It is quite unbelievable what a Danish or Belgian chef can do with buffalo mozzarella, the untouchable fetish of Italian foodies. Every year, this speciality – one of the excellent expressions of Italian fine food – is celebrated in Paestum during the convention known as Le Strade della Mozzarella (Mozzarella Roads): as is now the custom, chefs from all over the world gathered at this year’s edition in Salerno province to pay homage to an ingredient that is rich, flavour-packed, gutsy and voluptuous. They have also shown how this gastronomic delight can be approached with a completely open mind, totally free of any cultural inhibition.
From left to right: Paco Morales, Kobe Desramaults, Jacques Genin, Christian Puglisi, Sang Hoon Degeimbre
A particular freedom, owing to his multiethnic background, was demonstrated by Sang Hoon Degeimbre of the L'Air du Temps restaurant. The Korea-born Belgian chef is the prophet of food pairing, that is, the science of pairing foods according to their molecular base. Then he adds Korean techniques, such as fermentation, to products grown in the Belgian countryside. Sang Hoon also plays with such pairings as local-global and tradition-modernity, concepts that were condensed in the dish he has presented at the Strade: “I have tried to mix mozzarella with vegetables from my garden and with the Korean technique of milk fermentation”. The result is an acidic lactose juice, a buffalo infusion that teams up perfectly with a salad of pureed Jerusalem artichokes, Kimchi (fermented cabbage), Romanesco broccoli, artichoke, radish, red onion, yarrow, along with other ingredients.
Also straight in from Belgium comes Kobe Desramaults, one of the foremost exponents of the new wave of Flemish chefs, as well as being the life and soul of one of Europe’s most talked-about restaurants, In De Wolf. His approach to the great mother buffalo is disarmingly frank: “I have never worked with mozzarella even though I love it. I have tried to do so but it is not at all easy. Respect, mingled with curiosity for such a special product has led him to create a fusion between a Flemish grandmothers’ dish – potatoes baked in the embers and melted cheese – and mozzarella. The morning prior to his lesson, he went into the pinewood of Paestum searching for aromas. He came back with wood sorrel which added an acidic note to a comforting cream made from equal quantities of mozzarella and potato, serum and a small amount of blue buffalo cheese. Served with potatoes cooked in a mixture of salt and ashes.
From simplicity to the sumptuous Second Empire-style of the great Parisian pastry chef, Jacques Genin. Hopelessly in love with chocolate, he has set up his pastry shop like an atelier in which pastries and desserts are selected from an à la carte menu and made to order. In Paestum, he worked on buffalo ricotta: I have used cabbage to make an unconventional choux pastry. I seasoned the ricotta with oil, vinegar and vanilla. Then, I made an icing from the cabbage to decorate the choux”. The result is a sweet-savoury bonbon that can be served as an amuse-bouche or prior to the dessert course.
From France to Spain. Paco Morales is from Andalusia, a land that has witnessed the passage of Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Jews and Arabs, vandals and Byzantines. His project consists in gathering together all of these traditions and introducing them to modern times, as well as using vegetables and inexpensive ingredients as though they were foie gras. “I wished to spark a dialogue between vegetables and mozzarella. They have to converse and exchange ideas, as different cultures should do”. The entire dish is covered with a jelly made from mozzarella whey, a sort of moist veil that binds the various ingredients together.
A Dane of Sicilian origin, it was Christian Puglisi’s task to conclude the event, faithful to the theme of intercultural dialogue. The favourite pupil of René Redzepi is not content to just cook but wants to familiarize totally with his ingredients. This is why he produces his own stretched cheese. This chef from Copenhagen also likes to work with humble ingredients. In Paestum, he created a dish with Jerusalem artichoke, a cream of walnuts, pressure-cooked walnuts and fresh mushrooms julienne which he used as a sort of nest with hints of woody undergrowth for wrapping his mozzarella in. For Puglisi, the Paestum event was a sort of trip down memory lane: “it was not haute cuisine that brought me back to Italy, but something much simpler like the aroma of tomato and basil, pizza and mozzarella. I am attracted by the simplicity of Italian cooking”. The simplicity of the great white mother born of the Paestum buffalos.