Don’t miss the Albanian Gastronomic Evening, on January 3rd, 2019
By Ruben Avxhiu
A famous expression goes: We are what we eat? So, what are we, Albanians?
Descendants of ancient Illyrians, Albanians are one of the oldest people of Europe. When it comes to the Albanian cuisine as with various aspects of our culture, invaders and neighbors have left their influences over the centuries. It is safe to assume that Turkish/Ottoman, Italian, and Greek influences are among the boldest ones. Yet, Albanians preserve and cherish many original and traditional national dishes.
To explore the mysteries of the Albanian cooking, two friends, Nikolin Kola of Rrno Foundation and Fejsal Demiraj, Sous-chef of the world fame restaurant, Noma, in Denmark are embarking in a gastronomy expedition which aims to document Albanian traditional cuisine. The journey will take them to Albanian autochthonous regions in Montenegro, Kosova, Macedonia, Chameria and Albania proper.
To sponsor this historic project, they have announced a fundraiser in New York, on January 3rd, 2019 and it promises to become a dinner to remember.
Supporters who will buy tickets to the exclusive fundraising dinner will be feted to a seven-course tasting menu, served with wines from Albania.
The venue is historic too. “One if by Land, Two if by Sea,” may sound unusual for a restaurant name, but this is a classic spot, with great historic connotation, famous for the refine dinning experience, one of the best in Manhattan. It brings a lot of pride to learn that an Albanian-American, Zef Deljevic, owns and runs the place.
For those who don’t know, the name of the restaurant, comes from one of the first events of the American Revolution that brought the independence of the United States. Paul Revere, a hero of his time, was in charge of monitoring the movements of the British troops, in April 1775. He had instructed his people to send a signal by lantern to alert colonists “one if by land, two if by sea”, about the route the enemy was taking.
The expression is part of the American popular history and public memory. The poet who immortalized the event and the expression is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, coincidentally, the same author of the famous American poem about the Albanian national hero, George Kastrioti Scanderbeg.
Coincidences don’t end there. Although he is coming from Denmark for this event, Fejsal Demiraj is also a fellow Albanian-American. In fact, he is coming home. He is born and bred in Yonkers, New York.
“As a young Albanian-American, I grew up eating traditional Albanian food cooked by my grandmothers, Albanian Cuisine, put simply, is based on family and love”, he told me in an interview for Illyria newspaper, about the January 3rd event.
Fesjal had worked in restaurants throughout high school and later graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
His love of cooking has taken him to working gigs in restaurants all over the United States, Europe and even Australia. But his more proud achievement is his current job as Sous-Chef of Noma in Copenhagen. This place has been for years now considered the best restaurant in the world and it is the creation of another famous Chef of Albanian descent, Rene Redzepi. Fejsal considers him his mentor. His work there has given him confidence and he has designed the upcoming event as the place where Albanian traditional cuisine meets the experience of the world’s best restaurant.
Meaningfully, “the focus of the menu will be on Albanian ingredients and reinventing Albanian flavors”.
There is a lot of support for him and this initiative in New York and beyond and the tickets are selling fast. You can still buy if interested at: https://www.rrno.al/event/albanian-gastronomic-evening/
Fejsal and Nikolin Kola are co-founder of RRNO Foundation, a not-for-profit organization established by a group of Albanian chefs worldwide. “Rrno” literally means “live”, in Albanian language, but, in this case, it is short for “live to cook”. Its mission is to preserve, develop and promote Albanian cuisine worldwide.
“Albanian cuisine is often overlooked”, says Fejsal. “The coming generations of Albanian Diaspora know very little about their gastronomic heritage. We feel the need to show the hidden treasures of Albanian Cuisine and this is why we started this project.”
On January 3rd, you have the chance to support them and get a taste of what they are talking about. And maybe, maybe, we’ll get somewhere in finding out more of what we are, descendant of an old people, in the New World, with a cuisine all to be rediscovered.