Spalla di agnello arrostita con pepe rosa e crema di patate was the first name that caught our attention as we embarked on the much-awaited Italian culinary journey with none other than Michelin starred Chef Alfredo Russo. Quite intrigued by the name, which meant roasted lamb shoulder with pink pepper and potatoes cream, we started a great gourmet experience. Organised by Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa, this was to showcase some of the authentic cuisine from Italy, a sort of trademark Italian culinary wonder.
Chef Alfredo Russo was on his first visit to Muscat to present an exclusive Michelin gourmet dining experience. 'Michelin Star' is the highest distinction fine dining restaurants receive in recognition for their offerings of first-class cuisine delights complemented with exceptional service qualities.
While we know that Italian cuisine is all about a quick stir and balancing of flavours, Chef Alfredo opened a completely different world of Italian cuisine by designing a special menu to offer the guests the real taste of Italy.
"Italian cuisine emphasises a lot on the freshness of the ingredients. While I always keep that in mind when fixing up a dish, I also make it a point to maintain the simplicity of a dish by using only two or three ingredients to plate up one particular dish," said the chef while focusing on the speciality of his culinary skills.
Stressing on his 'minimalist' approach, he said that it's important for the diners to recognise the ingredients that they are tucking in rather than getting lost in the intricacies amidst many.
"The idea is to use one or two ingredients in different ways. Most of the time, chefs mix a lot of things which I do not do," he said.
And so no matter how much ever the names sounded lengthy and tough to remember, it was apparent that all the dishes in the menu were minimal in terms of the ingredients.
And so, Vitello tonnato all moda antica con caramello di agrumi was actually as simple as veal in tuna fish sauce with lemon caramel; Polenta concia con ragout di funghi porcini e finferli was polenta with chanterelles, porcini mushrooms ragout and parmesan cheese fondue; and Lasagnetta di zucchine con parmigiano e battuto di acciughe was zucchini lasanga, parmesan cheese and chopped anchovies.
Talking about the flavours, Russo said that the best way to bring out the best flavours in any food, a lot of focus should be on the freshness of the ingredients.
"I always try to keep food simple and straightforward and look for new ways to serve," added the chef while emphasising the fact that food laden with sauces or condiments was not his way of spicing up a dish.
Italian cuisine boasts of its wide array and while authenticity is the chef's expertise, he adds to the magic by adjusting the flavours according to the place and region where it is being served.
"When we travel we do improvise according to the local taste though I would say it's not always very easy," said the chef.
Connecting food with people's emotions is an important thing that chefs must keep in mind, felt Alfredo Russo.
And what's that vital Michelin-starred lesson? Alfredo has a very straight from the heart one-word response: "Simplicity".
The chef says that though technique and imagination contribute a lot in bringing out the best in a dish, finally it's all about the happiness that it gives to the food connoisseurs which makes any cook feel that he has done his best.
"Happiness matters, much more than the Michelin Star," he concluded.