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Classic Italian

Chef Andrea Sposini is reinventing the Indian Pasta besides cooking authentic Italian food at The Park

Emotional approach to cooking: Chef Andrea Sposini — Pic by K.V. Srinivasan

"THERE ARE two types of Italian food in the world," says Chef Andrea Sposini, who runs the `Scuola di Arte Culinaria Cordon Bleu' in Perugia, Italy, and is currently reinventing Indian pasta at The Park. "The type that tries to be Italian food, and actual Italian food. They're completely different products."

"In Italy, meals begin with antipasti, or appetisers, followed by various courses, all in small quantities," he adds, pointing at a colourful platter of typical Italian starters, which begin the Park's four-course dinner.

There's bruchetta, piled high with fresh, finely chopped tomato, thin rings of salami, crusty bread drizzled with olive oil and rich, fragrant slices of cheese topped with sticky, golden honey. In keeping with the spirit of Italian cooking, everything is fresh and the flavours are kept simple so they balance each other.

Sometimes, simplicity can be the hardest thing.

A cordon bleu

According to Chef Andrea, it takes a cordon bleu to achieve that balance of simplicity between local ingredients and imported recipes. "A cordon bleu chef is someone who understands the geography of places, their climate and, thus, the ingredients of each province. You need to understand religion — because how a person eats depends on that too. A cordon bleu knows all of this. And he also knows how to cook," says Chef Andrea, adding that besides his recipes, he's brought just `Cantina Tudernum' olive oil and wine to India, because getting the right ingredients here is easy. "They may have a different taste, but Indian tomatoes, for example, are just so good, that's not a problem at all."

The `Primi,' or first course, which is traditionally pasta, appears. We try the Penne alla Norcina, penne made a-la-dente and seasoned with a creamy sauce speckled with fabulously salty Umbrian sausage and cheese. Actor Jackie Shroff, who's sauntering past, pauses at this point to recommend the pasta. "Delicious. It's really good," he says thoughtfully, before positioning himself at the maitre-de's post to sign autographs. "Hmmm... maybe you guys should hire me for PR!" he adds, to the Park's completely charmed waitresses.

Strong roots

The second course, made of brinjal, tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil arrives next. If you like brinjal, you'll enjoy it. If you don't, you'll fall off the high pasta barstool with horror, for it's just layers of piping hot baked brinjal, interrupted only by junctions of cheese. Classically Italian.

"Fusion cooking will never catch on in Italy," says Chef Andrea confidently. "We have a strong connection with our roots, so there's major resistance to change. After all, for us food is a ritual."

Cultural gap

Which could explain his horror at the ubiquitous Indian pasta bar. "The concept of `make your own pasta' is ridiculous," he says flailing his arms about energetically. "It's like... if I come to you and say, `Oh, there's rice with lamb on the menu? Well, I want some lamb, some ham, some cheese, and some coriander. And I don't like cinnamon. How can you tell the chef what to make? This is a culinary culture gap'."

Dessert is smooth whipped cream made with sweet wine and served along with long, brittle biscotti, which is supposed to be used to dip into the cream. There's also apple pie, but in a very unusual avatar — made with fresh rosemary and a dash of extra virgin oil.

"I take an emotional approach to cooking," says Chef Andrea, anxiously watching people eat. "When you make even the most simple dish, it's a responsibility. They like you or they don't — either way you stimulate an emotion."

Festa Italiana is on at 601, The Park coffee shop, till December 12.


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