From pizza to pasta and risotto to radicchio, the latest edition of Identitá Golose in Milan covered the latest in the Italian food scene and then some. Laden with top Italian toques such as Massimo Bottura, Davide Scabin, Gennaro Esposito, the Brothers Alajmo, Corrado Assenza, Paolo Lopriore and International stars like Paul Liebrandt, Inaki Aizpitarte, Mauro Colagreco, Yoshihiro Narisawa, Nuno Mendes, Sat Bains, Mehmet Guhrs, Josean Martinez Alja and Magnus Nilsson amongst others, there was plenty for Italophiles as well as those just interested in good food. I will present the main stage presentations from the first two days of the Congress in several parts over the next couple of weeks. By virtue of English being my principle language, the discussions from the presenters who spoke in English will be a bit more detailed than those who did not. While I speak some Spanish, Italian and French (in that order), my abilities are not sufficient to provide the same level of detail. As such, I hope to provide a reasonably accurate gist of those presentations. My apologies if I missed nuance.
The Congress opened with Raffaele and Massimiliano Alajmo. Massimiliano, who at age 28 was the youngest chef ever to receive three Michelin stars at his restaurant Le Calandre, followed the theme of “the luxury of simplicity” to demonstrate a single dish, a black squid risotto. The squid,cooked sous vide at low temperature is paired with a rice cooked with a vegetable broth and in the “Venetian way” with very little cheese. Of course, the squid’s ink is used for color and the flavors are accented with soy, sugar cane and star anise (none typically Italian). However, in a more Italian vein, the dish is finished with oil, some Parmesan and lemon for a touch of acidity. In what was a portent of upcoming presentations, the Alajmos showed a video entitled “EachCook – Il Diletto Imperfetto (the Imperfect Crime), which, I believe, was a call to removing the superfluous and the baroque from cooking and returning to simplicity. The Alajmos were also the first to send out samples of their cooking to the audience. No, they didn’t send out the risotto, but they did send out a delectable olive oil cake with saffron and licorice oil.
From the Alajmos, the stage was given over to one of the presenters I was most curious about – Josean Martinez Alija, the young Spaniard who has been chef at the Restaurant at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao for 8 years already. I was not disappointed. Alija also showed a video of his work, portraying absolutely gorgeous dishes. He asked, what are we seeking and answered “beauty, health and purity.” Though he and his assistant prepared a couple of dishes, the one that stood out to me, especially as I got to taste it was his Small Tomatoes with Aromatic Herbs on a Bed of Capers. Presented in such a way that the tomatoes looked more like stones or potatoes than tomatoes, differernt varieties of tomatoes had been peeled then cooked in a calcified water bath to provide an exterior crunch, while keeping the center soft before vacuum sealing them with water and sugar syrup. Tomato water, cooked separately in a gastrovac with capers, is then injected into the various tomatoes, which are then painted with a variety of herbal sauces. The one I tasted had been lacquered with mint and was absolutely brilliant in flavor. Alija also made a risotto, but not an ordinary one. He used the parts of rice that are usually wasted such the buds, the husks and the outer skins and cooked them as one would could a regular risotto. Alija’s presentation certainly piqued my interest and vaulted his restaurant towards the top of my get-to list.
Ciccio Sultano of the restaurant Duomo in Ragusa, Sicily focused on using products normally discarded or simply not used at all in many fine dining restaurants. His style of cooking is a derivative of street food or cucina povera. He prepared several dishes including a seafood dish utilizing tripe, sea urchin, octopus and mushrooms and another with snails first boiled then sauteed with breadcrumbs and olive oil and served with mashed potatoes and marinated shrimp, but what really caught my attention was the last dish he prepared. Sultano created a sort of bollito misto using various organ meats including a part that I had never seen used before – the trachea. Mostly cartilagenous, the trachea is not something I would ever really imagine within a western cooking tradition, though given amazing results with items like beef tendons and other cartilagenous offal, I could imagine it within a Chinese tradition. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to taste it, but I do applaud his resourcefulness.
Following Sultano there was a break for lunch. For most of the attendees, including myself, that meant snacking at the sponsors booths. Italy being Italy, the snacking was of rather high quality with various producers of prosciutti, cheese makers, wineries, brewers, and more. A few sponsors had high profile chefs preparing dishes either as a full lunch or to hand out samples. Davide Scabin of Combal 0 in Rivoli near Torino was making pasta for Monograno Felicetti, while Corrado Assenza of Sicily’s famed Caffé Sicilia in Noto used stone milled flour from Petra in some desserts.
Davide Scabin was busy as he followed his pasta making stint with a presentation highlighting simplicity. His first demonstration was creating a dish with an onion that he called “Matryoshka Tropea”, separating its layers into individual sheets and then rebuilding them like the Russian nesting dolls called “matryoshka”. The onion layers were seared in an 18% vinegar solution then cooked in an oven at 120ºC for about two hours and confited with licorice infused olive oil and oregano and served. Each layer of onion was then filled with an onion gelee, caviar, licorice powder, oregano and sour cream and nestled one layer on top of another. Anothr dish highlighted offal as paired brains that had been sauteed in butter and sage with seared sweetbreads, red wine braised pickled tongue, foie gras, shiitake mushrooms, asparagus and bok choy. A further Asian touch was provided with a sprinkling of dashi. Another plate consisted of a variety of potatoes presented six differnet ways. His last dish was a “Spaghetti Pizza Margherita” made with interwoven bi-colored spaghetti substituting for the crust. The spaghetti had been cookedin water at 40ºC then woven into a pattern, vacuum sealed and microwaved. The firm, flat spaghetti was topped with tomatoe, burrata, basil, olive oil, garlic, chili, anchovy, honey and lemon peel. At the end of the presentation Scabin’s onstage assistant and pastry chef, Giuseppe Rambaldi was givn an award as “Pastry Chef of the Year.”
To be continued…