The Magic of Food TV

Ottawa Magazine - - PROCESS -

For ev­ery episode of Bonacini’s Italy, there’s a team of re­searchers, writ­ers, and chefs who im­merse them­selves in Ital­ian gas­tron­omy to re­veal the back­sto­ries of such el­e­ments as béchamel sauce and pancetta. Ital­ian his­tory and ge­og­ra­phy are wo­ven through each episode as chef Michael Bonacini cooks his way through the coun­try’s var­i­ous — and var­ied — re­gions. Of course, lit­tle cook­ing ac­tu­ally hap­pens on set. Much of the magic is be­hind the scenes: writ­ers who ex­haus­tively, and cre­atively, de­velop recipes that ex­em­plify a re­gion and are doable for the at-home cook, as well as a kitchen team that tests, tweaks, and per­fects ev­ery step.

Dayanti Karunaratne talked to CEO Chris Knight, head writer Ash­ley An­der­son, and head chef Nathan Bernier-Col­borne about Bonacini’s

Italy and the mak­ing of one very deca­dent lasagna. Ash­ley: We wanted some­thing that rep­re­sented the [Le Marche] re­gion and the dish but also some­thing that peo­ple were go­ing to re­ally love. We de­vel­oped the recipe on pa­per and then took it to Nathan, who looked at it and con­sid­ered what might be added — with­out de­vi­at­ing from what’s tra­di­tional to that re­gion. Nathan: Then we took a stab at it. Some­times we have a per­fect recipe right off the bat. And of­ten it’s very small changes. With this one, we only needed two takes. Ash­ley: There was one thing we changed — I think it came up be­cause of re­search we had done about Can­tonese cook­ing. When we re­hy­drated the mush­rooms, we saved some of the mush­room liq­uid to be used later. This was a pretty unique thing I hadn’t seen in Ital­ian cook­ing be­fore. Nathan: On one layer, you have the mush­rooms and cured meat and vegeta­bles. With­out adding some but­ter and some of that mush­room stock, that layer of the lasagna was a lit­tle dry. We used the mush­room stock with the but­ter to cre­ate a sec­ond sauce. Ash­ley: It adds a lux­u­ri­ous­ness to that layer. Chris: This is one of four recipes in that episode, and there are 15 episodes. That’s 60 dif­fer­ent recipes rep­re­sent­ing 15 re­gions of Italy. Most peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that Italy was made up of feu­dal states and city states. And that’s why ev­ery city and ev­ery val­ley has a dif­fer­ent pasta shape and a dif­fer­ent cheese and a dif­fer­ent wine — in de­vel­op­ing the recipes, Ash­ley and her team in­fuse the scripts with some of that knowl­edge. Ash­ley: I write out the script, line by line, and then Chris adds to the di­a­logue. In writ­ing, we have to bear in mind that what we’re mak­ing is en­ter­tain­ment. Chris: It’s not the lin­ear assem­bly of the in­gre­di­ents — this is about the flavours, the mem­o­ries, about mak­ing emo­tional con­nec­tions with view­ers. Nathan: To fi­nal­ize a dish, we all have to be in agree­ment. We all taste it. Once it’s plated, we’ll gather up the team — some writ­ers, pro­duc­ers, Chris — and we’ll all try it and de­cide if it still needs some­thing. Chris: Peo­ple hover around the kitchen on recipe de­vel­op­ment days. Ev­ery­body is look­ing, wait­ing for a taste. And ev­ery­body’s opin­ion mat­ters. Nathan: Once we have a per­fect recipe, we have to fig­ure out a way to pro­duce four dishes in a 10- or 11-hour day. So we have swaps: we will get the recipe ready for [a step in the recipe] and swap it out with what­ever the host is do­ing at that mo­ment. Even if it’s just cook­ing down onions for one or two min­utes — it seems like noth­ing, but we will have that same pan with those same onions. Chris: It’s just to ac­cel­er­ate time. Part of the irony is, un­less it’s a dish that’s à la minute, very lit­tle cook­ing gets done on the set of a cook­ing show. Bonacini’s Italy airs Mon­days at 10:30 p.m. on Gusto TV. All recipes are avail­able on Gus­

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