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Flouting pizza tradition

india Updated: Jan 06, 2011 02:31 IST
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In chef Massimo Bottura’s hands, the traditional Italian peasant pasta and bean dish known as pasta e fagioli is rethought as a gustatory metaphor for the people who have influenced him.

A cream of beans and foie gras represents French chef Joel Robuchon. A rosemary froth pays homage to Spaniard Ferran Adria. Bottura epitomises a new generation of Italian chefs who are shaking up the classics and finally getting the acclaim they deserve. Eight years ago, he nearly closed his restaurant, Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, because local diners didn’t appreciate his conceptual, avant-garde cuisine. Last October, the restaurant guide of the esteemed magazine L’espresso crowned him the country’s top chef and gave him the highest score they have ever granted, 19.75 out of 20.

In Italy, polenta dates back to Roman times and eyebrows raise when bolognese sauce covers any other pasta but tagliatelle. Even the government has been known to resist culinary change. But at last, a culinary renaissance is taking place, as chefs throughout the country are flaunting convention and giving free range to their imaginations.

In Siena, chef Paolo Lopriore’s menu includes a reinterpretation of the humble Tuscan soup called ribollita. Carlo Cracco in Milan adds coriander juice to the classic saffron risotto, and also created the dishes for “I Am Love.” The Sicilian chef Ciccio Sultano combines local ingredients in mind-blowing ways, such as sea urchin with salted ricotta and bitter honey. In Turin, at Combal.Zero, Davide Scabin has been rethinking pasta itself. “I never worked with hard pastas,” he says.

Anna Morelli, editor of Apicius magazine in Italy, points out that the latest worldwide culinary movement is the obvious choice for her compatriots. “Now that there is this call back to nature, towards simplicity, it’s not much of an effort for Italians,” she explains, “chefs here have cultivated their own gardens... for a long time.” After all, this is the home of the Slow Food movement, which counts many contemporary cooks as allies. Bottura, for example, has helped to bring the white cows of Modena back from the brink of extinction.