By Alex Y. Vergara
Video by David Clarence Rivera
Portrait by Pinggot Zulueta
Thinking of what food to serve for the coming holidays? Why not treat your family and guests to authentic Italian cooking, northern-style with a hearty spread of antipasti and fresh as well as colored pasta dishes?
Asia’s Best Female Chef 2016 Margarita Fores will be conducting four-hour classes on Dec. 1 and 3 with Italian chef Carla Brigliadori at the Alta, the Ascott Bonifacio Global City’s (BGC) main food and beverage outlet. As the exclusive Philippine franchise holder of Casa Artusi, a famed cooking school in the Italian town of Forlimpopoli, Fores has been regularly conducting Italian cooking classes since 2012.
She and her team also manage Alta and the Ascott’s entire food and beverage requirements, including room service, since the BGC property opened several years ago.
As the star chef and face behind Casa Artusi, Brigliadori helps conduct the classes whenever she’s in Manila. This year, the December classes are timed a week after the famed La Settimana della Cucina Italiana or Week of Italian Cuisine, which the Italian government institutionalized sometime last year.
Fores and Brigliadori will also team up on Dec. 5 to do the buffet spread during a Christmas party at the residence of newly appointed Italian Ambassador to the Philippines Giorgio Guglielmino.
The first day of classes (Dec. 1) at Casa Artusi will be devoted to fresh and colored pasta making, one of the culinary specialties the region of Emilia-Romagna is known for, using real Italian flour and Philippine duck eggs. The pair will also share their secrets on how to make ideal filled pastas such as ravioli, tortellini, mezzelune, and fagottini.
The second day will be devoted to more lessons on fresh pasta making and antipasti or appetizers. The last one is quite timely, said Fores, as people think of different, quick, and more novel ways to feed their guests in the run-up to Christmas. Those who intend to sign up can take one or both classes.
“The classes are ideal for hobbyists who want to expand their skills on and knowledge of authentic Italian cooking,” she added. “They don’t have to bring anything. They just bring themselves and a hearty appetite. We will provide recipe folders for them.”
Because of Brigliadori’s “simple,” honest, and no-frills approach to teaching, Fores guarantees that beginners would go home after each class learning something new, practical yet special, and doable.
Casa Artusi, by the way, is named after Pellegrino Artusi, a native of Forlimpopoli and credited by Italy as the father of modern Italian cooking. He died in 1891, but his legacy of delicious and hearty Italian cuisine lives on. As a national treasure, the childless Artusi and his legacy became a source of pride and identity among Italians in the Emilia-Romagna region where the city of Bologna and its world-famous Bolognese are also located.
Modena, which produces various world-renowned balsamic vinegars, is also located within the region, Fores shared. The same applies to the university city of Parma and its famed prosciutto di Parma or Parma ham.
“Most of what Pellegrino Artusi espoused can be applied to any cuisine,” she said. “I think the most important [tenets] include ‘practice is the best teacher.’ In other words, the more you do something, the better you get at doing it. He likewise always insisted that chefs and cooks use the best ingredients available wherever they are. Using the best ingredients is the starting point when you prepare any dish.”
That’s why whenever she prepares Italian food in Manila, Fores makes sure that “irreplaceable” ingredients like olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and any kind of dry pasta have to be of the best quality.
“Not all ingredients have to come from Italy,” she clarified. “But most should. When I started 30 years ago, fresh produce like tomatoes that were good enough for Italian cooking were hard to source. But nowadays, there are local farmers that grow tomatoes that are much better than what was locally available.”
Despite her killer schedule managing Cibo, a chain of Italian casual-dining restaurants, and a catering business, Fores always looks forward to these classes. Not only do they enable her to share her knowledge to budding chefs and enthusiasts, they also allow her to reconnect with her undying love affair with Italian cuisine, which started in earnest during a four-month immersion in Italy, particularly the country’s northern regions, in 1986.
In less than a year after going back home to Manila, the finance and accounting graduate and former New York-based executive of Italian fashion house Valentino was invited by a five-star hotel to do her first ever food festival. The theme, of course, was Italian cuisine.
“I was in Italy by myself with no family and Filipino friends,” she shared. “It was only four short months, but I believe it was a real immersion, a crash course on Italian cuisine and way of life. During those four months, my love affair with Italy became so intense. I consider it the birthing point of my work.”
And as her work evolved, Fores eventually opened Cibo 20 years ago and later the now-defunct Pepato Italian fine-dining restaurant. She also expanded her catering business and opened a number of other restaurants such as Grace Park.
“Southern Italy, with its wealth of seafood and ways of using the tomato, is also amazing,” she said. “Southern cooking is very different from the north. I have to admit that I haven’t spent as much time as I should there. I still haven’t been to Sicily, which I’d love to do in the future. Maybe I’d look at Italian food more differently after that.”