Yesterday may have been one of the best opportunities I may have during my career as a cook. We were lucky enough to spend half of the day with Italy’s top chef—Chef Vissani. Upon arriving the restaurant we were all blown away by it’s extravagant dining room setup. We were guided to his back demo room where there was a small kitchen demonstration table. Then Vissani himself entered the room, standing big and tall with a stern look on his face. He told us about the importance of ancient Italian cuisine and how Italian food has been transformed into some new and not so good. He really accuentuated the point that he would like to see traditional Italian cuisine return to Italy—that was his philosophy (and also something I would like to do as well). Ever since I was a child I have had this certain fascination with the Italian people, their cuisine, and their rich history and culture. Being here now, I don’t ever want to leave. I have decided that for sure, the focus of my career will be Italian cuisine.
The first demo dish Vissani prepared for us was blue lobster, a small breed of lobster that lives first in fresh water (sweet water) before joining the sea. These lobsters are typically found in Norway and Sweden.
He taught us how to cook a perfectly straight lobster! Typically when you cook a lobster, the tail will curl under itself, making it difficult to keep the shape and construction of the lobster once you remove it from it’s shell. In ancient Rome, the Italians used to tie the lobster to a wooden board and throw it into the boiling water to cook. Now Vissani presses a long wooden skewer through the live lobster and boils it briefly (not all the way through). This keeps the lobster tail straight for a beautiful presentation while also making it easier to slice.
Then he marinated the flat lobster tail in a mixture of oil, rosemary, 1 parboiled garlic clove, and Hawaiian coffee grounds for about 4 hours.
Here you see the tasting portion of the finished dish.
And this is the full plated version. Lobster with coffee and red pepper balls with Bartlett pears and pecan nuts.
Vissani was an incredible speaker. He was very animated and interactive with the students as well as a funny guy. His passion shines through his character. He treated us like he would treat any other chef, giving us advice and bringing new things to light that we had never thought of before. He encouraged questions and answered thoroughly. He is definitely the type of chef I would like to apprentice for or work with someday.
The next dish had a beautiful combination of flavor. Duck and puffed rice with stewed black cabbage and sour grape.
He seared the duck and then added botrytis wine to the hot pan to deglaze.
This is the tasting portion. The black cabbage tasted SO good!
This was the full dish.
Chef Vissani took a 5-minute break to enjoy a shot of espresso before his next two demos. I took a look around the building and found myself at a window viewing into the kitchen. They use all copper pots (!!) which are very expensive and somewhat difficult to maintain and keep clean but, they are known for their precise distribution of heat. The jars in front are different types of salt found in the world.
Found some jars of candy as well!
He then showed us a quick demonstration of a pasta that was actually made with bread dough! I had never known that you could do such a thing. The pasta itself was a little chewier then more pasta but I truly loved it. He used dried peppers in his tomato sauce, too, making it spicy. I enjoyed it all too much. The wine he paired with it was the best pairing together I have ever had with a dish. The spiciness in the sauce brought out a spiciness in the wine that was addicting!
After that he prepared a dish using Chianina beef (remember yesterday’s post?). The beef was prepared perfectly. It was marinated with honey, apple, aoy sauce, ginger, and toasted sesame seeds for 3 hours.
After the demonstration portion of the day we were guided to the dining room that had a fairytale-like atmosphere. There were wooden trees coming out from the walls and wooden crescent moons on the ceiling.
The tables were extravagant, too, with a crystal statue sitting prideful in the center of the table, small glass jars with fresh roses, decorative plates and glassware. It was over-the-top, but not overdone.
The top chef of Italy gave me a kiss!!!!! SO glad I got a picture of this. He even told me how to pssst conquer a man. **Blush**!
In America we eat bread and butter a lot. But in Italy they are known for their olive oils. Therefore the bread is actually used to taste olive oil. I really want some small dishes like these for my home!
Even the butter had presentation, something I will remember for the home as well as for the restaurant. Behind it you see fresh grissini.
The first dish was a true eggplant parmesan. I was SO happy to see that real tomato sauce is actually kind of orange in color. Whenever I make it at home it looks like this but I feel like it’s ‘wrong’ because in America tomato sauce is so red. But this is real tomato sauce. There was also more eggplant than cheese. In the states we tend to smother everything in cheese. This dish was about the eggplant and sauce. It had very little cheese. It was incredible.
Oh! They had these spoons that were flat on one side so that you could scoop up sauce from the bottom of the plate or bowl.
The second course was potato gnocchi with lamb ragout and Umbrian pecorino cheese.. The gnocchi were cut into very small pieces, which I had never seen before. But it makes me not want to have regular sized gnocchi ever again. These gnocchi were so light and literally just melted in the mouth. The ragout also was light in body.
The next course was chicken livers and smoked papaya wafer with baby white turnip and hazelnut sauce. It was really good! Chicken liver has a really deep and full flavor. I never liked it until I went off to culinary school. Now I welcome it always. The turnips were very, very small but were bursting with peppery flavor. There were also herb and breadcrumb crusted baby onions that went very well with the dish.
For dessert we had zabaglione with long pepper, spinach bread, and white chocolate. You would think that this would be really savory but it wasn’t. It had a tomato sauce with licorice was very light, just a hint of each to complement the zabaglione. The spinach bread was also slightly sweet. The white chocolate shavings were so authentic tasting. American white chocolate will always taste like crap now that I have tasted this. I found the dessert to be very light and enjoyable.
After that they brought out a pastry plate with various confectionaries such as chocolate coconut bar, chocolate-orange semifreddo, and raspberry cheesecake. In the middle was homemade ‘Pocky’ of different flavors.
I really wish I could describe this last plate they brought out but they never told or gave us a description. The yellow filling had a sort of Marsala wine. The fruit on the right looks like a tomato but was very bitter and had black seeds. I imagine this was some sort of final cleanser dish.
Alright well this was a long post so I think I’m going to call it a night and head to bed. I’ve been answering personal questions and such so don’t hesitate to send!