Nov 20: Celebrating the World Week of Italian Cuisine for the fourth year, the Italian Trade Agency (ITA) formerly known overseas as ICE, organised a Culinary Trip to Italy with Executive Chef Ivan Chieregatti of Hyatt Regency Delhi creating a live kitchen, and curated by Dr. Alessandro Liberatori, the new Trade Commissioner, along with the well-known nutritionist Ishi Khosla talking about the benefits of Mediterranean food with wine, writes Subhash Arora who was impressed with the wines served as accompaniment with the food
Welcoming the full house bursting at its seams, Dr. Alessandro Liberatori, the recently arrived Director of the Italian Trade Agency, said that food and wine were important segments in the Italian economy. India was the sixth largest food consuming country and hence an important partner from the Italian point of view for its local products. He looked forward to more awareness about the Indian cuisine which is healthy and tasty through several programs conducted in schools and restaurants by ITA. A short film on Italian gastronomy and we were ready to watch Chef Ivan Chieregatti start the journey with Spaghetti with fresh tomato and basil. He has been the Executive Chef at Hyatt Regency for 3 years now and directly overseas the La Piazza kitchen.
Ishi Khosla, a well known nutritionist was at hand to talk about the health aspects of Italian food and debunk a few myths that have been built around Italian comfort foods like pizza and pasta or even olive oil. As the Chef started the simple Spaghetti dish with tomatoes and basil with sea salt as ingredients, she explained that al dente, a specialty of Italian pasta, made it easier to digest, besides adding to the taste.
As Chef Ivan splashed cooking water and some more olive oil, she talked of the benefits of olive oil in cooking- it has Mono-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs) which are a healthy type of fat. It is the only oil which is made from fruits and not seeds and has anti-oxidant properties that no other oils have. It’s a myth that it cannot be used in Indian cooking or it is harmful when used for frying at higher temperatures. The flash point is quite high but it would be a bit too expensive for frying.
The secret of good cooking, as he made Ravioli pasta with asparagus, parmesan, porcini mushroom and poured prosecco while making the sauce, was that olive oil, olive oil and more olive oil was the most important ingredient for all his dishes. Though he recommended the use of white or black truffles or even truffle oil and is known to use different wines in his cooking including Prosecco which he used with his Ravioli today. ‘Wine is an important ingredient in my cooking. I make generous use of white wine in my risotto, pasta and sea-food and red wine in meats, duck etc I don’t believe in having a sommelier sell the wines but would like the customer to make that decision voluntarily since my food cries for wine,’ he told delWine.
In essence, the evening was about Mediterranean food which Italian food is. Ishi talked about Sicily where there are uncountable numbers of centenarians living a very healthy and active life partly due to this diet. She stressed that most oils except olive oil, created inflammation in the body and that was the root cause of several chronic diseases like diabetes, heart problems, strokes and even cancer. She also clarified that pomace oil does not have the anti-ageing properties.
‘Hard cheese is good for you and fresh cheeses like Ricotta, Mozzarella and Mascarpone used in Italian cuisine are good for health.' She tried to break the myth that pastas and pizzas are junk food. 'Durum and wheat based pastas and pizzas are actually healthy foods, thanks also to the olive oil,’ as the chef rolled the bread with thick raised edges and poured tomato sauce and some mozzarella before shoving a pizza in a small oven that looked like a juggad for an oven but did a fabulous job of dishing out an excellent Napolitana vegetarian Margherita Pizza. It was good to know that though the pizza dished out at La Piazza is thin crust Romano but on special request, Chef Ivan can also dish out the Napoli version which has a huge fan following across the world too. This was served with the Brancaia TRE 2015 wine from Chianti Classico area of Tuscany.
Wines of the Evening
Wines poured with each dish sampled and later at the dinner were a real surprise. All the three wines were respectable, medium priced wines that one can relish any time-the first one even without food and the last one with red meats, mushroom or aubergine dishes.
Bersano Costalunga Barbera d’Asti 2015 DOCG 13.5 %
Produced in Nizza Monferrato in Piemonte, an area of production which got an upgrade from Barbera d’Asti, to its own appellation Nizza docg, I was surprised that the label did not so indicate. Relatively a simple wine with no apparent oak on the palate, the juicy wine was drinking perfectly on its own as well as with the spaghetti with tomatoes.
Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico DOCG 2016
The evergreen and ever popular Chianti Classico from the big daddy Antinori from Tuscany, thanks to the efforts of Sanjay Menon of Sonarys, this wine is really classy with bright acidity that can match the acidity in tomato paste in the pizza it was served with and also the stuffing in the Ravioli. A great match with all 3 dishes of the evening- a generous wine with juicy aftertaste. This was the best wine for Chef Ivan’s pop-up kitchen.
Brancaia TRE IGT 2015
A blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot, this wine has a beautiful balance with the power and structure of Cabernet Sauvignon, sweet and juicy flavours of the lush Merlot and the red cherry zinginess of Sangiovese giving it fresh acidity on the mouth. However, it is designed for fuller bodied meats like mutton and lamb and was a bit too strong for the vegetarian pizza though it did play with cheese and tomatoes as the elements.
Usually wines are the protagonists at wine dinners but today they were like wedding partners for the simple and light but fresh and excellent dishes by Chef Ivan, and were talking to the dishes on the palate. This was a great example of the well established paradigm that the Italian cuisine (Primo Piatto) is basically delicious but simple (good chefs make it look even simpler to cook!), without complications, uses a lot of olive oil, basil and cries for wine. Perhaps this is a reason why every table serving Italian food in an Italian Restaurant like La Piazza generally sees a bottle of wine-Italian for an authentic experience. The Italian Trade Agency has showcased the special gastronomy very subtly.
A special mention must be made of the outstanding Tiramisu which Chef Ivan demonstrated but one could eat a cupful of at the buffet which was on the lines of La Piazza. The staff including the wait staff did a yeoman’s service both at the demo hall and the buffet. The service is always excellent at their restaurants but sometimes leaves a sour taste at such events with hordes of people but today it was as if the whole of La Piazza came alive- for food quality as well as service. Kudos to the staff!
Hopefully, the participants at the live cooking demonstration-cum-dinner with wines at Hyatt Regency would help make the authentic Italian cuisine more popular with wine.
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