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Slow pleasure



Chef Fablo prefers to speak through his scrumption cuisine

IT'S SLOW food. And they mean it. There's grissini (thin bread sticks) for you to chew on, and bread and olive oil dip to stop you twiddling with the fork and knife as you wait for your meal to arrive. The Italian festival, on at The Park's i-t.ALIA till December 13, brings to you authentic Piedmont cuisine. On the border of Switzerland and France, Piedmont is the birthplace of the slow food movement. And Chef Fabio Borghese has been flown in from Torino, Piedmont, to toss up some slow Italian magic.

The wine and starters arrive, and a minute later, a pleasurable moan is heard from the other end of the table where someone discovers the aphrodisiac in the prawn and scampi caponata. Forks sail through the herb and cheese soufflé sitting in fresh tomato sauce. It can be the work of not less than three or four decades of experienced cooking, you think.

As The Park admin talks of Chef Fabio and his expertise, you picture a bulky, bearded, very Pavarotti-looking man with the chef's cap, barking orders to whimpering kitchen trainees who're trying to keep the butcher knife away from his reach. But sometimes, the food a man serves speaks nothing of him. Because Chef Fabio is a pale blue-eyed boy, all of 20 years, endearingly unsmiling to cameras, happy only to be around the food he cooks so well, and conversing politely and monosyllabically in Italian.

As soon as the main course arrives, the chef and his obvious discomfort are all forgotten. There is thin noodle pasta placed on our plates in a pretty beehive twirl and it is all you can do to stop yourself from licking up the porcini mushroom sauce off the plate. For the non-vegetarians, there is pasta stuffed with mixed meat, doused in aromatic herb butter sauce. It is all eyed hungrily, but no one dares chomp it down in one go, however starved he/she might be. "Slow food, to be enjoyed slowly," we tell ourselves. Moreover, what to do till the next course arrives after another 15 minutes?

The parmigiana of aubergine is quite a looker, but stands nowhere close to the earlier savouries — therefore, it is to be tried only if you can stand the brinjal family. But the roasted chicken thigh served with grilled aubergines is a lot more palatable, if only because the excellent chicken takes the attention away from the rest of the dish. Everything that we eat has a distinct, never-savoured-before flavour to it. The uniqueness of the Piedmont cuisine is said to be the French influence and also the all-important delicate white truffles that are a must in any dish.

For dessert, the traditional Piedmontese pudding with eggs, cocoa, coffee and macaroon is supple enough to rush through. But to really enjoy it, each bit must be turned around in the mouth till the flavours of coffee and cocoa merge to create a sinful blend of bitterness and vigour. It's smooth enough to let your tongue laze — dessert at its languid best.

The festival ends today, but the regular chefs at i-t.ALIA will soon incorporate Chef Fabio's recipes in their regular menu. For lunch or dinner reservations, call 25594666.

* * *

Wallet factor: Rs. 1,000 upwards per head
Ambience: Unfussy
Service: Excellent
Specialty: Agnolotti (stuffed pasta)

ROHINI MOHAN

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