As part of the “Italian Cuisine in the World Forum”, Academia Barilla hosted a World Pasta Championship at their beautiful campus in Parma. You have to love a town where the directions to the Academia are, “Follow along the Strada del Parmigiano...”
We arrived on Saturday, for the final showdown between four chefs: 3 Italians working internationally, and 1 Japanese chef, working in London. Proof positive that pasta is an international dish, if you actually needed any proof.
As luck would have it, I wound up as a judge for the final competition. And I do mean luck, as it was a lottery style selection of judges from the general audience. There was also a full retinue of culinary professional judges. This meant, I was able to taste the pasta, whereas, poor Jeff had to content himself with only smelling the delicious dishes.
And now you will have to content yourself with pictures and a little description. You should have been there!
First up: Vittorio Beltramelli who is the chef at “Nolita” restaurant in Paris.
He created a spaghetti dish with poached quail eggs, asparagus and prosciutto. It’s a classic pairing of ingredients, but he gave the dish a twist by cooking the spaghetti in a Parmigiano infusion. He simmered a good amount of the grated cheese in water, along with a few chunks of Parmigiano, then strained the liquid and used that to finish cooking the pasta. He said that he normally lets the infusion rest overnight to gain flavor, but that wasn’t possible during this timed competition.
It’s certainly an interesting concept, but you’d have to have an abundant amount of Parmigiano or Grano Padano on hand!
Second competitor: Giorgio Nava, chef at “95 Keerom” in Capetown, South Africa. His dish was a homely, but satisfyingly delicious blend of fresh borlotti beans (cranberry beans) that he brought from his garden in South Africa, pureed with fresh vegetables and finished with steamed mussels.
What is it about South Africa these days? Everywhere I turn, I’m hearing good things about the food and wine in South Africa. Chef Nava has a farm, where he is raising Romagnola cattle, somehow he also raises fish and has a garden...now that is self sufficiency.
Third competitor: Sauro Scarabotta, chef at Fricco de Frango in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He may be cooking in Sao Paulo, but he’s a hometown boy to us because he’s from the nearby Umbrian town of Gubbio.
His pasta dish certainly paid homage to his Gubbio roots: a type of open ‘ravioli’ made from sliced pumpkin and filled with a pasta risotto flavored with sausage, tomato and zucchini.
Yes, a pasta risotto. The pasta is treated exactly like you with a risotto...toasting the pasta, small amounts of liquid added until the pasta is cooked.
Fourth competitor: Yoshi Yamada, who calls himself a “Japapoletano”, because he’s a Japanese chef who learned his trade in Napoli and is currently the chef at Tempo Restaurant & Bar in London, although very soon, he’s leaving Europe, and heading back home to Japan.
He made a bavette allo scoglio, or a linguine pasta with seafood, that tasted fresh, light and sweetly balanced. He also would have won a prize for most pots while making one pasta dish. I lost count somewhere around seven. His technique was to cook each of the flavor components separately and then combine them only at the last moment. It’s something I like to do as well, but I sure wish I had the dishwashing staff that he has! I have Jeff, who is a master at cleanup, but he draws the line at washing pots!
Each chef was required to make 3 plates of his dish: one for the judges, one for the ‘popolane’ judges (or regular people) and one for photography. Chef Yamada made an extra plate for the audience and even that wasn’t enough, as the hungry audience demanded that the final pot or padella be passed around.
After Yoshi Yamada was announced as the winner, the entire audience was invited to a pasta party made by the students and staff of the Academia Barilla. Now, imagine a roomful of people, who have done nothing but sniff, or have one bite, of these fragrant pasta dishes for over three hours...we were ravenous, and our hosts were generous!
Many thanks to Ginaluigi Zenti, Executive Director of the Academia Barilla and to Ilaria Rossi for inviting us. And congratulations to all of the outstanding, inspiring competitors!