Cuisine Focus 2018: Italian

The state of Italian cuisine in the region
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Italian

How popular is Italian cuisine in the region?

Salvo Sardo, chef de cuisine, Ronda Locatelli, Atlantis, The Palm: I think Italian cuisine is one of the most popular in the region. Over the last five years, since I arrived in Dubai, I have noted an incredible increment of Italian restaurants, as well as the desire to develop an Italian food culture. This consists of respect and admiration for not only the cuisine but also the quality of products being used in each Italian restaurant.

Christo Nortier, executive chef, Carluccio's: Italian cuisine in the UAE is on the rise with various outlets opening across the region. From high end to casual dining, we’re seeing healthy competition with various takes from traditional to modern. At Carluccio’s we offer customers their signature Italian dishes and maintain the motto MOF MOF, meaning ‘minimal of fuss, maximum of flavour.’

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Luca Tresoldi, executive chef, The Artisan by Enoteca Pinchiorri: Italian is one of the most popular cuisines in the world. Since I arrived in Dubai two years ago, the Italian culinary scene has grown, with many high-quality venues opening up. For us, this is a good thing, because it drives competition and creates more demand for fresh products.

Alessandro Miceli, Italian head chef, Roberto's Dubai: Italian cuisine is very popular in the region and I believe that is due to the simplicity of the Italian produce that we use to create the dishes. The Italian cuisine at Roberto’s touches the different cultures in the region. Like many Arabs, Italian traditions include having all of the family together around the table, tasting, sharing and talking about the dishes they are enjoying which ensuring the social aspect and interaction remains alive.

Samuele Baudoino, executive sous chef, Amici, Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi: Based on the covers we receive at Amici, I would say Italian cuisine is very popular which comes as no surprise due to the fact that traditional Italian cuisine is generally light, healthy, extremely tasty and suitable for every palette. I have noticed a large number of excellent Italian restaurants across the region.

Have you noticed any trends in Italian cuisine?

Sardo: Guests are looking for more simple and healthy options. I’ve also noticed that most new Italian restaurants in Dubai are trying to incorporate some sort of modern aspect to the traditionalism of Italian cuisine. In my opinion this will not last long, considering the best Italian food comes from our grandma’s recipes.

Nortier: Italian cooking is based on quality products and flavourful food which doesn’t have to be expensive or lengthy to prepare. We are noticing, and using, a lot more superfood elements within our cookery to adapt to guest palettes and the more conscious diner by using items such as kale and lentils. Carluccio’s has a vast gluten-free and vegan menu.

Tresoldi: Personally, I don't like the word ‘trend’, because it encourages people to see dining as a fashion, while distancing them from our traditions and the roots of our food.  However, the growth of Italian cuisine in Dubai has led to an increase in people dining at high-end Italian restaurants.

Miceli: Fusion is a trend that we are seeing and doing more of. At Roberto’s we collaborate with chef Tomoo Kimura each November, and create a unique Italy meets Japan dinner menu for guests to enjoy. Nowadays people are more health conscious food, so crudo is a very popular trend and we see this at Roberto’s Andiamo Brunch every Friday.

Baudoino: A few years ago, I used to see many Italian restaurants serving Italian food in a fine dining format, but it now seems as though this has decreased and Italian food is going back to its roots, featuring tasty and more simplistic home-style cooking using fresh ingredients, which is key to creating authentic Italian recipes.

What are some challenges you face when it comes to Italian cuisine?

Sardo: The culture of pasta, for Italians, is extremely important as this is one of our staple dishes. One of the challenges I’ve faced is coming face-to-face with a guest who wants spaghetti in Bolognese sauce and then trying to explain to them that, Bolognese sauce should only be eaten with tagliatelle or pappardelle pasta.

Nortier: Thankfully Italian cuisine can offer a hearty meal for diners at a reasonable price with some dishes being exceptionally healthy. The use of authentic and traditional produce can, at times, be a little tricky based on supplier demand, however Carluccio’s remains one of the restaurant chains that does offer a steady stream of traditional items.

Tresoldi: The biggest challenge is showing our guests the difference between high quality Italian food and average Italian food. In doing this, we have to overcome inaccurate assumptions about Italian cuisine, and show them that Italian food is also about hospitality and the overall dining experience, not just the food. It can be hard for people to understand what a meal really means to us.

Miceli: Finding the best suppliers takes research and time. We work with excellent suppliers – the best of the best! Ensuring certain produce are transported at the correct temperatures and monitored as per quality control is of huge importance to us, in particular during the hot summer season here.

Baudoino: When an Italian is cooking Italian I can’t think of any other way to describe it than being fun. For me it is truly enjoyable as I’m often cooking food that I like to eat and many of the recipes remind me of old time favourites that transport me back to my childhood.

Is it easy to source the ingredients that you need?

Sardo: Every year it gets easier to source the ingredients we need but it is a bit of a challenge to put in a last-minute order with the supplier and expect the delivery in a few days. At Ronda Locatelli, we source a good 95% of our products straight from Italy, which includes our truffles, cheese, extra virgin olive oil, flour, tomato sauce and even water. As lengthy as the process may be, it is all worth it when we are able to present our guests with a traditional Italian meal sourced from Italy but cooked in Dubai.

Nortier: It’s always a passion for restaurants and chefs to support their local market where they can and dependent on menu items this sometimes isn’t an option, especially in the Middle East. We have excellent relationships with our Italian suppliers that provide the bulk of our staple items on the menus, and where possible we keep it as traditional as we can.

Tresoldi: Fortunately, Dubai has a large variety of Italian and international ingredients available. While we like to support the local market, every chef prefers to have certain products delivered from specialist farmers and suppliers in Italy. Thanks to the growing Italian community, we’ve been able to access all our favourite products, imported exclusively for us, to make sure we can deliver an authentic Italian experience to the Dubai culinary scene.

Miceli: After six years of the Roberto’s team working to ensure we source the finest premium ingredients, I believe it has been more than worth it. We create dishes using Alaskan crab, Canadian lobster and scampi from New Zealand. Our sea bass and turbot comes in from the south of Italy and our ossobucco risotto comes from the north of Italy.

Baudoino: Absolutely! Since I have been in UAE, I have been able to find every ingredient that I need. This is very important because it’s only possible to reproduce authentic Italian cuisine when you have access to the key authentic ingredients such as fruits, vegetables and truffles.

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