A variety of tomatoes in Italy, a variety of rice in India, Chef Armando Di Filippo, hosting an Italian food fest at Crowne Plaza, loves the difference and the sameness of two cuisines

The very mention of Italy evokes a myriad of thoughts in the mind. The flowing canals of Venice, the cathedrals of Rome, the fabled automobiles of Ferrari and Lamborghini, the rich art and culture from the days of the Renaissance, the list goes on. But Italy’s most appreciated contributions have been of the gastronomic variety, with people the world over thanking the country for pizza, pasta, lasagne, spaghetti and risottos, among other things.

Chef Armando Di Filippo is an example of the Italian love for food. His father, mother and brother are into cooking and as a result Armando found himself a dab hand around the kitchen when he was in his teens. Keeping with family tradition, he ran a restaurant in Italy before closing it down and coming to India a little over two months ago. “I have been working with food since a young age, and have worked at bakeries, pizzerias, bars and restaurants in Italy. Then my mother shifted to India about 20 years ago to stay in Puttaparthi where she ran a restaurant and then an Ayurvedic massage centre for some time before settling in Bangalore. So when I came to India I worked at a restaurant in Bangalore training the staff in Italian cuisine before coming to Kerala,” says Armando, who is in town to oversee the Italian food promotion that is on at the Crowne Plaza hotel in the city.

Armando is animated as he speaks about preparing food, rushing through descriptions of minute details and garnishing. He says the love for food is one of the characteristics that is common between the people of India and Italy, though the methods of preparation and the ingredients used vary widely. “Both Indian and Italian cuisines rely heavily on vegetables and meats, but there are some subtle changes. For example Italian dishes use many different kinds of tomatoes but in India there is usually only one kind. On the other hand we have maybe three or four kinds of rice in Italy but I have noticed close to 10 kinds here. It is a great experience trying Indian food though I’m being careful not to eat too much because of the spiciness,” he says jovially.

Armando says he has not had the chance to explore much of the country yet, despite this being his second visit to India. “I came once back in the early 90s for a short tourist visit, but this is my first time on a longer stay. I did not have much time to explore in Bangalore and have not had the chance to step out here either, despite having a scooter. I am planning to look for a job in Bangalore though, so I hope to see more of India soon,” he says.

Talking about the food scene in the country, Armando believes that the average Indian is now much more aware about different kinds of food and how they are made, often frequenting different restaurants and comparing dishes. “It is good to see the food culture evolving. There is a certain curiosity that I have noticed in the people here that makes it easy to explain to restaurant patrons and train chefs,” he says.

Now that he is planning to shift base to Indian shores, what is the possibility of seeing authentic Italian restaurants here? Armando throws up his hands with a smile, “Who knows? I have been toying around with many ideas. Mixing Indian and Italian dishes is one among them. India is a land of opportunities, so anything can happen.”

His willingness to talk about the finer points of cooking a dish for hours on end shows his unbridled enthusiasm for the culinary art.

And whatever the reasons for his decision to contribute to the food culture in India, a glimpse of how he can give an Italian twist to a simple preparation of fish is enough to convince us that good things lie ahead. The Italian food fest is on till October 13 for dinner.

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