The dressing is there but the soul is missing

Written by Suman Tarafdar | Updated: Jun 28 2009, 07:06am hrs
I came out of India a better person. Not many who worked in India 17 years ago would say that. Long years ago, when Italian cuisine was still a novelty in India, Chef Giovanni Leopardi introduced the shades of Italian cooking, that nearly a decade and a half later, diners are beginning to appreciate. He has returned to India to take over The Med, which has replaced the Italia, that scenic but not proportionally popular restaurant at Delhis Radisson Hotel. In between he has worked in about a dozen odd locations around the world including Egypt, Syria, Hong Kong, Beijing, Florida Hawaii and the Caribbean. He now has restaurants in New Hampshire in the US, which his wife is running.

But beware. He is a no-nonsense chef. When I started cooking, the idea was to impart flavours. Now chefs generally think first of how to present the dish. The dressing is there but the soul is missing. Expectedly a fan of Italian cuisine, which he believes is the epicentre of the Mediterranean basin cuisines, he is clear in pointing out that there is only good food and bad food. According to him, the first principle for cooking the less you touch the food, the better it is. Do not overpower lamb with sauces, for example. He cites the example of the Greek island made famous by its volcano, Santorini, where he points out that people still eat in the open, keeping the spirit of the Mediterranean intact. The Himalayan trout baked in salt and fine herbs is good example of less is more, for all the fish has in the name of cooking are a few minutes of marination followed by baking in a wood-fired oven. And its lip smacking.

He also is an adherent of the true to the menu principle, a concept gaining popularity in the West wherein a restaurant only lists what it can deliver!

Classically trained, Leopardi is very conscious of using local ingredients. I like to support the local market. Not only does it reduce carbon emission, you also follow the season, which is natural. So he has the Burrata with roasted tomato and basil dressing, wherein the burrata is locally made with buffalo milk whey.

The Med however does not mean dishes from the entire region. The cuisine at his restaurant draws from the seasons best in Italian, Spanish, French and Moroccan influences. When he is in the kitchen, do not expect the usual there is no Penne arabiatta, which to him is obsolete. To me it is implicit that a chef must go beyond. Instead, for him the interpretation of food is to combine ingredients to provide a positive experience, for people to get new nuances. Worth a try, definitely.