Exploring Italian cuisine
Indian chefs are looking to go beyond the staples of pasta and pizza as Italian cuisine becomes an established part of the food landscape in India, with more to tempt the palate, says Alan D’Mello.
The Mumbai-Delhi road show organised by the Opera Consortium in the last two months, brought the maturing perspective of Italian cuisine by Indian chefs to the fore. Rather than food presentations and tastings, the two events were frank discussions on Italian cuisine in India.
A key issue discussed at the well attended meeting of executive chefs, and F&B and purchase managers, was that of going beyond the regulation pizza and pasta styles to more rural variations which are both healthy and acceptable to the Indian palate.
“I serve what we eat at home in the village. These are my mother’s recipes and to me, is the real Italian food,” said Giovanni Autunno of Mumbai’s famous Don Giovanni restaurants.
Shirin Batliwala, vice president, food and beverage, Taj Hotels, was an active participant at the Mumbai event. “Italians have a wholesome cuisine which is popular here. So much so, that it is almost a part of our local fabric. We at Taj have had very successful restaurants on this cuisine for many years. But the trend is changing as guests are beginning to ask for newer variations,” she said.
“As a group, the challenge is to balance cost with market need. This is a fine balancing act. The products presented today are of good quality and have interesting value propositions,” she added.
Opera brought in 14 representatives of Italian produce which ranged from cheese, wines, pasta, cold cuts, sauces, tomatoes, and packaged dessert, among others.
“We are here to listen and learn. The Indian market is very important for us and we are happy to see that Italian food is so well received here,” said Antonio Santospirito, area manager, Conserve Italia International.
A key concern for the Italian delegation was a sustainable demand for their products given that the Italian cuisine in India is moving away from the original version.
“Our products can cater to a wide budget range and are ideally suited to India, not just for the price but the value they offer. These are authentic Italian ingredients prepared in the original way and are designed to help professional chefs deliver both on quality and quantity,” said Riccardo Maltinti, export manager, Asia Pacific, Caviro.
In Delhi, executive chefs Darren Konole, Shangri-La’s Eros Hotel and Rajesh Variyath, Radisson MBD, Noida along with Abhijit Saha, director and chef at Avante Garde Hospitality, Bengaluru took centre stage.
The discussion here centred blending Indian and Italian ingredients to arrive at the best yet cost effective option.
“Indian tomatoes do not hold up after cooking for a long time. This affects my product and it does not matter whether I use a lot or little of it. So what I do is add some amount of the Italian tomatoes to the Indian ones which gives me a better product at a better price. Using only Italian produce is simply too expensive, because of the taxes,” said Saha.
The Mumbai and Delhi events were anchored by celebrity Italian chef Andrea Golino, whose experience includes being a restaurateur and a personal chef. Golino prepared five innovative dishes which reflect the latest trends in Italy right now. These were the Parmigiano Vellute, Fried Mortadella, Parmigiano Cookies, Souffle Al Parmigiano, the Mango Panna Cotta and Sauternes.
Apart from product quality and import issues, the slow food movement was the other key issue discussed in depth.
“Old is now new. The slow food movement is a good concept and growing in Italy. We are going back to our roots but the problem with the movement is it is getting commercialised. Old Italian styles are very healthy, but people and chefs must learn to balance cost and quality,” said Golino.