CHEF TALK: FIRE IT UP! With CHEF PAOLA BOZZUI
I love pasta! Unfortunately at home I am limited to packet pasta thanks to my lack of cooking skills. But all that has now changed – not the cooking skills part – but the appreciation for fresh pasta. Chef Paola Bozzui is an expert pasta maker whose love for keeping things simple shows in the dishes she creates. Every pasta on the dishes she serves is hand made with love and that can only mean one thing – you are eating some of the best pasta. I now know what the texture of perfectly boiled pasta should be (read on to learn for yourself), I learned about various pasta shapes and the sauces they go with – after all I was learning from a lady who has dedicated her life to making good fresh pasta and pasta dishes. A remarkable lady, who says she is shy, but I think if the topic you are talking to her about is pasta, Italian food and chocolate – the shyness just fades away.
I have to to give a special shout out to Chef Maurizio Lazzarin from Casa Mia who patiently sat with us during the interview to interpret some of the missing links. Grazie mille.
Name: Paola Bozzui
Restaurant: Casa Mia (visiting Chef), Le Méridien Dubai
From: Piacenza, Italy
Culinary School: Scuola Regionale Addetti alla Ristorazione
Knife Hand: Right
Welcome to Dubai! Is this your first visit to Dubai? Tell us a little bit about why you are visiting Dubai?
Yes, this is my first visit to Dubai. I am visiting Casa Mia restaurant to make pasta and pasta dishes – typical from my town Piacenza. I specialise in some types of pasta, like Tortelli, Anolini, Tagliatelle and Gnocchi. To be very clear, the regional cuisines are the most important in Italy – so from the North to the South you have different shapes of pasta. This is why I have come to Dubai to showcase the pasta from my region. I also want to share how I hand craft pasta.
What is your favourite place in all of Italy, and why?
Piacenza. Why, because it is my town, my home. But Italy as a country is wonderful. Rome, Venice, and Florence – the entire country is magic to me.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a chef?
When I was 15 years old, my parents had a little restaurant and I had to help in the bar, kitchen, as a waiter. I discovered I enjoyed the kitchen. At the same time, in the province of Piacenza, not far from my home, they opened an experimental catering school and one of the teachers, Georges Cogny was an actual Chef from France. He was very passionate about his job as a Chef and was a big inspiration. During my training, I loved making pasta and desserts.
Just out of curiosity, since you spend so much time in your restaurant’s kitchen, do you ever cook at home? If so, what’s your favourite home-cooked meal for the family?
Sometimes for the family I make ‘toast’ (which is what the Italians call a toasted sandwich) – with ham and cheese. When I am at home, I cook things that are simple and quick. For my family one of our favourite meals is mixed antipasti which would include salami (ground meat with herbs), Parma crudo (raw) or Prosciutto, carpaccio, copa (part of a pig).
What don’t people know about you that you wish they did?
I am very shy, even though I don’t show it. So being shy makes it very difficult for others to understand me. It’s difficult for me to interact immediately; I need some time to open up.
What misconceptions do people have about Italian cooking and how would you like to change that?
Non-Italians consider Italian food as comprising only of pizza, pasta, lasagne and spaghetti. Typical Italian cusine is very different and everyone must try that. When people visit Italy, they go to eat a pizza, they don’t try authentic Italian food – like Pisarei e fasò. This is a typical pasta dish made with bread crumbs, flour and water which are made into small dumplings that are shaped like beans and the sauce of the pasta is made with borlotti beans or cranberry beans. So I would suggest to anyone visiting Italy to try something different, something they have never heard of before.
What do you see as the future of Italian food?
For me Italian cuisine is very very important. It is very present in the world and I think this cuisine will expand further but more using typical Italian ingredients like olive oil, cheese, typical beef or veal etc. When I say typical I mean traditional, but a new traditional. What this means is that we will use the same ingredients but served in a lighter and healthier way. Use shorter cooking times, to preserve more the value of the nutrients in the ingredients – to respect it. Pizza, pasta and this sort of food will always be there.
What advice you would give someone who wants to become a better Italian home cook?
The most mistake that people who cook Italian food at home is to over cook the pasta. The perfect pasta has to be al dente. Let’s say you have spaghetti, if you bite it, it needs to feel firm, where it still breaks. The over cooked pasta is completely soft, you can almost mash it – when you squeeze it, it looks like a purée. There is a reason why you should eat pasta al dente – and the reason is to do with digestion. Pasta al dente still has a lot of fibres and allows you have to have a clean system. In over cooked pasta the fibre is gone and it sticks to your intestine and could cause problems.
Share with us one simple spaghetti recipe.
Make spaghetti al dente. Sautee cherry tomatoes in olive oil, with salt and pepper, garlic and a little chilli and basil for just a couple of minute minutes and serve with the spaghetti. It will be perfect.
Share with us any embarrassing moments you have had in the kitchen, which you can look back and laugh about?
This incident happened in my restaurant – La Rossia in Italy. There was a group of about 35 people waiting for risotto. Just when the risotto was ready in the kitchen and before leaving the kitchen it all fell on the ground. So I had to restart, and to make a proper risotto it takes 16-17 minutes. At the same time, two bottles of red wine that were being served in the restaurant were corky and we got to know this only after it was served and pointed out to us by one of the guests. So we had to take back all the filled glasses while apologizing, change the classes and refill it with new wine. It was 20 minutes of panic. In the end everything went off well.
There are many types of pasta, which are some of your favourites?
My favourite type of pasta when I am happy is Lasagna Bolognese. When I am tired, my favourite pasta is anolini in brodo, which is a typical ravioli which is stuffed with beef, cheese and eggs which is served in broth. It’s comfort food for me. I also love Risotto di zafferano (saffron).
How do you match pasta shapes to sauces?
For me a good sauce for Tagliolini would be a mushroom sauce. For spaghetti it would be vongole sauce which is a sauce made with clams. It does not have tomatoes. Heat olive oil in a pan, add garlic, parsley and a pinch of fresh chilli and when it is very hot, add the clams and cover and leave to cook. The clams will open and the water in the clams will come out and when you mix it with spaghetti it creates an emulsion and becomes a white sauce but there is no cream or cheese.
For a tomato based sauce it has to be penne. For the perfect sauce would be a cheese sauce like gorgonzola. To make the sauce, you must mix the cheese with heavy cream, parsley and once served you top it with chopped walnuts.
Do you have any tip to measure out a certain amount of pasta?
On average you take 100gms per adult person.
What’s your favourite pairing with pasta?
When you eat spaghetti with clams, my favourite drink is a glass of white wine. When I eat gnocchi, red wine works for me. So a lot depends on the sauce.
What’s your favourite ingredient to work with? Onions. Because the onion is an ingredient that is a finishing touch to many dishes. It gives a different consistency, texture and flavour to a dish. Of course this does not apply to desserts.
What is the most rewarding part of being a chef?
The most rewarding part of being a Chef is to be appreciated by your customers.
If it’s the last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in and what are you eating? I would want to spend it with my family in Piacenza. My husband, my son and I would bake a chocolate cake and that is what I would eat.
If you weren’t cooking, what would you do for a living? A dancer, classic dancer maybe ballet.
What are three pantry items essential to cook great Italian food? Good Olive oil, extra virgin of course. Parmesan and Ham.
Who is the person you would most like to cook for? My hero, Gino Strada (an Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency). I would make him Tarte Tatin which is an upside down pastry which is usually made with apples – but for Gino I would make it with shallots, caprino cheese (made from goat’s milk), thyme in a sauce made with leeks and potatoes in a puff pastry.
How would you describe your food philosophy? Simple. By this I mean, I like to manipulate ingredients as less as possible.
What is your biggest guilty pleasure food? Chocolate. Dark chocolate.
A chef that inspires you? Italian Chef Moreno Cedroni from Madonnina Del Pescatore restaurant which is located in Senigallia. When he talks you can immediately understand his love for cooking. He made a particular dish with sea urchin with chocolate because he went back to his childhood. In his childhood a very popular street food was pizza with nutella and rock salt.
Favourite food from your childhood/ Describe one of your first food memories. Rigatoni al ragù made by my grandmother which was the best in the world. When we say ragù we always mean a Bolognese sauce.
Last thing you cooked for yourself? Spaghetti with tomato sauce – something very very easy.
THIS OR THAT
Food on a skewer or food in a tiny spoon?
Buffet or sit-down dinner?
Mints or gum?
Soup or salad?
Butter or olive oil?
Chicken breast or chicken thigh?
Baked or fried?
Waffles or pancakes?
Lobster or steak?
And lastly, cake or pie?
Well, that’s that! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!