French chef Marc Veyrat is nurturing a new dream: to open a grand, eco-friendly restaurant in a forest to turn pork-gobbling Czechs into fans of organic and molecular cuisine.
"It's a project coming from the heart for the sake of a different, better life, organic food is the future," said the triple Michelin star holder, who also boasts one of the top scores in the Gault & Millau guide for his restaurant near Annecy in the French Alps.
AdvertisementThe plan, still in discussion with potential investors, is to create an "ecological restaurant" with a professional cooking school.
The venue is expected to comprise a "molecular laboratory" to process fruits of the Czech forest, herbs, leaves, berries or mushrooms, using the most rarefied technique in contemporary cuisine.
The "Glade Pub", a temple of stone, wood and clay designed by a Czech expert on eco-friendly architecture, is expected to rise in a forest near Beroun, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of Prague.
Zdenek Moravec, who sells fruits and vegetables in an open-air market in Beroun's central square, does not hide his doubts.
"Organic cuisine? That's not going to work here, this is for rich countries like Germany and France, but for us it's way too expensive," muttered the man in his sixties. As for molecular cuisine, he had no idea what it might be.
Pubs in this region offer the same sort of dishes found in the rest of the country: hearty goulash, meat with gravy, and a variety of pork dishes with bread dumplings and mounds of sauerkraut.
And the fare is all washed down with litres of beer.
In the nearby capital of Prague, health food shops are starting to spring up, patronized largely by well-off clients, the sort seen in fitness clubs and trendy wine tastings.
But Zdenek Rajnis, the father of the "Glade Pub", is convinced that "there is a real audience of Czech gourmets" who would be drawn to the restaurant, alongside rich tourists who visit Prague.
In recent years, the former communist country has enjoyed an economic boom, the living standard has improved and luxury shops and fancy restaurants have cropped up throughout Prague.
"There's no trustworthy biological restaurant yet, one that would offer quality meals and drinks prepared according to original recipes," said the Czech consultant.
Rajnis is hoping to "develop a cult of good food and good drinks to import a culture of healthy products and real taste", as an alternative to the mass and often mediocre consumption that followed the four decades of the communist regime.
An optimistic Veyrat, 59, says he is "sure that we will see in the next years an alimentary shock of the same amplitude as the current financial shock."
"It's not possible to go on infesting the planet and the human organism like this," he added.
At "La Maison de Marc Veyrat", his restaurant near Annecy, Veyrat mixes traditional cooking, wild herbs and "molecular gastronomy" with cutting-edge recipes based on chemical reactions to create new textures, colors and tastes.
A farmer's son, he has increasingly focused on organic products and speaks passionately about foodstuffs that "do not deceive" and about their importance for "pleasing the senses, vital hygiene, and public health". For several months, he has been working on setting up an ecological farmstead in Manigod, his native village in the French Alps.
For the planned "food temple" in Beroun, Czech architect Petr Suske has devised a wooden hut on piles, inspired by traditional deer-stands used by hunters to spot their prey.
At the moment, the site, a former military area, hides two disused warehouses of reinforced concrete and a few bunkers. Their demolition and the construction of the new restaurant is expected to swallow 60-100 million korunas (2.4-4.0 million euros).
All is ready on paper, but the economic crisis has put the project's execution on hold.
Veyrat has invested his fame and know how and won't abandon his enthusiasm in the project, as his Czech friends negotiate with private investors, a Czech financial group, and a Spanish hotel group.
But the chef has no doubts about the future. "The next revolution will see nature claiming its rights on the plate," he said.