It’s mid-July in Madrid, and on the terrace of the Mandarin Oriental Ritz, where the temperature is approaching 40°C, Sergio de la Plata, chef of the hotel’s Palm Court restaurant, is giving the hottest gazpacho lesson intimidating with his life.
Around his counter are the heads of the presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and state receptions of Spain, Canada, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Monaco, Israel, Estonia, Ecuador, from Peru, Morocco, South Africa, India, Iceland, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy and Germany.
There was a poor performance from English-speaking nations. The Queen’s chef, Mark Flanagan, who is also the club’s vice-chairman, was supposed to be here but canceled at the last minute; President Biden’s leader also retired late. President Macron’s leader will arrive, but not for another day.
Understandably, de la Plata looks anxious. He calls on his elite helpers to spray cucumbers and tomatoes. He prepares his mother’s version of the recipe. Fortunately, the cold soup is consumed amid happy murmurs. Ulrich Kerz, the ironic German representative, who in his bold architect glasses looks like a Teutonic Heston Blumenthal, holds a bowl of tomato rubbish. “Staff food,” he says. The others all laugh. There are no boundaries to cooking humor.
This is the annual meeting of the Club des Chefs des Chefs, with the unchanging name, an event that the founder of the club, a man of unparalleled Frenchness named Gilles Bragard, calls the “gastronomic G20”.
“It’s the most exclusive culinary association in the world,” he tells me over coffee, one of the few non-alcoholic drinks that will be offered to me for three days in the company of the CCC. “There is only one way in – to be the leader of a head of state.” Heads of monarchs and presidents are preferred, but if they are not ready, the prime minister will do.
Applying is simple: you just need to apply to join, they check your credentials and you’re there until you leave the job. China is the only country to have two representatives, but Covid regulations prevented their presence this year.