Picante! Italians do it better

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italian foodEvery morning, looking out over the Grand Canal in Venice, Massimiliano Righetto fixes his first cup of espresso. But as the northern Italian city, situated on the Adriatic Sea coast, wakes up to take care of its day’s business and several thousands of tourists, Massimiliano’s thoughts are in distant India. For it is there, in the capital city, New Delhi, that Massimiliano (Max) has dared to enter the business of food and beverages, with his flagship venture Gelato Roma.
Among a new breed of Italian entrepreneurs who have turned their love for good food and wine into a profit-making endeavour, Max finds company in compatriots such as Roberta Angelone (former owner, Il Forno, Manali), Raavi (Barsoom), Marco Capiotti (custom designs pizza ovens). Along with owners of the Flavours of Italy near Moolchand Flyover and Amici Café in Hauz Khas Village, and the Rose Graden Restaurant in Vashisht, Manali, a crop of Italianos are writing a new chapter in Indo-Italian food relations!
So, what is it about Italians and food that makes Indians drool? Why do we lust so much and so certainly for their scrumptious bruschettas, thin-crust, wood-fired oven pizzas, mouthwatering enchiladas and scrumptious fish baccala, topped off with the creamiest Tiramisu and the best Gelato money can buy? Separated by several thousand kilometres over land and many hundreds of nautical miles via sea and being a world away from each other in cultural sensibilities, how is it that Indian and Italian culinary sensibilities converge so decisively?
firewood oven pizza
“We love to cook and love to serve great food. And though there’s a world of difference between Indian and Italian food, the commonality is so great, in terms of the great love for the process of cooking, that all the differences and variations become irrelevant,” says Roberta Angelone, who started the phenomenally-successful Italian restaurant Il Forno in Manali and ran it for more than 20 years, before closing it down and moving to Delhi. “There is an essential difference between Indian and Italian cuisine and it is that in Italian cuisine, there is no browning of masalas (spices). Italian cuisine is about fresh produce and a seamless blend of ingredients, in an ancient way of preparing food,” she adds.
Raavi, owner of the Mars-themed restaurant Barsoom, in Hauz Khas Village, agrees. “All our preparations factor in the changing palate of young Indians, yet they remain rooted in the basics of Italian cuisine and that’s why it works,” says Raavi, who was recently given a prestigious food award for making Barsoom such a hit with the uber-cool crowd of Delhi.
Which brings us to Max of Gelato Roma fame. Gelato is the Italian version of ice-cream and since the Italians do everything better, it goes without saying it is tastier, creamier and more elegant than ice-cream as we know it. “My family is into the food and beverages industry in Venice. We were looking to expand business interests across the world, especially in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations and that’s how we settled on India,” says Max, over an interesting conversation in a quaint New Delhi patisserie. “The Gelato is like ice-cream but not at all like factory-made, industrial-scale ice-cream. All our products are made fresh and should be ideally consumed within a few hours,” says Max, with obvious pride and infectious enthusiasm for his elegant, hand-crafted gelato, that comes in hazelnut, chocolate, fig and caramel flavours.
Marco Capiotti grew up in the picturesque mountains and alpine meadows of Manali, Himachal Pradesh where snow falls four months of the year and the remaining months hover between very cold and pleasantly cold. May be, that’s why, Marco designs and custom-builds pizza ovens for restaurants and -homes across the country. Seeking comfort in the conceptualisation and execution of these ovens, and searching for the warmth of the memories and the balmy ocean weather of his native Naples on the Tyrrhenian Sea, Marco’s ovens are fast becoming ‘the’ acquisition for serious restaurateurs in India. “The attraction of these ovens is that each of them is one-of-its-kind, no two are alike and we put in our best effort in designing every single one of them. As you can then imagine, the pizzas that come out of these ovens are to be eaten to be believed,” says Marco, the smile on his face reaching his eyes.
As an aside, in the song Mambo Italiano, Dean Martin, the iconic Italian-American singer talks of a boy who went back to Napoli (Naples) because he missed the scenery, the native dances and the charming songs. But this holds no water where Marco, Max, Roberta, Raavi and many other Italians are concerned, for they are all happy doing their version of culinary Mambo Italiano in India and even teaching Indians a few nifty steps of this dance. A la Dean Martin, ‘E lo che se dice (and if he says), you get happy in the pizza….!’ May there be more of Cucina Italiana!

 

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