For the love of Pasta

For the love of Pasta

Oodles of noodles, Michelin-style cooking, celebrity judges and a cooking contest that saw young chefs from across the world vying for the top prize - the recently held World Pasta Championship in Milan, Italy, was all this and more



By Ambica Sachin

Published: Tue 6 Nov 2018, 8:41 AM

Last updated: Tue 13 Nov 2018, 1:15 PM

How do you test an Italian chef's mettle? Just put them behind a kitchen counter, arm them with some quality pasta, place a prominent timer nearby and begin the countdown. Oh, and not to forget, have a zillion camera lenses zooming in on their every move - from the shaky fingers peeling a prawn to the master knife wielder dicing cherry tomatoes and dunking pasta into boiling water. The World Pasta Championship hosted by leading Italian food company Barilla, that recently took place in Milan, was the perfect venue to indulge in our predilection for armchair cooking (we aren't huge fans of television per se but can spend hours glued to all kinds of cookery shows, our absolute favourite being the MasterChef series). So to be ringside at the cooking contest hosted by Barilla at La Pelota, situated in the artsy neighbourhood of Brera in Milano, was a lip-smacking proposition. The two-day event had 18 chefs from across the world vying for the title of Master of Pasta with contestants competing with each other till they were whittled down to the final two. After two hectic days of watching young chefs cook pasta al dente and sampling the venue's Italian fare, here are our main takeaways from the event:
Fusion is the way to go forward
18 chefs from around the world competing with their own signature dishes with pasta as the central draw. One winner at the end. What were the chances of a non-Italian walking away with the top prize? Considering there was only one Italian chef, Lucia De Prai, competing in the contest, the odds were high - but still to have a Mexican chef who had flown all the way from the US, win the ultimate round was testimony to the fact that food is a universal binder that brings together people of different cultures and races. Carolina Diaz's reinvented Spaghetti al Pomodoro, was basic, simple and struck the perfect balance between acidity and sweetness, as the judges found. "I did Italian my way," the winner said at the end. With live cooking demos and talks from experts as well as a jury comprising Michelin-starred chefs Lorenzo Cogi, Viviana Varese, Luigi Taglienti and Holger Stromberg as well as food photographer Brittany Wright (if you haven't seen her amazing food shots you need to check them out now!), the contest was clearly not lacking the star factor. The icing on the cake had to be Michelin star chef Davide Oldani's live cooking demo that featured, among other things, a sampling of cooking sounds and gestures as part of the music collective Food Ensemble. Food that looks good, tastes great and sounds fantastic too - what more could you ask for?
When in Rome, eat like a Roman.
Pasta, pasta everywhere.. With the Italian staple being central to the cooking competition, it was but inevitable that pasta was the star of the two-day event. With the contestants getting inventive with their ingredients - we particularly loved Polish chef Pawel Galecki's take on penne pasta with tomato topped with a crunchy bread and nut mix - we came to the realisation that while the classic pasta with just the sauce to adorn it might be the country's go-to-staple (at least it seemed that way judging from the various dishes served on the final day), we like a bit of meat and veggies in ours, preferably with a hint of spice! Sadly the absence of the chef from Dubai (who was a no-show due to having missed his flight) meant we didn't have a tasting voucher to use up (the participating media were allotted their respective chefs to try out their signature dishes) and had to make peace with the simple classic pasta dishes served up at the event. But we came away with a newfound respect for the humble pasta - made from the simple combination of wheat and water - and the cult status it enjoys not just in Italy, its home ground, but every corner of the world. The introduction of the new legume line of pasta made of red lentils and chickpeas was another highlight of the event. It's truly amazing how the pasta has been adapted by so many cultures and its basic structure means it can be paired with practically anything - seasonal veggies or meat.
Women rule the kitchen. with a smile
When Carolina Diaz, the Chef di Cucina at the Art Institute of Chicago, took her place behind the kitchen counter on the first day of the pasta competition, there was no doubting that here was a woman who was not only a pro at what she was doing but derived so much fun from it  that it was hard to miss her sass. While her male counterparts were busy chopping up the ingredients and wiping their sweaty brows, Diaz had time to do her little jig, engage with her fans, and generally be the kind of person you'd love to have in your kitchen.
We'd like to believe it was not just her talent behind the counter that saw Carolina crowned the first ever female Master of Pasta, but her winning demeanor, her constant smile and the pure fun she seemed to be having while cooking with her fans - her team of family and friends were constantly on hand to egg her on and document every little thing she did. A woman on her own is a force to be reckoned with; a woman who comes armed with her family and friends' support is unbeatable. "I'm honored to be the first woman to win the Master of Pasta title," Carolina said. "Women are taking over and it's time that our work gets recognised around the world." We can't agree with her more!
 
 
ambica@khaleejtimes.com 

Davide Oldani performs as part of the Food Ensemble
Davide Oldani performs as part of the Food Ensemble
Michelin-star chef Luigi Taglienti offers support to Carolina Diaz
Michelin-star chef Luigi Taglienti offers support to Carolina Diaz
Our fave... Chef Galecki plates up his nutty pasta
Our fave... Chef Galecki plates up his nutty pasta
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