Shanghai gets a master class in Italian cuisine
Massimo Mentasti was one of the latest top chefs to grace the culinary scene in Shanghai, having spent two days in the city starting Dec 9. But unlike many of his international counterparts who have set up shops here to capitalize on the boom in the number of wealthy individuals, Mentasti was just here to demonstrate to the local audience what “the true taste of Italy” is really about.
Executive chef of the acclaimed La Gallina in northern Italy’s Gavi region, Mentasti in 2014 joined the ranks of the elite when the restaurant was awarded the highly coveted Michelin Star. His credentials meant that the tickets to his exclusive nine-course dinner in Shanghai, which was priced at 588 yuan ($91), was sold out weeks ahead of the event.
Hosted at Italian restaurant Sale & Peppe, considered to be the establishment that popularized wood-oven baked pizzas in the city, the cozy event attracted a crowd of about 50 diners who got to witness firsthand the Italian maestro’s culinary prowess in producing dishes like bresaola (air-cured beef), Catalan-style lobster and fried
Massimo Mentasti, ricotta, which is find in Shanghai.
The 31-year-old chef, who claims that he possesses an “inborn penchant for risotto”, also wowed his guests with a refreshing take on the popular Italian dish by focusing on the most innocuous yet most important of
difficult to ingredients — the rice.
Instead of using cream, Mentasti relied on a combination of cheese, milk and fresh eggs to induce a distinctive aroma in the dish, which was topped with a lightly seared piece of foie gras.
“There seems to be an overdose of cream on rice and noodles at Italian restaurants in China and around the world,” said Mentasti, whose father and grandmother run a food business in his hometown of Varese in northern Italy. “The essence of Italian traditional cuisine lies in the original flavors of the raw materials used, instead of using much sauces and spices.”
Wu Jian, the owner of Sale & Peppe, conceded that many Italian restaurants in Shanghai serve fare that is tweaked to suit the local palate. He also noted that one of the biggest challenges faced by Italian restaurants in Shanghai is the lack of easy access to ingredients, spices, and quality dairy products.
Wu, who had lived and worked in Japan as a chef and a restaurant manager for more than a decade, said that handmade egg noodles, one of the nine courses on the special menu, as well as the cream-free risotto with foie gras will soon be regular dishes on the restaurant’s menu.
The essence of Italian traditional cuisine lies in the original flavors of the raw materials used, instead of using much sauces and spices.”
executive chef of the La Gallina in northern Italy’s Gavi region
Massimo Mentasti's cream-free risotto will soon be available at Sale & Peppe.