The fresh new flavours that Chef Massimiliano Sperli has curated for Sorrento transport Saimi Sattar to balmy Italy. I was excited, almost giddy-headed, for this was the closest that I got to my Masterchef moment for even though I am an avid follower of the Australian version. I have never met Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris even though they have visited India several times, for one reason or another. No, I had not created a dish which could put a Cordon Bleu chef to shame, rather I along with a group of 10 others was guessing the ingredients of a dish. Blindfolded. I was at Sorrento at Shangri-La’s Eros Hotel where Chef Massimiliano Sperli was cooking for us.
The servers placed the dish in a spoon and helpfully guided our hands towards it since a beautiful turquoise silk scarf was tied over my eyes. I put the portion in my mouth and the flavours started to reveal themselves and starting making a mental note — tomato, egg, flour, cheese, Italian seasoning (oregano, parsley, basil and rosemary) and then — I was flummoxed.
The blindfold was removed, white paper sheets placed before us and I dutifully noted all of these down. But I can see the others are still at it and their lists are much longer. Reminiscent of an exam day, our sheets are collected and after a few moments the Chef Neeraj Tyagi comes back to tell us that the Ravioli Caprese that we were served had pasta dough, egg, farina flour, semolina and was stuffed with lemon zest, ricotta cheese, salt, pepper and tomato sauce. So, yes, I did have some of them right. But while all I could say was cheese, my companion zeroed down on the variety and that too correctly. A round of applause immediately went around for her for guessing it. But surprisingly, she wasn’t the one to name the maximum ingredients. That honour went to another one.
With the novelty factor over, we settled down for an authentic Italian meal and Chef Massimiliano did not disappoint. For antipasti, I decided to opt for the vegetarian option as a fresh green salad felt just right given the spiralling mercury. I had Gli orti sopra il golfo di Sorrento which translates as the gardens above the gulf of Sorrento. It consisted grilled and roasted vegetables tossed with cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and lemon, baby gem, rocket, sorrel, Taggiasche black olive, orange segments, almonds flakes, homemade dried tomato foam which was flavoured with a fennel reduction. While the vegetables were crunchy, it was the fennel reduction which added an element freshness and elevated the salad to make it just the thing for a summer day.
For the pasta, I chose I gioielli sotto il terreno or the jewels under the field which was homemade tortellini filled with potato, ricotta cheese and rosemary. It also had sautéd beetroot, steamed baby carrot, summer black truffle and celeriac sauce.
Coming to the dessert section and my penchant for tilting towards the sweet things in life, I shared two and loved them both. The Se non c’e la vuoi!!! or If there is not, you want!!! which was passion fruit Pannacotta served with white chocolate and cardamom sauce, Cantucci cookies crumble and cold press extra virgin olive oil ice cream. The flavour was citrusy and the cookie crumble gave it a bit of a crunch which presented a great contrast to the the smooth pannacotta.
However, it was the Una dolce serenata d’amore or a sweet serenade of love which had “Semifreddo” (semi-frozen) Gianduia chocolate, orange and pistachio ganache heart, coconut praline, star anise tuiles and pure mango emulsion that certainly took my heart and blew away my gastronomical senses. It was the slightly toasted pistachios which not only added a bite to the chocolate but also gave it the heavenly nutty flavour that made it so flavoursome. A more than perfect end to a really memorable meal.
Writer: Saimi Sattar
Courtesy: The Pioneer