25 Mar 2013

Taste of Mumbai & Chef Federico Volpi’s Tuscan Cooking

The very first Mumbai edition of the internationally celebrated Taste Festival took place this weekend at Marine Drive (Mar 22-24, 2013). Taste festivals are held in 20 cities around the world and in just 8 years, they have served more than 1 million food enthusiasts. Taste of Mumbai showcased some of the finest cuisine from the best restaurants in Mumbai, as well as restaurants from Bangalore, Delhi, Pune & New York. Restaurants such as Arola, Caperberry, Graffiti, the Impresario group and many more served their signature dishes.

The festival also brought in an incredible line-up of acclaimed chefs from India and around the world, who conducted Masterclasses and imparted tips and tricks to an eager audience. Chris Erasmus, Jehangir Mehta and Ivan Musoni rubbed shoulders with Abhijit Saha, Bill Marchetti and Ritu Dalmia, not to mention many more culinary stalwarts. Several premium brands showcased their products – Sula Vineyards, The Pint Room, Fortune Gourmet, Flanders Dairy Products and many more. It was a weekend of food, drink and entertainment at one of Mumbai’s iconic locations.

For me, one of the highlights was the Traditional Tuscan Cooking session with Chef Federico Volpi of Prego restaurant at The Westin Pune. The lifestyle channel TLC had organised a contest and up for grabs was an entry to this exclusive, invitation-only session at the TLC Lounge at Taste of Mumbai. And I was one of the lucky winners!
Image courtesy the Westin Pune
Chef Federico joined the Westin Pune as the chef of their Italian restaurant Prego earlier this year. He has more than 21 years of culinary experience and has worked with Michelin star restaurants. Growing up in Tuscany, his food philosophy is quite clear – keep it simple and use seasonal ingredients. 

He began the cooking session with a simple Spaghetti Aglio Olio, with Prawns and Clams; he made a vegetarian version of it as well. He shared some tips for cooking pasta:
  • Add salt to the boiling water in which pasta will be cooked. This will flavour the pasta, else it will taste bland.
  • There is no need to add oil to the boiling water.
  • Reserve some of the water for adding to the sauce in case the sauce has become too thick.
  • Cook the pasta al dente as it continues cooking when mixed with the sauce.
  • When you drain the pasta, mix it with the sauce immediately. Do not rinse it with cold water else the pasta will stick.
  • If you’re using wine in the pasta sauce, use a good quality one. It’s a myth that cheap or bad quality wine can be used for cooking. Good quality wine will enhance your dish.
After the dish was cooked, tasting portions were brought around and I had a plate of really simple but flavourful Spaghetti Aglio Olio, with a glass of Ruffino Orvieto Classico – a fresh and fragrant Italian white wine.

The next dish that Chef Federico demonstrated was the classic Italian dessert – Tiramisu, which literally translates into “pick me up”. 
Chef Ajay Chopra Exec Chef at Westin Mumbai explains as Chef Federico starts layering the Tiramisu
Wine and coffee soaked savoiardi biscuits topped with creamy mascarpone custard, topped with more coffee – it was the most heavenly tiramisu I’ve tasted (and I’ve had more than my fair share of the dessert!) And a glass of Ruffino Chianti magically appeared by my side – a not-too-dry, fruity Italian red.

After the demonstration, I had a chance of a brief tête á tête with Chef Federico. He has been in India for just three months and is quite enamoured by the place; to quote him “beautiful people and I love Indian food!” He confessed that though he finds Indian food spicy, his favourite dishes are Chicken Biryani & Chicken Tikka. 

I asked him about his signature dish and pat came the reply “Lamb with Lentil Ragu”. He also likes cooking lamb with Tuscan herbs – rosemary & sage. And he shudders at the practice of putting cream in his pasta sauces, since that absolutely kills the flavours of the ingredients.

Overall, Taste of Mumbai was a great experience and I hope it sets the stage for more such festivals as a part of the city’s cultural calendar. 

Incidentally, London was the stage for the pioneering Taste Festival and if you're planning a summer vacation to the city, check out Taste of London. It's being held at Regent's Park from 20-23 June 2013. Details here. Bon appetit!

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