IT’S A COMMON misconception that Italian cuisine is just tomatoes and cheese on something. The varied terrains and cultures of each Italian region provide many ingredients and techniques that make for various dishes, each town boasting a different recipe than the next, oftentimes, for the same thing.
Up north for example, closer to Switzerland, we get dishes rich in dairy and of a heavier texture, due to the need for sustenance in harsher climates. Down south, we get the lighter dishes with sunnier produce (such as tomatoes); and it is this cuisine that has become evocative of Italian cuisine due to the number of their citizens migrating to America. The modification of Italian cuisine to become more suited to new American environments is a different story all together.
But going back to Italy, all roads lead to Rome, and this is where Conrad Manila’s final guest chef for its Legendary Chefs series, Valerio Pierantonelli, comes from. His dishes will be served at the buffet at Conrad Manila’s Brasserie on 3.
For lunch earlier this week, Mr. Pierantonelli served Insalata di Polpo e Patate (Octopus salad with yellow potatoes and basil), Asparagi al Tartufo e funghi (Poached asparagus marinated with mushroom and truffle paste), a mushroom soup with a truffle paste, and a gnocchi of yellow potatoes roasted with gorgonzola. Taken collectively, these dishes had a homey, comforting quality. Next came a porchetta (pork belly), noisly crunchy; and a delicate sea bass with a sauce made from a seafood stock stewed for four hours. There was of course, an osso buco, a stew made from beef shanks that hit the spot. A piece de resistance was a risotto, colored pink from beetroot, mixed with chopped asparagus and dusted with olive powder. This had the right balance between comfort and luxury.
Debunking the misconception that it’s all tomatoes and cheese up in Italy, Mr. Pierantonelli said, “There are so many things. People outside the world know only the things that are the most common. But I think, if you actually travel all over Italy, there are so many things that not even Italians know.”
He makes an example of the dishes from his native Rome, the country’s capital. “It’s very heavy. There is a lot of strong flavor,” he said. “Even in Italy, when they go to Rome, they that they’re going to eat a lot.”
His own personal touch meanwhile, can be seen in the pizza sauce. Made of crushed tomatoes and a basil infusion, it’s cooked right on the crust as the pizza is baked, resulting in a richer, more expressive flavor.
It’s not extraordinary for Mr. Pierantonelli’s food to have an element of down-to-earth domesticity, despite his work at Conrad Singapore Orchard’s Italian restaurant, Basilico. After all, he did receive his first education in cooking from both his grandmothers — nonnas — legendary fixtures in Italian cuisine. “I started very young with both my grandmothers,” he said. He said that he had been an energetic baby, so his grandmothers would give him pieces of dough to knead to keep him busy. During Carnevale, when children would dress up in all sorts of costumes, he would choose to wear a chef’s costume. “That’s how I started to love the food.”
Nonnas are the enduring figureheads of Italian cuisine (as opposed to the temperamental chef, as French cuisine is usually represented in the media). “I think it’s good, because even myself, that’s how I learned to cook. Like I said before, the kitchen is love for me.
“More than a grandmother, who else can give you so much love?”
Mr. Pierantonelli’s dishes will be available at Brasserie on 3 until Aug. 15. Prices range from P1,799 to P3,500. — JL Garcia
For reservations and inquiries, contact Conrad Manila’s dining reservations at 8833-9999, 0917-650-3591 or e-mail MNLMB.FB@conradhotels.com. Prices range from P1799 to P3500.