The southern part of Italy is known for the food cooked simply, and with the freshest ingredients, to preserve the flavors and enhance them with a touch of this and a bit of that. Under the expert guidance of Chef Sharad Dewan, Area Director, F&B, The Park Hotels, Chef Surojit, Senior Sous Chef of The Bridge, and Chef Vikas, Executive Chef of Flury’s recently made a visit to a small town in Southern Italy, Soverato, and learned a few dishes from Master Chef John Nocita.
A glass of Bellini is placed before me. The combination of sparkling wine and sweetness is always a hit for me, and I take a thirsty sip, and giggle as the bubbles hit my nose immediately.
|Chef Vikas from Flury’s|
Chef Vikas Kumar from Flury’s sits down with us for the meal. He talks animatedly about his experience, and explains the importance of simplicity in food. Most South Italian dishes are extremely simple – it is a fare which can be easily cooked and easily digested, and vegetables are given far more importance than meat. In fact, pork is commonly eaten there, but beef and lamb are expensive there, so they are left for the festivities. Eggs, chicken, fish are consumed widely, and they are cooked with minimum fuss. They make their own pasta, and have a huge number of them, based on their shape and size. Most of the times, the pasta in question is the star of the show – the sauce clinging to it is merely a flavor enhancer.
We chat about a number of topics, as I take a look around. There are little details here and there which make the setting of The Bridge just a tiny bit whimsical. From the little “tree” made of garlic pods and dried chillies, to the almost chemistry lab-like set-up of the bread rolls, that come with a bowl of pesto, a bowl of red pepper coulis, and four test tubes filled with olive oils. The oils are all flavored with something or the other – I spot one with sage, and pour some of it generously over my honey-glazed lemon chicken roll.
I find the chicken stuffing to be inadequate in comparison to the bread, so I slather some Pesto on it to enhance the flavors. On the other hand, the apple-raisin-cinnamon rolls have little nubbins of raisins on them that add hit of sweetness, and strangely enough, I liked dipping it in the red pepper coulis, enjoying the combination of salt and sugar with a touch of the tang from the coulis.
The stuffed piadine is a thin layer of dough encasing cheese, a slice of tomato and a tiny amount of greens. It is served with a little puddle of extra virgin olive oil, and ideally you are supposed to dip a bit of the bread in the oil. I find the procedure to be too troublesome, and simply inhale the entire thing in one bite, savoring the crunch of the dough and the creaminess of cheese perfectly enhanced with the fresh slice of tomato inserted within.
|Calabrian Seafood Soup|
A small glass of the Calabrian Seafood Soup is placed before me. The glass is little, the top covered by a thin cracker. I remove the cracker, take a bite out of it, then tip the glass and take a sip. A light seafood broth enhanced with a bit of tomato and herbs, and some fresh crustacean at the bottom of the glass, to boost the flavors. I personally find the broth slightly overpowering, and the shrimp too tough for my liking, but others on the table has no complaints, I note.
|Pollo Ala Diavado|
A thin fillet of chicken is served next, with a simple lettuce and rocket salad, and drizzled with some more of the excellent pesto I had sampled before. The chicken is rubbed with herbs and paprika (or so I assume) before cooking, and the resultant flavors were subtle, yet their presence was unmistakable.
I am more in love with the Fornarina, a single raviolo stuffed with egg yolk and cooked lightly, and then served with a beautiful yellow sauce on top, lightly tangy and drizzled with a tiny bit of basil. A prick of my fork releases the rich yolk and it mixes with the sauce, and I am instantly won over by the simplicity of it all.
|Pan fried Chicken Risotto with Chicken Tempura|
But my other favorite has to be the pan fried chicken risotto, which is served with a chicken tempura on top. I am not that fond of the tempura – it is drier than what I expected, but the risotto itself is a thing of dreams – creamy, perfectly cooked rice, with the flavors from the chicken bursting through. I delicately discard the rosemary on top to one side before digging in with a spoon, and wish for more afterwards.
|Pork Ragout from Verona|
But well, at this point the server places a plate of the pork ragout from Verona. The meat-to-fat ratio is 40:60, and I thoroughly enjoy the melt-in-your-mouth pork, bursting with fresh flavors, mildly spiced, and wish for some bread to soak up the thin jus it is served with. Within seconds, my fork makes short work of the meat, and scrapes out every bit of meat to be had.
For dessert, there is a Traditional Italian Pie, with a crumbly base and a slightly dry texture. To counter, a light custard and chopped fruits accompany the dish. In the entire meal, this was possibly the heaviest dish for me, with the rich zabaglione (I think it was ) and the cinnamon-laden glazed pie proving to be too heavy for me. Pleasantly satisfied, I roll out of The Bridge, and head over to find and rescue my sister from yet another mischief she had managed to pull off.
The South Italian Food Festival will begin on the 5th, and it will continue till the end of this month. The menu can be ordered a-la-carte, and a meal for two would set you back around 2500/- plus tax. There is also a prime rib with mushrooms and bearnaise sauce in the menu which is worth checking out.
Disclaimer: Poorna Banerjee dined at the preview of the South Italian Food Festival courtesy of The Park Hotels.