For the final test at ICIF I would prepare Crema di Fagiole Cannellini con Prociutto e Gamberi con salsa Basilico. Basically a Cannellini Bean paste with Bacon and Shrimp with a simple Basil sauce consisting of basil a bit of drippings from the bacon and some Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The Main problem that I had with this dish is that I could not for the life of me remember making it in any of the classes or even seeing it made. Then it hit me we had made the dish on our first day in the kitchen. We had run out of Cannelini Beans and used a kidney bean instead, the end result turned out looking like a piped out piece of dog poop with a couple of shrimp and a piece of bacon sticking out of it. Great, I thought, I have to make the dog poop dish. Pouring over my notes I could not find anything that would help me with the preparation, I only had a picture or two which would help me with plating but this was of little help because I had only my plate to go off of and like I said it looked like a soft-serve swirl of poo. I was not looking forward to this dish.
As per usual the test started late. The curve ball there were five judges instead of three as was usual or four as there should have been. The roster did not include a single chef, there was a reporter, two architects, the lawyer for ICIF and the director . A little unimpressive but also a bit intimidating because what is the Architect going to think about first and foremost? That’s right…the plating, bane of my culinary existence. I have really tried to pay attention to the techniques and flare employed by the guest chefs and feel that in some way I have improved in this regard, but I was still quite nervous. I meditated for a minute and decided that I would approach the dish in a straight forward manner. The Paste on top of a perfect crisp thin slice of baguette . The shrimp would be set atop the curl of bean paste, rolled using a Japanese method where by the tail is poked through itself making a nice little ball of shrimp with the tail splayed out above it. Two shrimps to each Bruchetta with a crispy piece of pancetta separating the shrimps. The sauce drizzled around the plate and over the top. As I served the Judges I brought out the Five plate but was rejected by one of the judges who was allergic to shellfish, Shrimp in particular. This was probably my fault seafood allergies are common, I should have asked before I served. I even had extra of the dish which had not been touched by the shrimp and I offered to go and retrieve one for him. He said that he was fine just looking at the other dishes, a dubious statement but followed with a kindly “It looks very good though”.
The next Curve ball came when we were allowed to select the wine that was paired with the dish. A show of confidence on the part of our sommelier professor the ever brilliant Gianni Lercara. There were two whites to choose from a 2008 Gavi, I like the name of this grape for obvious reasons. Now normally a young white has a fair amount of acidity to them which is a great way to balance the fattiness of the bacon and the saltiness of the bean paste and sweetness inherent to the shrimp the wine that I chose because I had an early course I wanted to choose something light though my dish was heavy on flavors and would have required a bigger wine. The alternative to this wine was a 2003 Chardonnay which if pairing this wine only with my dish would have been a perfect match but when thinking that I had a first course and there were some heavy red to come after my course I chose the Gavi, Explaining my choice to the judges as I have explained it to you all including the tongue in cheek remark about the name which they courteously laughed at. I knew I had chosen a wine that was inferior to the dish that I had prepared and it would not balance because this particular Gavi lacked the acidity and sapidity that I needed to properly balance the dish but there is a vertical aspect to the wines in a five course meal, Five different wines the first wine should not be a huge wine but I needed my wine to be just a touch bigger than it was to create a harmonious pairing. All of this aside I received a 27 on the scoring sheet and it was enough to pull my average to 26 for the course. A number I am told to be happy about but I do have a little bit of trouble gloating about only because I like to hold myself to a higher standard.
All in all, I have to say I have accomplished my goals for the scholastic part of my Italian odyssey. Here are flavors in nature which stand firmly on their own and don’t need to be complicated with a rack of spices added to them so that they no longer taste of the food but only of spice. I have worked to sharpen my pallet for the inevitable marriage of food and wine, the skills taught to me by Gianni I know will be invaluable for my future. He presented me with a new way to approach wine like an expert, not a snob, the characteristics of the wine that matter the most and the insignificance of being able to identify a certain smell like “Violets on the 24th of April just after a spring rain”. Poetic yes but it is sufficient to merely say “floral bouquet”. The fact that is a bottle of wine has a novel written on the back explaining the intricacies of the nose and pairing suggestions accompanied by a pretty picture they probably put more effort into the label than the wine in the bottle. Good wine does not have to cost an arm and a leg, true some really, really good wines have a hefty price tag but that is because of the effort to which the vintners go to in making the wine you are paying for their investment of time, love and energy. There are vintners out there that love their jobs and make the wine simply because it is what they enjoy doing with their lives and the modest price that they charge for their wines is proof of that. In the end that material objects that I take away from the school are a few recipe books completely in Italian and a Diploma that says I have completed the Master Course. But intellectually I take away so much more. Like a true Musician I have learned and am still learning the classical techniques and now comes the time to elaborate and improve upon the classical and make my own music.
My Only beef is that I did not become Fluent in Italian and still have a fair amount of difficulty speaking in general. But I am understanding a lot more and that probably had something to do with the classes I was offered even if it only amounted to about 3 hours a week for the two months. I’ll Just have to work harder when I go into the working phase of the odyssey. Sorry to have not written in a while but I have been Traveling around Europe to seek out more culture of the western world. Ciao for now, Stay tuned.