Being the first one to arrive for the class, I had the good fortune of spending some one on one time with this beautiful, humble and warm lass who was a contestant in MasterChef Australia 2014 – Sarah Todd. We connected immediately and she shared notes on cooking, stress of cooking under so many cameras and time limits in MasterChef, her foodie husband Davinder who loves to cook every weekend, her 3 year old son who loves fresh pasta at home, her visit to Punjab probably next year and how much she wanted to somehow throw in a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra in this first trip of hers to India.
After a while, I was introduced to the Executive Sous Chef Luca Digirolamo who was running his own home style restaurant Refectorium in Italy. Coming from the Umbria region of Central Italy, he is keen on adding some Tuscan-Umbrian (the cuisine is famous for its use of herbs like thyme and sage and beans) delicacies to the new menu in La Piazza. An important thing I learnt from him is that he uses extra virgin olive oil for all his cooking as against our belief that it is only good for salads. He shared an interesting nugget of personal information : “In fact, the reason why I started cooking was because my mother was not a great cook. She used to work and come late and when she would return in the evening she would serve us cold cuts and say, ‘Ok, so we have one hour, have your dinner and go to bed.’ I wanted to eat something better so thought it will be better if I would cook on my own. I cooked for the first time when I was 11 while I was on a holiday with my parents. I cooked some canapés”. He also used to take Arabic, Italian and Thai Cookery Classes back home in Italy.
The cookouts are always a learning experience where I go like an open slate ready to absorb all and make the most of learning from expert chefs. One gets to see not only the dish but all the hard work and passion poured into each dish, the fancy kitchens with fancier kitchen equipment, the technique and valuable tips and last but not the least the volley of innocent questions answered by the chefs. Chef Luca was so flexible that when, for the bland vegetable sausage we suggested chat masala be added to it, he smiled and said it wouldn’t be a bad idea. He was also tipped that we Indians do not like al –dente and tried to cook the pasta a little extra for our taste buds.
Sarah with all her vast experience had an infectious enthusiasm,which rubbed off on all of us too. Chef Luca started the class with a Prawn and Lemon Ravioli with Italian bisque – starting from rolling the dough for the ravioli, to the prawn stuffing and the prawn bisque which is a reduction so takes around an hour to do and showing us the two shapes (half moon and circular) – this was the first dish we tasted. The ravioli was al-dente with the cheesy prawn stuffing bursting in the mouth and was bathing in a bed of the subtle tomato and prawn and wine bisque reduction crowned with fresh lemon zest. The subtlety of the flavors, playing with the prawn reduction and lemon zest led to a truly artistic dish.
The Middle Age Fritters (made with flour, sparkling water and salt) crispy fried and served with Parma Ham pan fried with sprigs of rosemary and glazed with balsamic vinegar, topped with rocket leaves and shaved parmesan cheese were next. This dish was simply playing with the textures of the ingredients used and really delicious. The softness of the fritters and the crispness of the salty Parma were so complimenting each other with the balsamic adding to the flavor.
Vegetarian Sausage (made from broccoli, chickpea, bread, eggs, parmesan, ricotta and olives) on a bed of braised lentils and Taleggio cream swirled on top -. this was a very gentle dish in spite of so many different ingredients and textures used but could have used some herbs to add to the zing.
Melting Chocolate with Rosemary Ice Cream – the melting chocolate pouring from the heart of the muffin with the flavored ice cream and a red berry sauce was actually the icing on the cake.
The whole Masterclass, with excellent arrangements made for the same by Hyatt, gave me the feel of a family coming together to cook for some festival, with the humorous and flexible Italian chef Luca, warm and friendly and eager to learn Sarah Todd and us all chatting and joking all through the class, exchanging notes on culture, food habits, travel plans, and lots more. To say that I enjoyed myself while learning new techniques would be an understatement.