Last night I attended a Charity dinner at Locandoa at Villa 47, cooked for by Chef Theo Penati, of one star Michelin restaurant Pierino Penati in Vigano in Italy. The focus of his dinner was pork, having been brought to our city and to Villa 47 by Beretta, cured cold meat supplier to Villa 47 and to Woolworths via Rialto. Chef Theo introduced us to traditional Italian food culture.
I had the good fortune to meet Chef Theo on Tuesday evening, whilst having a cappuccino at Locanda, Rialto co-owner Luciano Previtera bringing Chef Theo across to my table for us to meet. Chef Theo impressed with his focus on customer satisfaction rather than on his restaurant’s Michelin star. He told me that his grandfather Pierino had established the restaurant in 1940, and it was during his father’s reign over the restaurant that the restaurant achieved its first Michelin star in 1974. Chef Theo took over the restaurant from his father, and the restaurant has maintained its Michelin star since then. Grandfather Pierino has played an important influence on Cnef Theo’s cooking. He has a vegetable and herb garden at his restaurant, which is set in the countryside. Chef Theo has visited our country twice previously, last having been here ten years ago, when he backpacked. He has little time to do any tourist travel on this visit, having to fly back to Italy on Friday.
Chef Theo previously worked at restaurants in London and Tokyo. He focuses on seasonal produce in his kitchen, and trains others working with him in Eco-sustainability. He talked about ‘Memory Food’ to me with passion, saying that what he cooks is a memory of his grandfather. Food not only meets a physical need, but also generates memories of the past. Flavour is never compromised when Chef Theo cooks in a healthy and sustainable way. The purpose of his visit with Beretta is to teach Capetonians about Italian food culture.
Villa 47 Operations Manager Peter Douglas managed to find a last minute seat for me at the dinner last night, a table made up of Rialto staff, Woolworths clients, a Woolworths hygiene and food safety auditor from IBL, and Cristian Tassoni, Export Manager of Salumificio Fratelli Beretta, who is based in Milan. Cristian is a trained chef, who worked in Spain and France, but who left the kitchen to study Economics, and then moved to Beretta. He loves food, and told me he would always work in the food industry. He is responsible for exports to all non-American countries, and in South Africa he deals with Rialto, via which company they supply Woolworths and restaurants, inclusive of Villa 47. He explained that Beretta has 22 production facilities, of which three are in the USA, one is in China, and 19 are in Italy. The Italian facilities are located near the sources of the meat from which they make the charcuterie products, a challenge to control from the head office in Milan. Beretta is the oldest food business in Italy, established in 1812, and remains a family business, run by the eighth generation Beretta family. Chef Theo cooperates with Beretta, with a long-standing relationship between him and the Beretta family, which lives next door to Chef Theo’s restaurant. Cristian visits Rialto twice a year, both in Cape Town and in Johannesburg, where Rialto has a logistics distribution facility. He told me that he makes his own Parma ham from a pig he buys in winter every year, and explained to me how curing the pork cuts purely by means of sea salt creates Parma hams which are ready for use after 12 months. The less salt that is used, the better the ham is judged to be, salt being the best anti-bacterial agent available. They do not use any preservatives, it being a natural curing process. Coppa ham is made with salt and a mix of fifteen spices. He also added that every part of the pig is used, including the bones, which are cooked to make stock. Beretta replicates the home-style curing process, and the four seasons of the year, in its factories. Beretta supplies Parma Ham, Salami Napoli, Prosciutto Crudo, Salame Milano, Smoked Pancetta, and Salamini.
We were welcomed with Millesimato Prosecco, which was paired with the starter of Beretta charcuterie products: Sicilian salami, Coppa (made from the neck, and sourced from Piacenza), and Parma ham (main photograph above), served with breads and ‘gnocco fritto’, a pasta-based moreish snack.
The second course was Cotechino Modena, an interesting salami-like pork product sourced from Modena, containing pork rind, and made by means of a slow and long cooking process. It is a very traditional Italian dish, and was described by some at the table as a cross between a terrine and brawn. In Italy it is a packaged product, but locally it is only used by some restaurants, but is not stocked by Woolworths. The dish was served simply with mash, and was paired with Baccio Chianti Riserva.
Cristian explained that the knowledge of specific food products in Italy is regional, certain towns or regions being specialists for specific food products historically, built up in families over many centuries. He also shared that the relationship between Beretta and Rialto is that of a ‘partnership‘. He has worked with Beretta for six years, and has developed close relationships with Rialto and Woolworths staff.
Our third course was a crêpe stuffed with cooked ham and Fontina cheese, made from cow’s milk coming from the Alps separating France and Italy. It is a mild semi-hard cheese, and the pairing of the dish with Springfield Wild Yeast Chardonnay 2014 was praised.
A pasta dish which Chef Theo named ‘Tre Amici‘, a partnership between himself, Rialto, and Beretta, was rigatoni, with pancetta, tomato, and white butter beans. The dish was paired with a luscious Kevin Arnold Shiraz 2012, made by Waterford Estate.
The main course was presented creatively, crumbed Porchetta alla Milanese being cut into ‘Popsicles’, and placed on skewers, which were placed inside a tomato tin covered in Villa 47 branded paper, and filled with salt to hold the skewers. Little bowls of mayonnaise and tomato soy sauce accompanied the dish. This dish was also accompanied by the Kevin Arnold Shiraz by Waterford Estate.
For me the highlight of the dinner was the traditional Zabaione Milanese, made with egg yolks, Marsala wine, rum, and sugar. It was presented in a martini glass of which the rim had been dipped in sugar and cocoa, and was served with two Savoiardi biscuits, which had an apricot jam centre and a chocolate coating, meant to be dipped into the Zabaione. Interesting was the pairing of the dessert with the Italian craft beer 32 Nebra, which is on the Villa 47 beverage list. I asked our waiter Johan about the brand name, and he was told that it is the beer brewer’s lucky number! It is available in a 750ml bottle, and costs R200. Its sweet and fruity taste paired well with the Zabaione. I ordered a dry cappuccino, and it is a delight that I do not have to explain how it should be made, having been to Villa 47 so often that they know how to make it.
Tonight Chef Theo cooks another dinner, on a larger scale, a ten course meal at newly-opened Restaurant at Villa 47, charged at R1500 inclusive of wine pairings, of which R400 per head will go to The Haven Night Shelter. Dishes on the menu for tonight’s dinner include cannolo, parmigiano tart, langoustine, carbonara, Milanese risotto, beef broth, grilled cooked ham, pancetta wrapped prawn, fruit sorbet, and a Mont Blanc cake.
Villa 47 Executive Chef Clayton Bell is working alongside Chef Theo on the two charity dinners. Our dinner at Locanda last night was communicated to be a four course meal, for which the cost was R600 each inclusive of wine pairings, R200 of which going to the same charity. When I asked Peter for the bill, he refused payment for the bill, saying that it was a directive from the Rialto co-owners.
The Haven Night Shelter offers temporary shelter rehabilitation opportunities, social welfare services, family re-unification services, and physical care and support to street persons, we were informed on the reverse side of the menu.
I enjoyed the evening, and felt lucky to sit next to Cristian, and for his explanation of the Italian cuisine of the Parma region which he comes from. He is very familiar with the regional cuisine, working with Chef Theo on promotions, and events for worthwhile causes, as was last night’s dinner as well as that of tonight at Villa 47.
Villa 47, 47 Bree Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 418-2740.www.villa47.co.za Twitter: @Villa47onBree Instagram: @Villa47onBree Monday – Saturday.
Salumificio Fratelli Beretta, Milan, Italy. Tel +39 02 909851 www.berettafood.com
The Haven Night Shelter. www. haven.org.za Twitter:TheHavenWO
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein