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It all started with one famous chef and a pot of mussels. When Mario Batali passed me that special tiny tasty black shell with lemon zest and parsley, a whole new world opened up to me. I usually don’t like mussels, I thought, so this must be a sign that this food congress was truly going to change our perspective on food: it’s all about conviviality and sharing.
Any sense of competition was killed straight away at la Birreria, where professional chefs are best friends and guests become part-time amicable food critics for this two-day Italo-American adventure at New York’s impressive food emporium, Eataly. Identità New York, an event organised with the support of S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, has highlighted the best of the Italian and American gastronomy scene, showing how important exchanging ideas between cultures is when it comes to food. Americans cooked Italian food and Italians cooked… different.
The first star of the day is American restaurateur Mario Batali, who entertains the audience with jokes and anecdotes, preaching on the coolness of Meatless Mondays: «After three or four bites of a big steak, I’m bored. I’m not done, but I’m bored. So Meatless Mondays, it’s not an anti-meat thing, it's a pro-vegetable thing.» Mario, the only chef not wearing a white jacket at the congress, preferred his usual shorts and bright orange comfy Crocs, probably envied by most of the public at Birreria.
Always pleasantly provocative and amusing, he presented simple but appetizing ricotta ravioli with mussel sauce. Drinking a generous portion of white wine straightly from the bottle in front of his guests, Mario scolded lazy consumers: «Do not buy the exact food from the recipe, buy the best of the food available at the store instead. Be creative. It’s all about the freshness and the vitality of the products».
When starred Italian chef Massimo Bottura spoke about his first memories of pasta – secretly eating raw tortellini in the kitchen as a kid – guests seemed slightly skeptical but quite intrigued. «Less is more» was his motto in this demonstration as he explained how we need to go back to the source, the ingredient itself, and increase its value in a recipe. Playfully experimenting with ingredients, Bottura cooked a compression of a Sicilian cannolo in a raviolo. «The raviolo is the container of ideas to express emotions», said the self-described part-time philosopher.
Southern Italian chef Gennaro Esposito explained the power of spaghetti al pomodoro on an Italian table while his US colleague Michael White was busy cooking Garganelli pasta with Grana Padano cream, Parma ham and radicchio.
Moreno Cedroni, from Madonnina del Pescatore, pleasured Birreria foodies with «a traditional recipe turned modern», an amusing multi-coloured cuttlefish of different textures and flavors, using beetroot and red cabbage to give the seafood beautiful bright shades. «This a very relaxing dish, thanks to the chamomile infusion of the cuttlefish», the chef explained. In contrast, Jonathan Benno, chef patron at Lincoln restaurant, cooked country-style tender octopus and potatoes, a perfect comfort food for every occasion.
Dozen of charcoal pieces entered the room, and a beautiful hot stone smell introduced chef Carlo Cracco’s speech on the power of using one piece of charcoal, in this case borrowed by chef Dufresne’s father, for cooking a raw king prawn with yoghurt and coriander and leaving it on the carbon to cook and absorb all the aromas. Innovative WD-50 chef Wylie Dufresne, who last week improvised a beautiful last minute six-course dinner for one of my vegan acquaintances, presented smoked cuttlefish, parsley root-sea urchin, fuji apple and parsley oil.
The avant-guard Piedmont chef Davide Scabin could be described as the pasta knight. For him, you need to treat pasta «the same way you would treat a beautiful woman», he said. To make a successful dish you need «ergonomics, functionality and, only after, a bit of esthetics as a good addition to the idea». Even the amateur cooks should know that «proportions between salt, pasta and water are fundamental for the perfect pasta dish: 10 grams of salt, 100 grams of pasta and 1 litre of water, that’s the rule!», he insists.
American starred chef Mark Ladner from Del Posto, wearing a light brown French beret and using his melodic voice tone to enchant the guests, cooked an extremely delicate pasta and beans with braised tripe meatballs. A simple dish, with intense flavors, and very soul satisfying.
It was a great pleasure to see Missy Robbins and Emanuele Scarello working together after all those years. Robbins was an assistant chef at Agli Amici back in the 90s, thirsty for regional Italian cuisine knowledge. Today, with her own restaurant in New York, A Voce, Robbins shows you don’t need Italian blood to make authentic Italian cuisine. Together they presented a dish of Cjalson, a versatile filled pasta, with dried pear infusion.
I wouldn’t be surprised if next year’s Identita’ New York features farmers selling a couple of onions and a carrot: as Batali said, «In the future, farmers are going to be the next hipsters, not chefs, because they can deliver food to you in a way that doesn’t have to be translated. Farmers are on the way up.» Because at the end of the day, it’s all about going back to the roots.