“You are what you eat,” says Filippo Saporito, which is why when you cook, you must pay utmost attention. Today I sat in at a lesson that is part of the eight-week intensive professional chef course at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Florence. Ten students (5 international, 5 Italian) are perfecting their skills here, and every few days they have a guest chef from around Tuscany. This is far from your usual pasta-making class for tourists. The students have straight backs, pressed jackets, skilled movements and a level of respect for the chef that you expect to see in the best brigades. The tension in the classroom brings me back to the Masters history class I took with a particularly scary professor who used to say “I mark in red because it reminds me of blood.” Today’s chef is the serious but affable Saporito, Michelin-starred owner of Florence’s La Leggenda dei Frati, in the Villa Bardini gardens. As we prepare three dishes that are staples of his cuisine, Saporito imparts pearls of wisdom. Here is what I learned.
Food trends are just fancy ways of saying things
There are plenty of trends in cooking; gourmet cuisine is the guiltiest culprit when it comes to turning everything into foam or making sure everyone has a sous vide machine in their home. “All cooking is molecular… except salad,” affirms the chef with regards to this particular trend, explaining that if you cook an egg, you’re changing its molecular composition. Ditto fermentation, another trend; just about everything we eat is fermented, like cheese – fermentation preserves and makes things digestible.
He cites Ferran Adrià (El Bulli) for igniting the trend of using a whipping siphon to make foams of every type. While I personally could do without any more foam except when judiciously applied, today we made a green sponge as a base for a “garden” that I very much liked. And it was really easy: a combination of flour, yeast, eggs and arugula (for the colour) were put into a food processor (Bimby, which both heats and chops) and then into the siphon. Squeezed into cups and microwaved for 50 seconds we optained our “grass” which we decorated with little vegetables chopped and prepared in a variety of ways. Simple dish, major impact.
Don’t skimp on quality ingredients
Words to live by: “Non giocare la figura di merda sulla pasta o riso di scarsa qualità“. Don’t lose face with crappy quality rice or pasta. Given the level of the course, Saporito put it down to numbers that restaurateurs and caterers have to consider, having us calculate the cost difference between cheap and better quality rice on the scale of a banquet for 100 people. It comes down to a matter of cents; if you need to cut costs, serve 10 grams less and add abundant vegetables, he suggests.
Buy the whole animal and use all the parts in a creative manner if serving, say, goat. We made baccalà cooked in oil; our recipe used the thickest, best part of the fillet, but we talked about what to do with the skin (yummy fried into chips) and the thinner parts (ravioli!). This is cost effective and sustainable.
You can learn everything on the internet
“In my day,” intones the chef (in his mid-to-late 40s), “you used to have to go to the library and hope they had something useful [to learn new things]; now you’ve all got internet in your pocket.” So there’s no excuse: when it comes to new recipes as well as creative ideas and expert techniques, there are videos for that. Including many of this chef. Here’s Saporito teaching you how to make pappa al pomodoro in a 10-minute video.
Recipe: red cabbage risotto with calamari by Filippo Saporito
We made three dishes in a four-hour lesson. The one I’m most likely to reproduce at home is this simple and inexpensive risotto. Apparently, the latest in risotto trends is not to use soffritto (the onion, carrot and celery base of “all” Italian cooking) nor broth because, the chef explains, “it’ll just taste like soffritto and broth.” Use a strong ingredient, preferably of a nice colour, instead of the broth.
- 1 red cabbage
- 300 grams calamari, cleaned (removing the dark part) and cut into small strips and then squares
- 500 grams riso carnaroli of good quality
- 100 grams butter (unsalted)
- 1 organic lime
- Salt q.b.
- white wine
1/ Use a juicer (centrifuga) to extract the liquid from a red cabbage
2/ In a large pot, toast the rice “a secco” – without oil or butter; add cheap white wine and let it evaporate fully.
3/ Add boiling water with some salt, and about three quarters along, add the cabbage juice to complete the cooking
4/ When it’s almost done, add butter and calamari, which will cook in a matter of seconds
5/ Serve with a zesting of lime
About the cooking school
Cordon Bleu Firenze is located not far from the Sant’Ambrogio market, near piazza d’Azeglio in central Florence. In operation for more than thirty years, it is the most prestigious formative culinary institution in Tuscany. It offers large professional kitchens for hands-on study. Aside from the three-year “bachelors” level course and the professional courses, the general public can participate in one-off opportunities listed here. Their English-language classes aimed at visitors to the city go above and beyond the usual pasta-making classes for tourists, offering truly educational mini seminars on everything from Italian Kosher cooking to soups, gourmet cooking or ice cream; these can be found at the separate website www.aromaitalia.cooking.