A few weeks ago, while we were thinking about what to write about sustainable cooking, our memory went back of about one year, precisely to the Gala dinner of the Italian Chamber of Commerce when Tablo brought Igles Corelli to Asia, an internationally well-known star chef and inventor of the circular kitchen. But what does "circular kitchen" mean? Let's find out together how a single ingredient, top quality and apparently more expensive, can still save us based on how we use it, in every part, without wasting anything.
Igles was born in Ferrara, the city of bicycles, the undisputed kingdom of salama da sugo, pinzin, home of the eel festival and panpapato, a chocolate cake made with almonds, nuts, honey and candied fruits we are used to make for Christmas. How much do origins affect the culinary journey of a chef? How can tradition be declined with sustainability?
We can intercept Igles and his wife Helga by phone while they are in Rome, an eternal city, a magical place that everyone should visit at least once in his life and that we, struggling with another wave of Covid, can only remember, waiting for finally being able to travel again.
Igles, welcome to the monthly "meeting the chef" appointment! Our aim is to bring readers into the kitchens, recipes, make them understand the human aspect that leads the chef to create that set of flavors that we find on the table. What has inspired you in these years? What was the point that made you think about the circular kitchen? Tell us about this philosophy.
Six years ago I did a research on a path related to TV in which I would have explained to women to use high quality ingredients and raw materials. Basically I told them "do not buy cheap and frozen prawns but the fresh ones". The chef must give advice on how to use parts of the product that would otherwise have to be thrown away; therefore I thought of using the head of the shrimp (which is usually used to make only the broth) to make a kind of mayonnaise. I use the heads of the shrimp or Norway lobster without eyes and I blend them with olive oil and carbonated water (10 heads, 100 grams of oil and 100 of water). Everything is then sieved, obtaining a mayonnaise that is used to whisk the risotto out of the fire. With the shrimp tails you can make both skewers and a tartare. What remains of the carapace, can be used to make a broth with carrot, celery, and onion. When the broth is ready, by pouring everything, the solid part can be dried, creating a compound to make breadsticks. If, instead of a fresh shrimp, we had one frozen, this procedure could not be done and the heads would be used just for a broth or, alas, thrown away. Circular cooking, therefore, is a philosophy in which the first-choice ingredient is used for multiple dishes, saving us money.
Then, there is a lot of talk about the waste of today's families who, in theory, would throw 30-40% of the product but it is not true. Industries and farms are producing too much. Intensive production should be avoided to save our planet.
What suggestions can you give us to adopt this philosophy and enter the virtuous circle of circular cooking? Is there any simple "tip" that each of us, from the most creative to the clumsiest, can follow?
Yes sure. I'll give you another example of how we can use squid heads which are usually tough, and you have to cook them a lot. Always using proteins, put 100 grams of raw heads in a jar, add 50 ml of oil and 100 ml of sparkling water, whisk everything, whip and make a sort of mayonnaise that you always use to whisk the risotto at the end of cooking.
In addition to cooking, you are a well-known face of TV with your Gambero Rosso channel program "Igles taste" and you have been a guest of many successful television programs such as Masterchef. In recent years, in fact, ordinary people have approached the world of catering and food. Why do you think?
The boom was because, in my opinion, the ladies of the 80s no longer cooked and now a gap has been created over the kitchen for young people who are around 35. The TV show is also successful on a visual level, not real as far as the kitchen is concerned. There has been a benefit for gastronomy but perhaps, regarding the chef’s figure, there has not been a real portrait. Ultimately there was a generational gap and now we find cooking classes and full professional schools. The hotel schools are also full although the job of the chef is not easy at all.
As often happens, we learn to cook from our grandmothers (editor's note: mine shares the same Ferrara origins of Igles) ...
Yes, but you see that you learned from your grandmother, not from your mom!
Exactly! In fact, my mother rarely cooked when she was young. We often inherit old yellowed recipe books from grandmothers, in which we notice how cooking and the combination of flavors have evolved over the years. How has cooking changed over the years, in your opinion?
Tradition is often thought to be static, instead it is always on the move. The elements don't change much but the method and the technologies. In addition, there is an increasing desire to experiment new flavors and this is why the cook started to travel, trying to combine the flavors of the house with exotic recipes, or reworking exotic recipes with Italian ingredients giving rise to fusion cuisine in 2002 -2003. For some time, this trend has been abandoned and is starting to show up again now. However, the cooks have always gone in search of new flavors and products. However, basically, technology revolutionized kitchen the most but also the raise and growing of some fruits imported to Italy such as Kiwi, papaya and mango. Then it must be said that the new generations of families who own most of the farms today have studied agriculture and this is a fundamental element that has led the quality to be truly high, perhaps the highest we have ever seen.
Instead, in this Covid period, I noticed that people are returning to traditional dishes.
How did you find yourself in Asia? Have you noticed any differences between Italian cuisine in Asia and local cuisine?
I have to say that in HK there are very top-quality restaurants, but this cannot be said of other places. The quality in Hong Kong is extremely high; therefore, the Italian cuisine is one of the best. The worst I have found, alas, has been in Israel.
I guess you grew up with traditional and free range foods. How deep is Ferrara tradition in your dishes?
Of course, when you ask each chef what is the best dish, everyone will reply talking about a childhood one and, like everyone else, I also have a memory of the crispy lasagna, the eel and the hunting. These are products that I use a lot and that are part of my grandmother's tradition and, therefore, are recurring elements of my kitchen. Among the traditional dishes that I have revisited, however, there are pumpkin tortelli which, instead of seasoning them with butter and sage, I season them with candied orange peels.
As a last question, what is the dish that belong to your heart?
Sure! The hunting risotto which is one of the things I love most and which, over time, has been increasingly revisited. Finally I added a really delicious parmesan ice cream!
Lunchtime is approaching and, with our mouth watering, we thank Igles and his wife Helga. As we said at the opening, Covid in these days is returning to haunt the city of Hong Kong and its inhabitants. In view of a new series of government provisions that require the closure of restaurants and bars after 6pm, this interview, full of advice and ideas, is a real godsend for all Italian cuisine lovers. Therefore, dear Italian (and not) readers, let’s all try these tips together, and don't forget to choose the best product. See you next time!