Italian master chefs in Dubai

25 Michelin stars worth of chefs arrive for Italian Cuisine World Summit Discuss this article

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This week, Dubai is getting ready to host a veritable deluge of Michelin stars, as 15 Italian chefs, with a staggering 25 stars between them visit for the first Italian Cuisine World Summit to be held in the UAE, from Thursday November 6-10. Now in its fifth year, the summit took place previously in Hong Kong, and has now moved, lock, stock and barrel to the UAE, with the aim of making this an annual event in the emirate with plans to expand to Abu Dhabi as well.

According to Rosario Scarpato, the Italian-born, Melbourne-based founder and director of the summit, this is the highest concentration of Michelin-starred chefs to hit Dubai at any one time. During the summit, each visiting chef will be in residence at one of Dubai’s Italian restaurants, ranging from longstanding Casa Mia at Le Méridien Dubai in Garhoud, which celebrates its 20 year anniversary later this month, to newly launched Alta Badia at Jumeirah Emirates Towers in the site where Vu’s once stood. Throughout the four-day festival, diners can sample special menus devised by these Michelin-level visiting chefs, including three-starred Massimilano Alajmo, from Le Calandre restaurant in Rubano, Italy (the youngest chef to receive this accolade) who will be in residence at Alta Badia.

Aside from the impressive calibre of pop-ups taking place, the summit will also feature events aimed at promoting and celebrating Italian cuisine. Exhibitions and interactive events will take place at Dubai Mall through the summit, in addition to cooking master classes at The Emirates Academy of Hospitality on November 9-10, with the main attraction being a festival at Bussola on Saturday November 9. The schedule at Bussola will include displays of acrobatic pizza making, the Lavazza best espresso coffee competition and pasta world championship.

The aim, founder Rosario Scarpato tells us is to ‘educate, firstly the chefs that are taking part in Dubai, and then the consumers’.

Italian cooking, however, is arguably the best known and most popular globally, and Dubai has certainly not been left out of this loop. So why is the Italian World Summit coming here? ‘We started this initiative, because we promote Italian chefs abroad. Our movement is international, with a network of chefs and restaurateurs. We have over 2,200 people in our network’ explains Rosario. Dubai-based members of Itchefs, the international forum for Italian chefs working around the globe, includes Luca Signoretti, head chef at Roberto’s, who has worked with Rosario in launching the summit in both Hong Kong and Dubai.

‘With Italian cuisine abroad, sometimes it is better or even equal to that in Italy. This was the lone reason to bring the best of Italy to cities such as Hong Kong,’ Rosario explains. ‘We decided to move it to Dubai, because Dubai represents a very interesting frontier; a new frontier of Italian cuisine abroad.’ Given Melbourne’s notoriously strong Italian food scene, where Rosario is based, why has Dubai been the site for this event? ‘Italian cuisine abroad has changed a lot. The cuisine that you find in Melbourne, or even in the States has been brought there by immigrants, people who were very hardworking, but had no idea what quality cuisines was, they were just repeating the food from their mothers. What we have in Dubai and Hong Kong is qualified chefs who have trained with some very important master chefs in Italy.’

The summit is not, however, Rosario adds about highlighting only the high-end. ‘We have chefs coming that represent the different regions of Italy. A Michelin star, in the Italian context, does not necessarily mean ‘luxury’. Sometimes identity is better appreciated in Italian cuisine than creativity. Let’s say, to be true to the original ingredients, you must be true to quality ingredients, rather than in the style of molecular cuisine or nouvelle cuisine."

The move from Hong Kong to Dubai, Rosario adds, is a natural progression: ‘There is a similar infrastructure, with good five-star hotels, that have a number of restaurants inside. Plus a large number of expats and a good number of consumers, who are prepared to spend some money to get a very authentic experience. I have seen a change over the years [in Dubai]. It is not luxury for the sake of luxury, but diners having a better understanding of premium, quality ingredients. The only problem with Dubai is sometimes hotels just want to reduce cost, and it’s hard to balance quality and budget.’

Even so, Luca Signoretti, head chef at Roberto’s , who previously worked in Italian kitchens in Hong Kong and is now helping Rosario to bring the Italian World Summit to the UAE, concedes that Dubai still has some room for improvement. ‘The whole level of Italian cuisine in Hong Kong is much higher than here. The chefs in Hong Kong have a more complete choice of options for ingredients. You can work with all the products you can imagine or dream about. Also the customers are very high gourmet.

‘At the same time, Dubai is growing, it’s not yet there, that’s why we will have the summit, but I need to say that Dubai is more ready structure wise. Hong Kong is an old city and so the restaurant kitchens are not as new. Bringing these chefs here, is going to raise the level in Dubai.’

At Casa Mia, head chef Maurizio Lazzarin is getting ready to welcome chef Graziano Prest from one star Tivoli restaurant. Based in a chalet-like structure amid Italy’s mountainous region of Cortina D’ampezzo, Maurizio tells us that chef Graziano’s concept tries to use ingredients from the immediate locality in the Dolomites. Once such delicacy due to appear on the pop-up menu at Casa Mia is chestnuts. ‘[Graziano’s] philosophy is similar to mine, in that he has a lot of respect for the ingredients. My philosophy involves minimal manipulation of ingredients, which all goes to mean keeping it as natural as possible.’

After 20 years in the kitchen at Casa Mia, chef Maurizio explains that the Italian scene in Dubai has already grown considerably: ‘There is a lot more competition, but this is actually very good, because it is an incentive to do better, an incentive to your creativity. The standard of Italian cuisine is higher, because it is easier to get the ingredients. Twenty years ago I remember it was difficult to get buffalo mozzarella, I think we were the first to have it. I think all the Italian chefs are missing fresh ingredients, like radicchio, eggplant and lemons. The flavour of those from the local market is completely different.’

In a city ever chasing after the latest trend and newest concept, Maurizio, explains the key to Casa Mia’s longevity: ‘The secret is very simple, to keep it Italian first of all, and to keep the consistency. I am always in the kitchen, I hardly miss a service. Of course, I have days off, but sometimes I’m in the kitchen anyway, even if I’m in my jeans.’

Celebrates its 20th anniversary on Wednesday November 13 with a six-course degustation menu devised in partnership by chefs Maurizio Lazzarin (from Casa Mia) and Graziano Priest (from Michelin-starred Tivoli restaurant in Italy), and paired with Italian grape. Dhs450 per person. Le Méridien Dubai, Airport Road (04 702 2455).

By Penelope Walsh
Time Out Dubai,

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