvanian terroir. The real traditional ways of hosting tourists, you can find in Maramures or Bucovina, where the locals greet you with open arms and proper Romanian products. Actually, every rural region of Romania is still hosting guests in a warm way like they were taught by their grandparents.”
Any plans for the future?
“First of all, to continue and develop all the educational projects that we started, including I.D.E.A.L. annual culinary conference. We hope to welcome in the next years also many guests from other countries who will come for the event, but also to discover and enjoy the Romanian food.
My big dream is to open my own place, somewhere near a forest and mountains, to work as much as I can with local people, to explore new places with my biologist friend, Miruna, with who I am working another “secret” project. For now, it is just work in progress, so it is too early to talk about it.”
Now it’s on you! Go and discover Romanan food world. I.D.E.A.L. Evolution is the best way to start!
A few more photos from the days in Romania: