A unique variety of a well-known egg-and-flour product has arrived in Dubai, courtesy of extrovert Italian entrepreneur Vincenzo Spinosi. But can we call it pasta?
Vincenzo Spinosi erupts in a turbulence of exaggerated hand gestures. His arms flail all over the place, crumpling his Elvis Presley ‘Viva Las Vegas’ print shirt; and his head shakes vigorously from side to side, which almost dislodges his bright red baseball cap. He splutters a staccato tirade in Italian, like gunfire from a Beretta, but all I can decipher is ‘no, no, no, no!’ Evidently, I’ve said something to upset him.
We’re at Come Prima, Al Bustan Rotana Hotel’s Italian restaurant, which – so we were led to believe – is launching a new range of dishes featuring a revolutionary and exclusive variety of pasta created and promoted by the Italian entrepreneur and extrovert Vincenzo Spinosi himself. But this is where I make my first mistake.
‘I’m sorry,’ explains Chef Luca, who is our interpreter and peacekeeper for the afternoon, ‘Vincenzo keeps telling me it’s not pasta – it’s Spinosini. The term pasta is very generic. He will get upset if you call it pasta. We’re talking about a very beautiful product – very, very expensive – like the champagne of wines or the Rolls Royce of cars. It’s his baby really.’ And with that, Vincenzo Spinosi beams a smile as bright as his baseball cap.
As he busies himself behind a stove, Spinosi excitedly explains and demonstrates the distinction between his baby and ordinary pasta, while Luca translates the story: ‘The history is quite amazing. In 1930, Vincenzo’s father was a poor delivery man in a market in the centre of Italy. When he was going very far, he would sleep over at the people’s houses. As a thank you, he would bring them a small packet of pasta that he made in his own home. The pasta was so good they started to request it more and more. And that was the beginning.
‘When his father passed away, Vincenzo took over the business, and kept going until he had an idea to create a product that was unique – that nobody else had on the market.’ As Chef Luca’s tale unfolds, Spinosi unravels a fistful of Spinosini in long, spindly strands and lovingly places it into a pan of boiling water. It looks like very thin spaghetti, perhaps akin to vermicelli. Meanwhile, a simple sauce of sliced shallots, mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, basil and prawns simmers away in a pan beside it.
So what makes Spinosini so special – and so costly? ‘It’s so expensive for the simple reason that he’s using the old traditions,’ reveals Luca. ‘Factories make pasta very quickly, but with Spinosini it’s all about quality. There are two ladies who make everything by hand. They break the eggs one by one, and the first secret is the eggs – they are fresh and free range. He’s trying to communicate to people that the key is simplicity. It’s just eggs, flour and Omega 3, so it’s very good for you. And the eggs are not pasteurised.’
Still frantically orating, gesticulating and cooking all at once, Spinosi retrieves a wooden pasta fork entangled with his beloved creation, which is then added to the sauce with ladles of boiling water. ‘With normal spaghetti, you need maybe two or three spoons of sauce, but with Spinosini, you need much more sauce because it’s all soaked up into the pasta,’ adds Luca, before a playful grimace and a semi-joking reprimand from behind the stove prompts him to correct himself, ‘er, I mean, the Spinosini!’
Spinosi is all smiles again, as he twirls a mound of his egg and flour-based brainchild into a dish and plonks it down in front of me for my approval. It’s good – full of flavour, very light and exceedingly moist, while still retaining its al dente texture. I’m sold, so I ask where I can get hold of a few boxes for myself. ‘It’s not available to buy in shops in Dubai, which is why we have it in the restaurant,’ explains Luca proudly. ‘Vincenzo chose to have his product here because it’s a luxury place. Spinosini isn’t like mass produced pasta – it can’t be splashed all over the supermarket shelves. It’s exclusive. It’s for people who are looking for something exceptional, special and unique. He’s planning to get it supplied in Dubai, but our restaurant is first.’
I clear my plate in a flurry of fork-twisting before it’s whisked away and replaced with a cool and refreshing dessert made predominantly with – you guessed it – not pasta. Spinosi claps with delight at the surprised expression on my face, and Luca fills me in. ‘We’re working towards a whole Spinosini menu – like a wine list – especially for the special selection of dishes, from starters to desserts. It’s not for everyone; people have to be educated about this. From a simple recipe of flour and eggs, it’s something beautiful – like gold or a diamond.’ What gastronomic gems you can discover at Come Prima with Mr Spinosi’s wonder ingredient remains to be seen, but one thing is certain – whatever you do, don’t call it pasta.