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Down on the beach in Palma, Mallorca’s capital, an artist at work. The sun has long set, but the flickering fire torches planted in the sand are lighting up his work and the flashing flames from the barbecue grill illuminate his masterful moves. His canvas is a plate. His paintbrush a spoon. With daring flare, Michelin-starred chef Marcel Ress takes a scoop of parsnip puree and, with a slick wrist movement, spreads it perfectly across the wide plate. He spatters spots of a thickened raspberry juice around it, before tossing two perfectly cooked cubes of duck at the centre of the work. Like a culinary Jackson Pollock, the inspired action-painting chef effortlessly repeats this six or seven times on the plates in front of him, dazzling his audience who are hungry for his work. “You can take it now,” he says with a smile.

The 28-year-old chef takes a pause. He has already served up two fish dishes, both of them exquisite. The first, a razor clam fused with coconut and orange, the second, a sea bream balanced on perfectly cooked strips of mushroom and bathed in a beautiful green liquor. It tastes fantastic, but it is a colourful feast for the eyes too.

The next day, away from the heat of the barbeque grill in a spacious, luxury kitchen somewhere in central Palma, Ress is rustling up some more duck breast, pork pieces and fish for lunch. It’s a little bit of hospitality for Peter Olah, who is on the island for a series of publicity events (which included last night’s barbeque) tied to the KODIAQ, ŠKODA’s new SUV. Thirty-nine-year-old Olah is part of the design team who created the dynamic and spacious new model.

The KODIAQ seems perfectly at ease in a different kind of off-road setting: nestled in the courtyard of this city-central house. Olah, sporting a sharp jacket, with the added design detail of a crisply pressed handkerchief in his top pocket, admires his handiwork in the body of the car. Ress, decked out in his professional white chef’s tunic (with the added design detail of his name embroidered on the front), calmly moves about the kitchen talking about his journey into food. Between bursts of frantic stirring at the hob or blasts of cold water to rinse his hands, Ress reveals a rooted sense of tradition and a love for the local, coupled with a desire for precision and taste. It resonates with Olah’s design worldview.

“I remember a lot of flavours from my childhood,” says Ress. “My family makes a lot of homemade things. We make our own sausages. We have our own garden - we make our own jams and marmalades. It was the most important thing,” he says with a smile and a hint of nostalgia. “We always took care of natural products and healthy food.” So his craft and ambition is as much about nurture as it is about nature, then. Olah reflects the same thing when he implies that his parents might have steered his hand. “It was my father’s dream to design cars,” says Olah, “but it wasn’t possible back then in what was Czechoslovakia, so he did his own sketches, and as young boy I drew them with him.” When Olah went on to train as an architect, his mother’s influence might have been behind his drive. “My mother was from an architecture background,” he says, “and I was inspired by her.”

Marcel Ress explains a little bit about the precision that goes into the dish. He heats the pan and fries the duck at 62 degrees, not 63 and not 61, and he uses a little spice oil. “I pan fry it and let the skin cook, then add a little honey emulsion... It’s the honey that gives a sweetness to the duck. The parsnip puree adds something really creamy.” These are the details. And they matter. Olah expresses his craft by picking up on what Ress is doing and uses it to describe his own process in design. “If you come into the kitchen, you ask what am I cooking today. Will it be fish or meat? That will help define what the main architecture is and then all the small ingredients come in.” Enthused by the parallel he is drawing he continues: “Once you have the proportions of a car you ask: how do I make the front have character - is it with the grille, or the lights, or both?

 

Designing a car is like cooking. It requires perfectly balanced proportions, where the details give character and make the meal just perfect

Peter Olah, car designer at ŠKODA

The basic architecture, like the basic ingredient, is the car, but then come the details and the textures - and it is the details that make the character. Designing a car is like cooking. It requires perfectly balanced proportions, where the details give character and make the meal just perfect.”

The duck is sizzling as Ress presses it with a spatula and then with his hand. Another rinse at the sink and he casts his eye at the fish nestled on the side of the bench. He thinks out loud and his thoughts echo Olah’s. “There is a different kind of sense beyond just taste – a roast flavour to the fish, a little bitterness from the orange. Sharpness. The mushrooms are really cleansing after it. It is a whole combination of things. Something bitter, something fresh. The main ingredient is the fish and the combination helps the fish and lifts the whole thing up. Every ingredient can work together. And one ingredient mustn’t kill the other.”

Marcel Ress is calm and in control, he multi-tasks with ease – talking about his work while keeping everything at the right heat. One thing that he stresses is about staying close to the ground. Literally. His dishes are directly connected to what he can source locally and how he can build on traditional methods.

“I really like the old techniques,” confesses Ress. “Here in Spain, they have this lovely dish of roasted peppers and roasted onions. They are roasted on a barbeque at a really high temperature in their skins so it burns outside and everything cooks in its own juice. So I ask: why put the temperature up that much? So I slow cook the onion at 90 degrees and it should be caramelised and it has the same texture as raw onions but it’s spicy.” That twist on tradition makes all the difference.

Heritage and craftsmanship were at the heart of the design

Peter Olah, car designer at ŠKODA

A similar respect for heritage plays its part in Olah’s craft too. “Look at the rear lamp of the KODIAQ,” he says. “It has this clean surface – no complication – and the rear light is inserted into it and it looks so clear and so precise it looks like it is cut from Czech crystal.” Czech traditions played a huge part in the design, he explains. Cubism, which was born in the Czech Republic, is reflected in the shapes and lines of the car. And the famous Czech crystal glass production was a major inspiration. The red rear light, Olah observes, is “like a red wine in a prefect Czech crystal glass.” Heritage and craftsmanship were at the heart of the design, he adds. “We want to have the feeling that it isn’t only technical but that there is some poetry too.”

Tradition, though, is no substitute for an idea, which sometimes can be years in gestation. “It can take three to four years to design a car,” says Olah. “The first two years are more intense to get the look and the feel of it. Then there are the prototypes and the testing.” It took time, he says, to balance the off-road elements of the KODIAQ – its square wheel arches, the dividing line on the body, the assertive grille – with the spacious “democracy” of the cabin. Olah’s interior design skills were vital in defining that each of the seven seats allows each passenger to have space and freedom, and that the driver isn’t classed as the most important person in the car. That all took time to get right.

Ress’s creative process is similar. “You might have an idea for something and it can take two or three years for the idea to come together,” he says. “I might have an idea when I am walking home at night. And I get the inspiration that this combination could work out, you know the fish with chives and the orange and the mushrooms. We worked for more than one and a half years on that.” He explains how they experimented with the flavours, adding lemon oil, balancing the clam with the chives.

Both creatives, though, recognise the importance of their teams in bringing ideas to fruition. “Our design team is made up from over 27 nationalities,” boasts Olah, “which makes it very interesting.” He cites the head designer, as being like a chef who decides what they should be cooking, what the concept is and then “we sit together, discuss, sketch and start to work.” Ress agrees. “The team is the most important thing. How it works together. It’s really important. I say that 10 eyes see more than two and five heads have more ideas than one. You feel part of something in a good team. You are a part of the whole story.”

And with that the dish is done and ready to be served. Like the KODIAQ, it’s a modern creation rooted in tradition and craft and in its beauty and exquisite flavours it represents the changing nature of a meal, in the same way that the KODIAQ indicates the changing nature of a car. With its lush greens and splashes of orange, it is rather like Mallorca’s landscape painted on a plate. Chefs, it seems, are like artists and designers are like chefs, but both have that driving ambition to achieve perfection in taste.

You might have an idea for something and it can take two or three years for the idea to come together

Marcel Ress, chef

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