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Report from Le Grand Fooding Milan 2011 | Gallery
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Report from Le Grand Fooding Milan 2011 | Gallery

A “blind” dinner, 12 chefs from all over the world, and one provocative question: Are we so sure that the best Italian food is eaten in Italy?

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The pizza is served. But it’s that “sacrilegious” kind made in London and San Francisco, topped with untraditional ingredients like calamari, aioli and cherry tomatoes, veal meatballs, prosciutto, cream and sage. There’s also spaghetti, transformed from an icon of Italian cuisine into an infinite ball of string joining together the four corners of the planet. The mandolin? It’s been replaced by a brass band that breaks into music when you least expect it. Because, if the event carries the name Le Fooding, all the clichés go out the window.

After the stop in New York Le Grand Fooding returns to Milan and via Tortona -- the pulsing heart of urban design, for the second Italian edition organized in collaboration with S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna. And this year, the event - called The Triumph of Giant Spaghetti - focuses on Italian cuisine: «Having your hands in the pasta,» jokes the founder of the Le Fooding movement Alexandre Cammas, «no longer means you’re in an Italian kitchen».

So it’s time to make space for those who, beyond the borders of Italy, has managed to give a new identity to Italian gastronomy. For three consecutive evenings, four-act dinners were held. At the stovetops, four chefs – Italian and foreign – per evening, ready to take on a purposely provocative challenge: are we sure that the best Italian cooking is done in Italy and not abroad?

The challenge – Italy vs. the rest of the world – begins right after an “imported” pizza by Charlie Hallowell of San Francisco’s Pizzaiolo, and Jon Pollard of Pizza East in London, accompanied by a cocktail inspired by the Spaghetti Western films by Sergio Leone prepared by the all-female design collective, Arabeschi di Latte. The doors of the dining room open to reveal a dark space created by the architect Paola Navone, with long tables set with white tablecloths, tri-colour cutlery and small lights to help show the way. Above our heads, white “laundry” is hung on clothes lines.

As our eyes get used to the darkness, the first act of this dinner arrives: squid hot dogs with mustard sauce and raspberry and ginger sauce by the Italian chef Moreno Cedroni, from the Madonnina del Pescatore restaurant in the Marche region. We are all a bit taken aback by this version of the most classic of street foods: the hot dog? What does this have to do with Italian cuisine? «Even the most popular street-food in the world can be rigorously Italian,» Cedroni explains. «There’s my beloved fish and a bit of the regional cuisine in the breadcrumbs. You can still break the rules while maintaining the Italian flavour…»

Now, on to the second act: tepid “whoosh” spaghetti: a recipe by Davide Oldani. The only explicit tribute to the evening’s theme, the dish by the chef of D’O restaurant is a mix of citrus flavours – orange and lemon – with the bitter hint of cocoa beans. Just one thing leaves me wondering: whoosh? To understand the meaning of this name, the chef Davide Oldani made spoke into a megaphone, explaining that the onomatopoeic word illustrates how the dish is meant to be eaten: with your hands, and noisily. Hence, the “whoosh”.

Outside of the darkened room, the piercing chill of this late October evening begins to set in. Wearing a white chef’s jacket under a heavy down coat, the Italo-American chef Mario Carbone was constantly stirring the sweet polenta of fresh corn that would be the third act of this evening’s dinner, served with rock shrimps and Old Bay: a tribute to the two cultures and cuisines that make up his background, a veritable bridge between continents that come together on the plate. Chef and co-owner, along with Rich Torrisi, of New York’s Torrisi Italian Specialties, Carbone has managed to create a personal interpretation of Italian cuisine that translates well beyond the borders of Little Italy and does so despite his decision to import nothing, using only ingredients from the United States. What’s left then, of Italian cuisine? «For me, ‘Italian-ness’ is a philosophy, a series of techniques, handed-down lessons and traditions, » he explains. «I don’t try to replicate what happens in Italy on the other side of the world, but I want to serve New Yorkers the kind of Italian food that goes beyond stereotypes. That’s what’s behind this choice.» At his restaurant, the corn polenta is served alongside short ribs, and is a the dish that quintessentially represents Carbone’s view of Italian cooking. But when he crossed the ocean, it’s another story: «The most ‘Italian’ dish that I’ve eaten in Italy? Risotto: it’s better than a flag.» And the chef Fabrizio Mancioppi, who arrived in Milan from his Paris restaurant Caffè dei Cioppi, appears to have the same opinion. The fourth – and last act – of this first Le Fooding “Grand Banquet” is a risotto Acquerello (an Italian variety of rice found only here, aged for at least a year, grown only in Vercelli in the Piedmont region), served with smoked French andouille, porcini mushrooms, celery and lemon.

The next two evenings, the banquet is repeated. Friday, with Mauro Colagreco, the chef of Mirazur restaurant in Menton and his raw fish, with Massimo Bottura of the Osteria Francescana restaurant in Modena with his enigmatic "Milano da bere... o da mangiare": an ossobuco, a signature Milanese dish, compressed and reduced into broth, accompanied by puffed rice and served in a glass. We journey southwards to Licata and chef Pino Cuttaia’s Madia restaurant with his pine-smoked baccalà, mashed potato alla pizzaiola before venturing across the ocean to one of Pier Paolo Picchi’s specialty dish from his menu in Sao Paolo: tagliolini di pupunha (a kind of palm fruit) with arugula pesto and squid.

Saturday, the grand finale with an entirely European menu: fish burgers by Cristiano Tomei (L'Imbuto, Viareggio), beef tartar with horseradish, beets and carusoli by Giovanni Passerini (Bistrot Rino, Paris), bread, oil and anchovies from Andrea Berton (Trussardi alla Scala, Milan), and beef heart, Jerusalem artichoke and black pepper sauce by Christian Puglisi (Relae, Copenaghen).

The three days of Le Grand Fooding Milano came to an end here, closing this year’s edition. Only after, however, turning on the stove under an improvised spaghetti meal at 7 am, eaten in Le Fooding’s Milanese neighborhood by the initiative’s chefs and organizers. An authentically Italian ending if there ever was one.

Photo courtesy Le Fooding 

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