Mumbai: A freshly-imported Italian chef stirs things up
HAVE you tried cinnamon-cheese-apple gnocchi? Probably not, and you're missing something. This week, the Hyatt Regency brought down Chef Ivan Chieregatti to promote food from Lumbardi in Italy. And he brought with him a menu designed only for the event. Giuseppe Zanotti, the usual chef, cooks dishes from the Italian region of Emilia Romagna; together, the food artists put Stax, the hotel's Italian restaurant, upside down.
While in town, Chieregatti wants to show people a new way to prepare food, and he is willing to share some of his secrets: How to create a new recipe? What does being a cook mean? What does feeding international stars feel like? Chef Chieregatti is happy to talk about it all...
The Italian chef has been cooking his way around the world for more than 15 years, and is now located in Dubai. "I love cooking Italian food," he says, "or even French food, but my job is to please the clients, to adapt to them. So I usually cook international dishes that I can adapt to the country, to the people; this sometimes gives interesting results! Still, I don't cook fusion food, even though it can be interesting. I'd rather cook something good and traditional than just original".
That's what he says, but Chef Chieregatti does create new recipes by mixing flavours and products from around the worldâ¦Chocolate-Gorgonzola pralines and chocolate-chili sorbet are two good examples. "It is part of our job to be innovative," he explains. For him, the first thing you need to create a new dish is technical knowledge: which products to use and how. "This is the basis, and once you know all this, you can start expressing your creativity: using your taste, you try to combine flavors, see what you can mix, which products are good together. Sometimes you would be surprised to find unexpected matches!" (As surprised as you would be if you found cheese in your chocolate, actually!)
Still, even though he loves creating new flavours, he confesses: "I wouldn't advise my kid to become a chef".
Why not? Quite simple: "We are like artists, everything we do has to come from inside, from our heart; it has to be a vocation. Once, when I was a child, my parents were late so I prepared a beautiful table for them, using the cutlery we usually kept for Christmas and special occasions; I wanted to cook a soup for them. But I was only six! All I could do was mix water and a stock cubeâ¦however, on top on it I added what would soon become my personal touch: oregano.
"I already had the love for food at that time, that's why I say we work with feelings and passion; but we work very hard. People sometimes don't see it and I wish they could realise what a chef's life is: Work starts in the morning, and stops in the morning, as I like to say. We never work less than 10 hours a day, that's for sure."
However he also reckons the job has changed; it is not what it used to be years ago: Now chefs don't only have to cook, they are managers, they have to know international business, to be flexible and to be able to adapt to new food and new countries. In Dubai, most of the chef's clients are Muslim, so they wouldn't eat beef carpaccio, or pork; that's the kind of thing cooks have to know and work with. Here in Mumbai, they also adapt: "I know chicken and vegetables are used in Indian cuisine a lot. So I would use those products a lot, because that's what will please my clients. I can also add more chili if necessary," he adds, laughing.
Although he doesn't talk much about it, Chef Chieregatti is also known to cook for international stars: Hugh Grant, The Rolling Stones, Mike Tyson, Elton Jones, Michael Schumacher, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Mariah Carey. When asked how these stars behave or what they like, the Chef doesn't want to give too much detail.
"Mariah Carey is very tricky, that's all I can tell," he says. But for him, cooking for stars is not different from cooking for anyone else: every time he has to cook for someone famous, he just does his best because most of the time he doesn't even choose to cook for them, and doesn't know what they expect. "But at the end, I have to say most of those stars are very simple, very friendly..."
His tip for food: When preparing pasta, always take a spoon of the water the pasta's been boiled in, and mix it with the sauce; it gives an amazing taste.