sábado, 24 de setembro de 2011

Correção

My bad. O nome completo do meu atual prato favorito é Alheira do Fiolhoso só com Grelos (espinafres) Salteados. O esparregado que eu citei erroneamente é também espinafre, mas em uma versão mais encorpada, que geralmente leva farinha e assemelha-se mais a uma pasta. Aprendi isso agora, quando o Laurentino começou a tremer e suar frio enquanto lia o post ao meu lado.

Correction

My bad. The full name of my currently favorite dish is Alheira do Fiolhoso só com Grelos Salteados (sautEed spinach). No such thing as esparregado, as I mistakenly described. Esparregado is indeed a recipe with spinach, but it takes flour and looks more like a paste. I've just learnt that, when Laurentino had cold sweats and shakings while reading the post by my side.

quinta-feira, 22 de setembro de 2011

Lisboa parte II

Feita a ode ao pastel de Belém, passemos às refeições propriamente ditas. Veja bem, eu como muito. Não só meu apetite é habitualmente voraz, como minha vida acadêmica impõe que eu mantenha uma ingestão rotineira de queijos, enchidos, carnes, vinhos... Definitivamente não sou moça para ficar na saladinha + grelhado, beber pela taça e muito menos dividir a sobremesa. Não obstante tudo isso, Lisboa soube como pôr minha glutonice à prova. Por vezes cheguei a pensar que fosse sucumbir ao fastio. Segue um capítulo de luta e superação:
No segundo dia, depois de um pequeno-almoço exemplar (se você tem a infelicidade de estar em dieta), caminhamos muito pela cidade. Por praga do Laurentino, o único sapato baixo que eu levei comigo mostrou-se um algoz sem piedade, e fui obrigada a subir e descer as 7 colinas equilibrando-me em saltos altos (que meu namorado adora, mas meus tornozelos rejeitam em igual medida). As ladeiras e calçadas de pedras irregulares não vieram a calhar neste contexto, e foram horas a fio de semi-tombos e resmungos. Quando nuvens negras taparam o sol, tudo o que eu mais desejava era entrar em um restaurante, aplacar minha fome, abrir uma garrafa de vinho, tirar os tamancos e ali ficar até a tarde passar. E assim foi.
Depois de muito rodar a esmo pelas ruas do Alvalade, enfim chegamos ao Salsa & Coentros, restaurante onde Laurentino costumava vir com seus colegas de cozinha (o chef incluído) nos tempos em que trabalhava no Tavares. Digamos que o endosso de José Avillez, menino de ouro da cozinha portuguesa e embaixador estrelado dos pratos típicos de seu país, já é razão mais do que suficiente para ir conhecer a casa.
O lugar era simples, com notas de jornais e revistas na parede, dando conta de como os sócios José Duarte e Belmiro de Jesus haviam trabalhado juntos em endereços emblemáticos da cidade antes de abrir o negócio, que tem no cardápio clássicos da cozinha alentejana. Quem nos recebeu foi Duarte, encarregado do salão e da pastelaria, que começou por dissuadir-nos de alguns itens do pedido que fizemos enquanto esperávamos por uma mesa - segundo ele, era comida demais. Senti-me desafiada, mas calei, prevendo que a desforra viria quando, ao fim da refeição, ainda tivéssemos fome e insistíssemos nos tais pratos originalmente pedidos.
Mal tomamos nossos assentos, vieram as entradas: empadas de galinha que entraram imediatamente para a série portuguesa intitulada massa-dourada-fininha-quebradiça-com-recheio-generoso; migas de ovo e batata (massa disforme, macia e de amarelo intenso combinando ovos  suavemente mexidos e lâminas de batata, que com o auxílio de uma quantidade obscena de azeite mostraram-se feitos um para o outro) e polvo vinagrete, com pedaços tenros do molusco salpicados por coentros y nada más (além do molho, claro).
Começamos com sopa de cação e eu, que esperava um prato leve (pela associação das palavras sopa e peixe), comecei a entender a razão de termos sido demovidos de um pedido mais ambicioso: o caldo aromático de cação com coentros era engrossado por pão. Unam-se a isso fartos nacos de cação e tem-se uma refeição completa, tão rica em proteína e carboidrato quanto um filé alto de peixe com batatas. Foi minha primeira sopa de cação, mas gostei tanto que não duvidei das palavras do Laurentino quando ele disse ser a melhor de Lisboa.
O prato seguinte foi daqueles divisores de águas. Posso dizer que separo minha vida em antes e depois da alheira. Em uma apresentação singela, acompanhada por um tanto de esparragado (espinafre no azeite), lá estava ela: uma lingüiça roliça (tinha até estourado em cantinho), caramelização marrom escura do lado de fora e nó na pontinha. Rústica, imperfeita e orgulhosa. Pudera, o recheio era absolutamente sublime: pedaços de porco, aves e alho triturados, amalgamados por pão e banha e aromatizados com colorau em uma pasta dourada que quase dissolvia ao ser mastigada. Envolta em tripa suína, a iguaria é frita no azeite, o que confere a cor - e enriquece o sabor.
Para sobremesa fomos de sericaia com ameixa Rainha Cláudia (ele) e toucinho do céu (eu). Ou foi o contrário? Já não sei, meu prato favorito é sempre aquele que o coitado pediu, e neste caso só tive olhos para o toucinho. Não que a sericaia fosse má, mas é um doce menos doce, mais pálido, para aquelas pessoas que não são assim tão formigas. Eu sou ao extremo, portanto o toucinho amarelo vivo e MUITO doce ganhou meu coração, entrando para outra série lisboeta: combinações-espetaculares-de-gema-e-açúcar. Por sinal, finalmente descobri o motivo que explica esse talento confeiteiro português expresso por meio dos doces conventuais: as freiras de antigamente costumavam engomar roupas com claras de ovos, tendo que lidar com as gemas logo em seguida. Daí terem criado tantas delícias – verdadeiros pecados!
Toda a refeição foi acompanhada por uma garrafa do vinho Alento Reserva 2007, alentejano que combina as uvas Aragonês, Trincadeira e Alicante Bouschet. Marcante e equilibrado, conversou agradavelmente com todos os pratos fortes e substancias que passaram pela mesa.
 O atendimento foi gentil, com Duarte vindo vez por outra checar se estava tudo nos conformes. No final ele tinha razão: depois do cafezinho, estávamos mais do que satisfeitos e não teríamos encarado um prato a mais impunemente. Quando a conta chegou, a chuvarada já tinha vindo e passado, e eu já não me lembrava dos pés doloridos ou do mau humor de antes. Foram mais de duas horas de abandono nas mãos de uma equipe talentosa e afinada, adorando cada nova descoberta gustativa e na melhor das companhias. A única dificuldade foi me manter acordada pelo resto da tarde...








Lisbon part II
Now that the ode to pastel de Belém has been made, let’s move on to the actual meals. See, I eat a lot. Not only is my appetite usually voracious, but also my academic life imposes the consumption of cheeses, charcuterie, meats, wines and the sorts on a daily basis. I am definitely not the salad + grilled meat kind of girl, neither do I order wine by the glass and no, I’m not willing to share my dessert, but thanks for asking. Regardless of all that, Lisbon managed to put my gluttony to the test. At times I feared succumbing to eating exhaustion. You’re about to read one chapter of my story on struggling and overcoming challenges.
On the second day, after an exemplary breakfast (if you’re unfortunate to the point of dieting), we walked a lot around town. The gods granted Laurentino’s wishes by turning my only flat shoes into merciless tormentors, therefore making me go up and down the city of the 7 hills equilibrating my clumsy body on high heels (greatly appreciated by my boyfriend, and equally rejected by my ankles). The paved and cobbled slopes and sidewalks didn’t help a lot in that context, and I’ve basically spent hours in a row in a state of constant nagging and tripping. When black clouds covered the sun, all I wished was to walk into a restaurant, appease my hunger, open a bottle of wine and remove those damn clogs.
After a while of driving errands by the streets of Alvalade, we finally made it to Salsa & Coentros (Parsley & Coriander), restaurant where Mr. Laurentino used to eat with his kitchen mates (including the chef) back in the times when he worked at Tavares. Let’s just say that if a restaurant is endorsed by José Avillez (golden boy of Portuguese cuisine and proud ambassador of his country’s culinary masterpieces), that’s already reason enough for me to go there.
The place was simple, with newspaper and magazine pages on the wall, telling how partners José Duarte and Belmiro de Jesus had worked together in emblematic houses from Lisbon before opening their own business, which’s menu is filled with classic dishes from the Alentejo’s cuisine. Duarte, who’s in charge of front of house and pastry, happened to welcome us at lunch time. He started by talking us out of ordering some of the dishes we wanted – according to him, our original order would be an exaggerate amount of food. That sounded like a challenge, but I kept my mouth shut, planning my revenge for later, when after making it through the meal, we’d still be hungry for more.
As soon as we took our seats, the starters were brought: empadas de galinha (chicken patties) that entered the Portuguese hall of golden-thin-brittle-crust-with-generous-filling; migas de ovo e batata (shapeless, soft and intensely yellow mass composed of subtly scrambled eggs and thin potato scales – with a little help from an obscene amount of extra virgin olive oil, it was a match made in heaven) and polvo vinagrete (vinaigrette octopus), with tender pieces of the mollusk sparkled with coriander and nothing else (apart from the sauce, clearly).
We started by sopa de cação (dogfish soup) and by then I begun to understand why we’d been dissuaded of ordering more ambitiously: by associating the words “soup” and “fish” I was expecting a light dish. Instead, the aromatic fish broth with coriander had a fair amount of bread as thickening agent. Add to that big and plenty chunks of dogfish and you have a complete meal, as rich in proteins and carbs as a large serving of fish and potatoes. It was the first time I tasted sopa de cação, but I was so positively impressed that it was easy to believe Laurentino when he (re)affirmed it was the best in Lisbon.
The following dish was a kind of watershed. I can honestly say that my life is divided in before and after alheira (no translation for this one). Humbly presented with a spoonful of esparragado (spinach in olive oil) and nothing else, there it was: a round  and plump sausage, dark brown on the outside, bursting in one end, tied with a knot in the other. Rustic, imperfect and proud. Rightfully proud, if I may add: the filling was absolutely sublime. Minced pieces of pork, poultry and garlic, amalgamated by bread and pork fat, aromatized with paprika in a golden paste that nearly dissolved in the mouth. Cased in swine tripe, the delicacy is fried in olive oil, hence the color – and the enriched flavor.
For dessert we went for sericaia with Rainha Claudia plums (him) and toucinho do céu (me). Or was it the other way round? I no longer remember, since my favorite dish is always whatever the poor man is eating. Here, I only had eyes for toucinho. Not meaning that the sericaia was unpleasant, but it is a less sweet dessert, paler, suitable for those people who are not so keen on sugar. I am extremely keen, therefore the vividly yellow and VERY sweet toucinho won my heart, entering another of my Lisbon series: spectacular-combinations-between-eggyolks-and-sugar. By the way, I finally learned the reason for Portuguese extraordinary pastry talents, namely conventual sweets: nuns from ages ago used to apply egg whites on clothes when ironing, in order to keep them straight. Accordingly, they had to deal with immense amounts of egg yolks, and that’s how so many (sinfully!) delicious sweets came to be created.
The meal was paired with a bottle of Alento Reserva 2007, a red wine from Alentejo, combining grape varieties Aragonês, Trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet. Outstanding and balanced, it pleasantly kept up with all the robust dishes that passed our table. Service was kind and attentive, with Duarte coming every now and then to check if everything was fine. In the end, he was right: after espresso, we were more than satisfied and eating another dish would certainly not go unpunished. When the bill was presented, the summer storm had already come and gone, and I couldn’t even remember the sore feet or lousy mood from the morning. It was over two hours of self-abandonment in the hands of a talented and generous team, loving each new gustative discovery and in the best of companies. The only problem was to keep myself awake for the rest of the afternoon…

quarta-feira, 14 de setembro de 2011

Ah, Lisboa!

Nada melhor para iniciar a fase de posts sucintos e pessoais do que uma viagem à terra natal do meu futuro marido (na companhia do próprio). Tema sucinto apenas no sentido de que uma viagem a Lisboa deve ser  obrigatoriamente dividida em capítulos curtos, pois narrar todos os pratos de uma só vez poderia me matar. De tendinite ou de vergonha, já que eu comi como se cada refeição fosse minha última.

O Sr. Laurentino (o noivo) me fala sobre a comida lisboeta com ares de nostalgia e encantamento desde que nos conhecemos. Nada mais natural, vindo de um cozinheiro português que começou a carreira na cozinha de José Avillez. Ainda assim, devo admitir, esse patriotismo gastronômico com ares ufanistas sempre me soou deveras irritante por implicar um certo desprezo a qualquer derivação da culinária lusa fora de Portugal. O gajo no Brasil encontrou diversas oportunidades para lançar olhares lânguidos ao outro lado do Atlântico, vendo em todo lado um arremedo daquilo que segundo ele, só na sua Lisboa se faz direito. Tal hábito indignava-me por duas razões: uma por eu nunca ter pisado em Portugal, e portanto ter de me resignar à minha ignorância diante da comparação. Além disso, eu sempre tentei mostrá-lo que a comida brasileira não é cópia barata da portuguesa, mas coisa muito nossa (com óbvias influências dos colonizadores, entre outras evoluções naturais). Mas quem disse que ele me escuta?

Pelo grau de evocação apaixonada, calculo que a versão lisboeta das madeleines de Proust só pode ser o pastel de Belém. É o único paralelo que me ocorre para um homem tão obcecado por um doce como o Sr. Lauren é pelos pasteizinhos. Sempre que come uma versão diferente da original, ele não faz a mínima questão de esconder seu desapontamento e as saudades de casa que vêm com a detecção da maisena presente em todas as imitações. Por essa razão, meu primeiro destino em Lisboa foi a Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém, para finalmente descobrir se toda essa devoção tinha fundamento ou se ele só fazia pra me irritar.

O lugar dá a impressão de não ter mudado nada com o passar dos anos, ainda que o número interminável de salões azulejados leve a supor que várias ampliações foram feitas ali para abrigar uma quantidade crescente de clientes. Durante o dia inteiro é um entra e sai constante de pessoas atraídas pela mística de uma receita secreta, conhecida por apenas três sujeitos e passada adiante somente no caso de um morrer. Visto que eu estava ainda mais faminta do que curiosa, pedimos croquetes de carne, rissóis de camarão e bolinhos de bacalhau para aplacar a fome e preservar o rigor da degustação. Fritura perfeita e um prenúncio da proporção massa/recheio que eu fiquei muito satisfeita em encontrar ao longo de toda a estadia.

Servida a sobremesa, concentrei-me para dar o veredito. Os dois portugueses que me acompanhavam nem mesmo demonstraram ansiedade com a expectativa, mas lançavam-me sorrisos marotos com ares de já ganhou. De fato, uma mordida bastou para convencer-me da superioridade do pastel de Belém. A massa dourada, finíssima e quebradiça humilha a folhada, utilizada em pastéis de nata genéricos mundo afora. Especula-se sobre o ingrediente secreto, e os palpites vão de fécula de batata a banha de porco. O recheio é composto unicamente de gemas e açúcar, e eu ainda encontro um tratado que discorra sobre a ciência que esse povo desenvolveu para combinar esses dois ingredientes de tantas e tão irresistíveis maneiras. (As cópias levam também natas, e a já mencionada maisena, que deixa a textura espessa além do ponto). As altas temperaturas dos fornos utilizados garantem a crocância da massa e a caramelização do recheio na superfície. Cada elemento atinge seu ápice, e o resultado é mesmo um doce sem paralelos.

Saí dali convertida a uma das maiores paixões portuguesas - senão a maior. Sabia que seria só o começo, a contar pela minha reiterada predileção por tudo o que vem daquela terra. E uma vez que essa intuição confirmou-se, cada uma das minhas descobertas lisboetas merecerá um post próprio nos próximos dias. Beijinhos e até a próxima!







Ah, Lisboa!

Nothing better to kick start the era of succinct and personal post than a trip to the hometown of my husband to-be (in his company). By succinct I mean that a visit to Lisbon must mandatorily be subdivided in short narratives, since describing at once all of the food I had there could actually kill me. With tendonitis or shame, seeing that I’ve eaten as if every meal was my last.

Mr. Laurentino (the fiance) talks nostalgically about the food in Lisbon to me ever since we met. I find it only natural, coming from a cook who began his carreer in the kitchen of chef José Avillez. Still, I have to admit that such gastronomic patriotism with jingoistic hints has always sounded quite annoying to me, for implying pure disdain towards any kind of offshoot of Lusitanian cuisine outside of Portugal. The man has found several opportunities in Brasil to throw languid stares to the other side of the Atlantic, seeing everywhere a mockery of what according to him could only be made properly back in his beloved Lisbon. That habit pissed the hell out of me for two reasons: 1) I had never stepped in Portuguese territory, and therefore could only come to terms with my own ignorance before the comparison. Besides, I’ve always tried to show him that Brazilian food doesn’t try to mimick that of Portugal: we have our own thing (with obvious influences from our once upon a time colonizers, among other aspects from natural evolution). But who said that he listens to me?

Judging by the degree of passionate evocation, I risk saying that Lisbon’s response to Proust’s madeleines is the pastel de Belém. It’s the only parallel that occurs to me for a man so obsessed by a piece of confectionery as Mr. Lauren is by the pasteizinhos. Whenever tasting a version different from the original, he doesn’t bother hiding his disappointment and the homesickness derived from the cornflour detected in all of the imitations. For that reason, my firts destination in Lisbon was Fábrica dos Pastéis de Belém, the one and only source of the real thing, in order to finally find out if such a devotion had grounds or if he did it only to annoy me.

A view of the place makes you think that nothing there has been altered along the years, even though the countless rooms covered in tiles leads to the assumption that it has been expanded in order to welcome an increasing number of customers. All day long, people come in attracted by the mystique of a secret recipe, known exclusively by three men and passed along only in case one of them dies. Since I was more starving than curious, we ordered croquetes de carne (meat croquettes), rissóis de camarão (shrimp patties) and bolinhos de bacalhau (cod fish balls) to appease the hunger and preserve the accuracy of the tasting. Perfect deep frying and an anticipation of the ratio batter/filling that I would happily find all along my stay in the city.

When “dessert” was served, I focused to give my verdict. The two Portuguese gentlemen who made me company weren’t even showing anxiety or expectation, instead they bore these presumptuous smiles knowing that I was in the bag. Indeed, one bite was enough to convince me of the superiority of pastéis de Belém. The golden, brittle, extremely thin crust puts to shame the puff pastry normally used in the generic versions sold around the world. Rumour has it that the secret ingredient would be potato starch or lard, but we can only speculate. The filling contains solely egg yolks and sugar, and let me just say: Portuguese people should have an enciclopedia on the science of combining these two ingredients in so many and such irresistible ways. (Pedestrian versions of the sweet also take cream and cornflour, this last ingredient usually resulting in a sturdy texture.) Precise oven temperatures confer crispness to the pastry and caramelization to the filling's surface. Each of the elements reaches its pinnacle, and the end result is in fact unparalleled.

By the time of leaving the place, I was fervently converted to one of Lisbon's strongest passions - if not the strongest. I could tell that was only the beginning, judging by my already predictable fondness of everything that comes from that place. Since that feeling was confirmed, eachof my Lisbon discoveries shall deserve a post of its own, coming up on the next few days.

Beijinhos!

quarta-feira, 31 de agosto de 2011

Back for good

Hello... Is anybody there? Probably not, since this blog has been abandoned over the past few months. Not for laziness, definitely not for lack of content to write about, but for something that could be described as an identity crisis. 

My previous blog (tasteslikelondon.blogspot.com) used to be written in portuguese (my native language) and it was highly personal. This year I decided to write with professional aspirations, which meant: longer texts; as little personal involvment displays as possible and english as the official idiom, aiming at the majority of contacts I have in the food world.

But you know what? I got bored. Re-reading the previous posts in this blog, it's not that I  dislike them, it's just that I can't really see much of myself in those lines. Texts were becoming longer and rarer, since I began dreading the moment of writing in depth about all the diverse and incredible experiences I was having. It was simply overwhelming.

Now, half of the year has gone by and I am more aware of what I want from here on. Being a decent blogger is included on the list. Communicating with readers and bloggers from my own country is another goal. Hence, updates will be more frequent, more easily digestible and more me. Also, bilingual!

This is just a letter (note?) of intentions, or an amouse bouche (not really amusing, but still). Coming next, a semester packed with travel, eating, drinking and a wedding, just to give a twist to the routine! 

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De volta para ficar

Oi... Tem alguém aí? Duvido, já que este blog está atirado às traças há alguns meses. Não por preguiça, muito menos por falta de assunto, mas por algo que pode ser definido como crise de identidade.

Meu blog anterior costumava ser escrito em português (minha língua mãe), e era altamente pessoal. Esse ano eu resolvi escrever levando em conta minhas aspirações profissionais, o que implicou: textos mais longos e detalhados; o mínimo possível de toques pessoais e o inglês como idioma oficial, tendo em vista a maioria das pessoas que eu conheço no mundo da gastronomia.

Mas quer saber? Enjoei. Relendo os posts deste blog, não é que eu não goste do que escrevi, mas não consigo ver muito de mim mesma naquelas linhas. Os textos estavam se tornando mais longos e mais raros, já que eu passei a temer o momento de escrever em profundidade sobre todas as experiências incríveis que eu vinha vivendo. 

Agora, metade do ano passou e eu tenho uma idéia mais clara do que busco daqui pra frente. Ser uma blogueira decente tá na lista. Comunicar-me com leitores e bloggers do meu país é outro objetivo. De modo que os updates serão mais frequentes, mais digeríveis e mais eu. Serão também bilíngües.

Esta é só uma carta (ou bilhete) de intenções, um aperitivo do que está por vir. Pela frente, temos um semestre recheado de viagens, comida, bebida e um casamento, só pra quebrar um pouco a rotina!

quarta-feira, 1 de junho de 2011

A model

On the previous post, I wrote about extreme quality food and its market placement, wondering how to create an identity to goods that are so unique and precious to their producers. I must say that the subject first came to my attention when I learned about a company that does that job in its very own fashion, succeeding tremendously and inspiring people like me.

First time I read about Ceretto was when my boyfriend was searching on the web for an interesting kitchen to work in whenever we came to live here. This one chef was the shining star among several respectable names: Enrico Crippa. At Piazza Duomo, he was presenting an innovative cuisine, with strong roots in the Italian/Piedmontese tradition and still, full of influences from the chefs and places that form his background, such as Gualtiero Marchesi, Michel Bras, Ferran Adriá and his whole experience as a chef in Japan. Piazza Duomo alone was already impressive, specially after coming across a strong sense of purism all over the region. But that wasn’t all. Allow me to say more about the restaurant on the paragraphs to come, it certainly deserves a closer look. First I want to clarify the link between Ceretto and Crippa, as well as other connections I’ve stumbled upon - in awe - during the way.

Ceretto is a family owned winery, set in Alba for over 70 years and owning nowadays several independent estates all over the area of Langhe and Roero. The second generation, back in the 60’s, implemented a production based essentially on the terroir, along with a thorough selection of grapes, that led to outstanding Barolos and Barbarescos. Today, with the expansion of the territories, the group also produces Arneis, Moscato, Dolcetto, Barbera and grappas.

On the course of its history, the family has benefited from a harmony that reminds the onlooker of yin and yang: both second and third generations contain principles of tradition and modernity,  represented by each of the family members and in perfect balance, as the Tao concept of complementarity. In the second generation, this was represented by two brothers: one with a contemplative nature, focused on the technical aspects of winemaking and devoted to bring the tradition to its prime; the other gifted with the frame of mind that made the business successful in terms of marketing, commerce and finances. The brothers had children, who nowadays are in charge of the business, and in doing so find means to exercise their very particular talents. The results go far beyond excellent wines that are highly representative of their terroir.

The perception of wine as culture acquires a broader and more concrete meaning, aside from the exhaustively talked about art of making terroirs speak through winemaking. Don't get me wrong, I am all for aknowledging the wine I drink, but there are places and occasions to go on about the whole process. Trying to express in words the beauty of it tends to steal much of what would be better appreciated in silence. Apart from the risk of becoming a big clichè, taking for granted those who drink. In Ceretto, the communication is carried out in the opposite direction, not talking redundantly about the art and beauty in wine, but associating their product to mind blowing projects that put the drinker/spectator in a longlasting state of reflexion. Each of the initiatives carried out by the company is carefully constructed, aiming to not only connect wine with culture, but to place such connection in its own context.

Take for instance the cases of The Grape, The Cube and the Chapel, singular pieces of architecture placed in key spots of the Piedmontese region. The Grape is this big transparent bubble, suspended above the vineyards at Monsordo-Bernardina, Ceretto's headquarters. It aims to represent a single grape berry, and along with the whole hospitality structure that encompasses it, dominates the stunning landscape of the Barolo territory. The Cube, on its turn, is a representation of Barolo itself, being an imponent glass structure, with sharp edges, standing on the top the Bricco Roche hill, in Castiglione Falletto. The sharpness, the solidity, the angles and the material stand for the wine's strong, concentrated and unapologetic profile. Finally, The Chapel used to belong to an estate bought by the family in the 70's. Built in the beginning of last century, it was abandoned for several years, until its remarkable renovation, in 1997, which covered the old building in multiple vibrant colors, an odd and unexpected sight in a region of overall conservative architecture. Apart from these examples, Ceretto holds the Premio Langhe Ceretto, a book prize focused in pieces dealing with wine and food culture. For more distinct and particular these initiatives may seem, they do hold as a common factor a tight bond to the area where the wines come from, all taking place among the vineyards in the Piedmontese hills.

As soon as I arrived in this area, visiting the winery and dining at Piazza Duomo became absolute priorities. I just had to assess with my senses the actual effect of all these tailor made ventures, which by then had only enticed my curiosity and raised admiration from afar. I ended up being even more impressed. First, on the day when I visited Monsordo Bernardina. It was Sunday, and upon arrival, we noticed the absence of cars and a general quietness, giving the impression that the place was closed. Since our taxi had already left, we decided to explore the area, looking for hidden passages or any living soul who might give us some helpful information, while admiring the breathtaking sight of the hills. Finally, this door opens as if by miracle, and we walk in to find a dark and deserted cellar, filled with barrels of different vintages. But still, no sign of human life. Even though by that moment it looked a lot like a haunted cantina, we kept searching very bravely, until reaching a long dark hall. In the end of it, abundant light. Looking closer, we found an elegant dining room, framed by glass and leading to The Grape. There, a group was tasting several bottles, guided by this lovely young woman, who welcomed us, offering a table outside. Although she was working alone on that day, we got an attentive service, clear explanations and some excellent wines. Not to mention the landscape around us, a beautiful setting surrounded by hills, vines and silence. On that day, we tasted Arneis, Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, Barolo and Barolo Chinatto. It was my first opportunity to taste the three versions of Nebbiolo grape at the same time, allowing me to assess the effects operated by the ageing. It was also a first on tasting Barolo Chinato, a newly found (as far as I'm concerned) perfect match for dark chocolate.







Although my impressions on the winery couldn't be any better, I had even higher expectations regarding Piazza Duomo. Apart from the idea expressed by the restaurant’s website, the 2 Michelin stars made a considerable endorsement to Crippa’s cuisine being a memorable experience.Therefore, on a Thursday evening, a few weeks ago, I was all excitement and anticipation. Two feelings that gradually changed into joy, surprise, emotion and satisfaction as the seven courses of the Tradizione e Innovazione menu danced on our table.


The pictures below do not make justice to the actual dishes. I obviously lack photographic talent, and in my defense I can say that the camera used was the iPhone, besides the fact that I was more concerned in tasting the wonders being served than in capturing the best light and angle. I also apologise for not remembering the exact names of everything that was served. It is an extensive menu and I wasn't taking notes.

When the amuse bouche arrived, we had to interrupt the conversation in order to dedicate our attentions to every single one of them. The influences absorbed by the chef were on display since the beginning: dashi flavoured rice biscuits; thin blades of dried cod; pane di oliva con lardo e fiori... Delicate (though very particular) flavours and minimalist presentation prepared our palates for what was to come.


 




As a starter we got the insalata 21..., 31..., 41... 51! That’s the number of components contained in this colorful and attractive bowl. With it came an envelope where each of the vegetables was listed. There it goes (in Italian, which helped me develop my knowledge in culinary language): acetosella rossa, acetosella verde, alga nori, basilico, basilico, rosso, basilico greco, basilico anice, buon enrico, calendula arancio, calendula gialla, calendula rossa, calendula viola, calendula bianca, cerfoglio, crescione, crespino, dragoncello, fiore di borragine, gentilina, grano saraceno, indivia, insalata dei campi (trusset), levistico, maggiorana, menta, mizuma rossa, mizuma verde, mordigallina, nepetella, origano, papavero, parella, pimpinella, prezzemolo, primula, rucola, rucola selvatica, sarset, scarola, sedanino, senape, sesamo bianco, sesamo nero, shisso rosso foglia piccola, shisso verde foglia grande, shisso verde foglia piccola, strigoli, tarassaco, timo limone, trevisano, violetta e zenzero. On the base of the salad, a small plate containing a liquid to be drank after eating. All those flowers and herbs, combined with the orangy dashi flavour perceived in the liquid caused me the feeling of having a blossoming garden in my mouth. And that is an amazing feeling, in case you’re wondering.





Pomodoro, mozzarella e merluzzo


coniglio a lenta cottura, barbabietola, rape bianche olive nere
This was possibly the most surprising and luscious bit of our dinner: crema di patate, uovo di quaglia, tè lapsang souchong. A velvety potato cream topped by the smoky lapsang souchong and dried white truffles. On the bottom, a quail egg with runny yolk. In one tiny cup, you get Asia and the Piedmont, comfort and surprise, all perfectly combined. Simply genius.


Spaghetti cacio, pepe, ginepro e cioccolato


Tempura, salsa de agrumi e bottarga, arancia e finocchio. Light and crispy, precise cooking points, citrus sauce on the base and a powder made with bottarga, orange and fennel.


Vitello. On top, a crust made with breadcrumbs and almonds.


spugna alla nocciola con riduzione al caffè. Doesn't the spugna look exactly like a sea sponge? Light and fluffy, standing on top of a hazelnut gelato. Quite sweet, balanced by the bitter coffee reduction.








Above, the petit fours, comprised by chocolate truffles, orange and chocolate shot (with the twist of disappearing in the mouth, Adriá style), frutti di bosco, lemon and malt meringue, rice crisps with raspberry, and biscuits accompanied by milk. Not any milk, but a rich and spicy one, that I would like to have for breakfast every morning.

Well, this was a post inside a post inside a post. Has anyone read everything? I just felt that writing about each individual feature of Ceretto's approach to wine, food and culture would impair the sense of broadness and their context driven ideas, always revolving around tradition and innovation - by no coincidence, the name of one of Piazza Duomo's tasting menus. I highly recommend a visit to their website (http://www.ceretto.com/), and if possible, the in loco appreciation of what I tried to highlight in this post.


sábado, 30 de abril de 2011

Marketing deliciousness

Being in the Piedmont is on its own reason enough to try some exquisite food and wine, nothing new in that. Studying at UNISG, on the other hand, adds up to it, allowing me to get in contact with some outstanding producers and listening to everything they have to say, from work routines to marketing issues, from seasonality to philosophy. Every aspect of ther businesses is entwined, following the link of work and family I wrote about on the first post. That doesn’t mean any lack of organisation or professionalism, though. It’s more about an unusual way of making business, for those of us who are used to a less than personal global market.

What we’ve been seeing in 99% of our visits is a consistent care about quality, making even high volumes of production display an artesanal character. When your brand is intimately connected to your |family’s| name and history, you naturally want it to translate excellence, working very hard to achieve that. Here, you’re far from million dollar ideas, fortunes made overnight, stock market bubbles and stuff like that. If the person you see appears to be succesfull, that began a long way back, and it’s very likely that the same elegant lady who welcomed you to her farm is perfectly capable of working the land and showing her employees exactly what needs to be done. As much as any business person, she wants to make profit, of course. The only difference is that she is not just trying to convince consumers to buy her product, neither advertising it as the world’s 8th wonder in order to raise it’s price: she actually believes that what comes from her farm is crème de la crème.

I’ve been describing this region as the place where everybody knows everybody, and most of what you see in the grocery store comes from one of the several farms in the surroundings. What happens, then, when such gems become apt to take large steps towards bigger markets? When mouth to mouth advertising is no longer enough and the target becomes consumers who never heard of your product before? That’s the question I’ve been posing to myself lately, specially after getting to know Baladin (see previous post) and Acquerello, the ultimate carnaroli, officially introduced to us on a sunny afternoon not long ago.

We were received at Colombara farm by Piero Rondolino and his wife, Maria Nava, who told us the story behind Acquerello rice, preferred by nine out of ten of the world’s top chefs. Speaking first and foremost of the grain, Maria Nava started by making clear to us that regarding one specific region and variety, it is impossible to differentiate rice from neighbouring producers - it’s basically all the same. Producers traditionally focus exclusively in growing, selling the harvest to industries where the grain is refined, packed and distributed.

Back in the 70´s, when Piero joined his father and brother in running Colombara, his ambition led him to search for a different path. After becoming the largest family owned rice producing farm in Italy, but still making only 2% of the invested capital, Colombara shifted direction by the hands of Piero, who started researching what kind of rice would be the best in terms of the end result (risotto, what else?). The winning contestant was carnaroli, by then little known due to the difficulties in its growing - the plant is higher, produces less grains and is more vulnerable to the weather. Not that this would stop Piero. Aiming to optimize the potential of his rice, the man came across a book in sanskrit, where among other things, he learned that the aging of the grains after the harvest makes the starch become more stable. Well, I guess we can say that’s what one would do when Google wasn’t around, right?

Departing from that information, Piero started to uniformly age his grains, saving September harvest to be milled only from November to March of the following two years. Next step was a solid investment in Colombara’s own milling plant, where the peculiarity was - and still is - the far from modern machinery. According to Maria Nava, old machines guarantee a gentle milling of the 7 layers existing around the rice grain. The whole process here consists of 25 steps, while the modern one usually comprises only 12. The purpose of the smoother milling is to better separate and preserve the rice germ, the tiny tip of the grain. After tasting its sweetness and learning how nutritionally rich the germ is, Piero found a way of keeping it attached to his rice. Acquerello now detains a technology by means of which the germ is melted after the milling, subsequently coating the grains of carnaroli. The result is the most nutritionally rich rice variety in the world, with a lesser starch release that makes it also the most suitable for cooking risotto.

Italy's most popular rice dish usually has a very specific cooking point, and usually it must be served as soon as that point is achieved, on the risk of becoming merely a base for arancini after a short while. Well, not when it comes to Acquerello, once it amazingly holds the cooking point for up to two days. Using Maria Nava's own expression, "radio casserole" managed to spread the news among chefs around the world, to a point that today you can ask Atala, Ducasse, Blumenthal, Marchesi... they'll all agree on what’s the best rice to use in their kitchens.

But the Rondolini want more. They're now aiming at the home cooks, the gourmets, people who would be willing to buy their product at the supermarket. And they're going through some serious brainstorming to find a way to reach that target.  

Piero asked our international group for opinions on how to enter the markets of each of our countries. He is so fond of Acquerello that in his opinion it would make total sense trying to convince Spanish people to use it in paella, or Brazilians  to serve it along black beans on daily lunch. I'm not so sure. A rice produced in such a fashion is obviously much more expensive than average. Trying to make a staple out of it sounds rather impossible. Messing with other countries' food traditions, on it’s turn, sounds extremely risky and unadvisable. It seems to me that there still isn't a well defined marketing strategy designed for high end food and beverage, excluding those which are proudly exclusive, such as caviar, truffles and specific wines. In I’m talking about producers who aim to make average consumers understand why what they're selling is worth higher prices, and how the investment pays off. Most of them are not interested in displaying an image of luxury, but in becoming an item of the average home cook's shoplist. Risking an analogy with the fashion world, I'd say that Michelin starred restaurants represent couture, whilst first range products play the role of the perfumes put on the market by glamorous maisons. I could definitely not afford a wardrobe packed with Prada, Dior and other such labels. Although I manage to have Donna Karan, Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana in my toilet cabinet. Question: is any of these necessary? Absolutely not. Despite the remarkable quality and undeniable superiority of this kind of product, you shouldn't trick consumers into believing that they can't live without it. If you're aiming at a well informed public, they may simply reject you for expecting them to be so naïve...

More and more people around the world are taking interest in cooking and learning more about food. If you're producing something outstanding, I would suggest you refrain from turning it into ordinary. Piero Rondolino has the advantage of producing the base for one of the world's most loved and well known dishes, so why trying to make something else of it? If he introduces Acquerello to people who care a bit more about eating well, he'll certainly find customers around the world. Eataly in New York is a good example of the great acceptance of Italian produce outside Italy, the place is constantly packed with crowds willing to pay more for excellent food to be cooked at home.

My background is far from communications, but I'm absolutely fascinated about the subject these days. Wether it is giving my amateur point of view regarding Acquerello rice, or admiring Teo Musso's initiative in creating a niche to his beloved beer with the world of Baladin, I feel that this matters have a long and absolutely not linear track on which to evolve. Would be thrilled to take part!

 Our arrival at Colombara

 Maria Nava teaching us that there's much more to rice than we could possibly imagine
 Piero Rondolino showing the first stage of the sowing
 Acquerello's milling plant
 The astonishing view of the alps preceded by the silver water surface inspired Acquerello's  original packing in silver tins.
  The family has turned the old construction into a museum. Years ago, several families used to live and work here, but with modern technologies that no longer is the case. In order to preserve the memory and history of Colombara, the buildings are furnished and decorated as if time had stopped. There is also a space for artists to display their work, inspired by the local atmosphere, as shown by the picture above. 

segunda-feira, 18 de abril de 2011

Esperienza Baladin

On our second night here, our host decided to take us out to this bar nearby, in order to show us how locals roll. I immediately assumed it would be a wine tavern, set in medieval ruins, loud with conversation, with Eros Ramazotti and Laura Pausini coming from the speakers. Well, that was one wrong assumption (except for the music standards. Not Eros, neither Laura, but their 2011 versions – interpreted by a live band with a significant number of fans singing to the top of their lungs).
Open Baladin turned out to be the kind of place that is not so simple to categorize. After a first glance, you’d say it was the only place in the surroundings where people could get together for a few drinks, music and general fun, but then again that was a busy night. The bar area had shelves up to the ceiling covered with different bottles, with artsy labels, and from distance you’d think those were all kinds of alcohol, representing several different brands. I was somewhat confused before taking a seat, since the atmosphere gave me the idea of the coolest place to hang out, but not exactly what I was looking for when we left home hungry and thirsty for some local preciousness. The feeling didn’t last long, though.
With a look at their extensive and colorful menu, we spotted countless bottles of beer, each of them with a flavor description, trendy bottles and creative names. All I could think was: where do they go find these beauties and why isn’t the provenance specified? I also felt like ordering one of each, even though they weren’t exactly cheap. Looking absolutely clueless, I raised some sympathy from Daniele, our winemaker friend, who came to my rescue to explain that Baladin was also a brewery, and all the varieties sold there were produced by them. He would order two of his favorites for us to taste, then, accompanied by his favorite dish on the menu.
In a few minutes, we were introduced to Wayan and Shangri la, two of the Birre Baladin, with flavors that I had never felt in a beer. They weren’t stupidly cold, as we Brazilians tend to appreciate, but that didn’t matter at all. Both were produced by the champenoise method, Wayan having this mix of orange and spices that made it as aromatic as pleasant to drink, whereas Shangri la was strong and structured. After the first sips, arrived the stinco di maiale, which after that night conquered my everlasting love. Believing that all stincos would be heavenly, I’ve been ordering it in every trattoria/osteria I may find myself in, to realize, time after time, that the one they serve at Baladin is unique and special. The meat is tender to the point of making the knife unnecessary, the sauce and the marinade use one of their beers as a base (very likely the Shangri la or one of its kind), and the end result keeps bringing us back.
But enough with describing this first evening there. A few others came, many others will certainly come, and what I really want to talk about is the bigger picture, meaning: our encounter with Teo Musso, the man behind Open Baladin and more, so much more…
Our first study trip, around Piemonte, took us to Piozzo, a tiny village near Bra where it all began. Teo was born there, in a family that produced wine (as seems to be the case of everyone I meet), and as a teenager he decided to rebel against the establishment, diving in the beer world – which was quite inexistent in this area 25 years ago…
His first move was to open a place in Piozzo where he could unite his three biggest passions: wine, food and music. The pairing with food has always been present in his philosophy, and in the beginning he imported beers from all over Europe, since Italy had no culture of the drink by then. By travelling after interesting labels, as well as reading Belgian brewery textbooks, he developed a considerable knowledge on beer production, enough to stop producers in Belgium from selling to him, suspecting he would soon become a competitor.
About the music part, Teo had worked with bands as an agent and dreamt of becoming a musician, but instead of studying music he got an informal education on making beer. One way or the other, he was bound to turning into a rockstar…
The decision of building a production plant came along, and by then he had already gained a loyal and passionate public, people who would go to Piozzo in order to taste the 250 labels he had on the menu. Well, upon the beginning of Baladin production, half of those followers just vanished. Teo’s theory is that people were fearful of the concept of artisanal beer, unknown and unfashionable by that time. On top of that, the beer produced by him had no identity, no label, nothing that could capture the consumer’s eye.
By the year of 1997, people in Italy started to become familiar with the principles of Slow Food. Ten years had gone by since the ethanol scandal that leaded the world to dread drinking a glass of Barbera, and by overcoming the trauma, wine connoisseurs were spreading throughout the country. Teo saw in that a potential public, one concerned with tasting, appreciating and communicating a good product, and from there he departed to develop Baladin’s bottles and labels. He came up with the first two beers, Issac and Super. The first, named after his son, could be paired with white meats and fresh cheeses, while Super was brown and strong, suiting potent flavors. Teo personally took both to no less than 500 restaurants around Italy. By ’99, he had 100 restaurants as clients, but he came to find that only two of them displayed the beer on their menu. The other 98 bought Baladin beer only for staff consumption after service hours, simply because the idea of pairing beer and food in fine dining tables was unthinkable!
In 2005, having formed a distribution society, he faced the fact that insisting in the pairing concept was utopia, although dutch brewery Carlsberg had just awarded him a prize for doing so. His move was then taking up distribution of a beer made by another small producer, as in willingly sponsoring competition. May seem odd, but if you think about it, it’s a hell of an idea: when trying to make a concept become popular, it does help to show that there are more people out there who think and work in a similar way to yours.
Teo visited Michelin starred restaurants, designed an appropriate glass to his style of beer and eventually, the idea turned into a movement, becoming popular and copied all over. There are currently over 1200 artisanal brewers in Italy, and in attention to that widespread, Teo thought of making something new, just for a change: taking into consideration his farmer background, his winemaking father and his sense of paternity over the beer movement, he noticed that beer was invading the wine world and decided to shift the attention back to Italy’s most traditional beverage. That was when he came up with the concept of open Baladin, a place where the recipes are displayed on the menu, where beers are tasted in a wine fashion, with attention to nose, mouth, aftertaste, and so on.
His latest homage, still in the barrels (literally) waiting to be released in the market, is the aging of beers in traditional Italian wine casks. The Baladin beer has been sitting in containers that used to shelter Barolo, Brunello de Montalcino and other such jewels. We had the chance of tasting the end result, and were amazed by the difference operated by the aging. Considering that all the aged beer was exactly the same, the flavors detected after a while in the barrels were absolutely particular, noticeably differentiating one from the other. Worth noting that the project is taking place in Teo’s parents’ Cantina, where the whole ambiance refers to the old times when that used to be the family’s cellar.
Nowadays, Piozzo’s main square is taken over by Baladin, with cantina Baladin on one side (a peculiarly decorated pub, with often gigs and a place I can’t wait to see in operation) and casa Baladin on the other. At casa Baladin, Teo has this amazing space, with a professional kitchen, dining area, and gorgeous rooms in case you feel like spending the night. That’s where he briefly told us his history, charming everyone in the room and filing my notes with more elements than I can fit in this post. Believe me, there’s much more than this. Suffice to say that in case you’re interested in an in loco Baladin experience, you can find it in Piozzo and Cinzano, as well as in Rome, and soon to open in New York, as the beer garden on the rooftop of Eataly’s building.