From Four Seasons Florence, Chef Vito Mollica Shows How Italians Make More Out of Less
World’s 10 Top Women Chefs Coming to India for Annual CSSG Event in February 2015
VITO MOLLICA exudes the warmth of the sun in his native Calabria and he can make even the humblest pasta take a life of its own. On Thursday, November 13, at an intimate dinner hosted at Le Cirque by the Four Seasons Florence, presided over by the hotel’s gregarious general manager, Patrizio Cipollini, the much-acclaimed chef showed why simplicity is the biggest asset of Italian cuisine.
Located at a palazzo dating back to 1493, Four Seasons Florence, in the heart of the historical city, took seven years to be recreate the old glory of an address whose previous residents include a Pope, Leo XI, who died after completing just 26 days in his hallowed office, an order of nuns, Italy’s first railway company, five centuries of Florentine nobility and a Viceroy of Egypt, who had to sell it after his harem was barred from moving in.
And it is home to Il Palagio, where Vito and the hotel’s executive pastry chef, Domenico di Clemente, have ensured that it has not only earned a Michelin star, but also ranked No. 4 in World’s Best Hotel Restaurants in 2014 list of the respected food and drink website, The Daily Meal. On this well-researched list, Il Palagio is behind Epicure at Le Bristol (Paris), Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Hyde Park (London) and Le Louis XV at Hotel de Paris (Monte Carlo), all famous addresses with three Michelin stars each.
In its six years, Four Seasons Florence has seen four Big Fat Indian Weddings, and even as we were having dinner, the warm-hearted Cipollini was entertaining two Delhi couples whose son and daughter respectively are getting married at the historic hotel. The other guests included Anand and Aditi Kapoor, Ruchi and Bipin Sibal, Magandeep Singh and Karina Aggarwal, who seem to have recovered completely from the labours of the Indian Sommelier Championship, and Hicham L. Bennani, Air France’s Commercial Director (South Asia).
Ruchi and Aditi looked all set for the ground-breaking Delhi Palate Fest 2014 at Nehru Park, even as Anand Kapoor looked secretly delighted (though he kept complaining how he’s greying as a result!) at the thought of having ten accomplished women chefs of the world — from Angela Hartnett of the U.K. to Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava, the better half of the duo running Bangkok’s much-acclaimed Bo.lan restaurant — come down to New Delhi for his next Creative Services Support Group (CSSG) event in February 2015.
It is a rare pleasure to be served personally by the guardian of a Michelin-starred restaurant, but Chef Vito, with able assistance from Ankush Kaul‘s well-oiled team, ensured that each dish arrived just as we had finished admiring the last. We started with the Sadininian seafood salad, the Catalana, where the chef replaced the traditional lobster with tiger prawns and reduced the potato chunks to a puree to dress up the main ingredient. The addition of pickled Tuscan artichokes and other vegetables, and drops of cauliflower coulis, completed the array of tastes and textures lined up on the plate.
Next on the menu was a mushroom flan (the most memorable marriage of porcini and ricotta) sitting atop a pool of parmesan fondue, accompanied by a parmesan crisp, which set us in the mood for the risotto that came with a generous layer of Tuscan truffle shavings — it restored my faith in the dish, which I hardly ever get to eat in its original form closer home.
Next in the queue was the chef’s Cacio e Pepe, which was named Dish of the Year in the influential Italian restaurant guide, Guida Ristoranti Espresso 2013. The chef made it a point to remind us that the dish had just three elements — pasta (back in Florence, the chef uses cavatelli, shaped like miniature hot dog buns), pecorino (used generously in the thick sauce) and freshly ground black pepper (the original recipe, though, adds red prawns and marinated baby squid). The last-mentioned ingredients may have been missing, but I can assure you that you don’t have to be a vegetarian to fall in love with the Cacio e Pepe.
Just as we were loosening our belts, the last savoury course arrived — roasted sea bass enthroned upon thyme-flavoured polenta, with stewed squid drizzled over it, the gentle crunchiness of the squid providing a counterpoint to the soft flesh of the fish. We couldn’t have asked for a better finale than the tiramisu whipped up by Chef Dominico, who replaced the coffee-dipped Savoiardi biscuits with crunchy chocolate chips and a smooth chocolate ice-cream, concealed by a fat layer of mascarpone whipped up to sabayon-like consistency. The gold leaf garnish got us talking and we learnt from Chef Vito that Florence is also home to the world’s largest producer of gold leaf (both decorative and edible), Giusto Battiloro Manetti. One lives and one learns — and one savours the company of great chefs.
* Mickey Bhoite’s able No. 2, Federico Pucci, is also bidding goodbye to Le Cirque to take his first holiday in seven years. For the next three months, he’ll be backpacking across Thailand, spend New Year’s Eve there, and then return to Delhi on January 1 (I hope he can wake up in time to board his flight!) to hit the road one more time, on familiar tracks across India, riding his faithful Bullet.
* Le Cirque’s new chef, who has come via the Bulgari Milan and the Fullerton Singapore, will take charge on November 18. Watch this space to know more about him.
* And just in case you’re wondering where Shipra Pradhan, the Le Cirque manager, has disappeared, here’s the update. She has relocated to Abu Dhabi, where she has found a position with the UAE-based Rotana chain of hotels.