Italian chef offers taste of Tuscan fare

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Italian chef offers taste of Tuscan fare


Italian cuisine has always faced a monumental challenge when it comes to competing with the French over Michelin stars. Where the French obsess over strict dining codes and orthodox traditions of food, the Italians endorse a more rustic dining experience that’s closer to the one you have at home.

That cultural divide leads many highbrow juries of the Michelin Guide to favor French cuisine. At least that’s the observation of Matia Barciulli, an eloquent 29-year-old Tuscan chef who was awarded a one-star Michelin rating two years ago.

“It takes twice the effort for Italian chefs to earn a Michelin star,” says Barciulli, a rising chef based in Chianti on his visit to Seoul this week for a weeklong promotion at the COEX InterContinental Seoul. “It’s a different concept of a restaurant.”

So forget Michelin stars when you talk about Tuscan kitchens, and instead focus on the ingredients. After all, the Tuscan hills boast some of Europe’s most coveted vineyards and rich olive groves, and when it comes to olives, you’re talking to the right man.

Barciulli is one of 50 certified olive oil testers in his region of Florence.

On this recent weekday morning, Barciulli has just pulled out a seared tomato pie from his oven, and moves onto the yellow pumpkin risotto - two dishes which he thinks are quintessential primers of Tuscan cuisine.

In between, he shares a tip to test the freshness of olive oil. He fills a small shot glass with the oil and wraps the entire cup with his two hands. After about 30 seconds, when the cup is warmed up, he opens his hands and inhales. If it smells metallic, it means the oil has lost its freshness.

“You must feel the sensation,” he adds.

Barciulli says he has always dreamed of becoming a chef. He went to a cooking school at 14, and got his first restaurant job in his hometown that same year. The first dish he made was a sweet tart with blackberry jam, he recalls. In 2000, he joined Osteria di Passignano, a restaurant off central Florence built on an old abbey that was founded in 395 A.D. by the archbishop of Florence.

In his kitchen back home, Barciulli uses ten different olive oils including Franci, a Tuscan brand, and Titone, a Sicilian oil which he uses for fish or salad.

Italy produces up to 180 kinds of olive oil. Across Mediterranean areas, you will find about 360 brands of olive oil. The tradition speaks through Tuscan dishes.

For his pumpkin risotto, Barciulli forgoes butter and Parmesan cheese as his topping, adding instead a rich concoction of olive oil and pecorino, a salty Italian cheese made from goat’s milk.

“Whatever the case, you should never overstress your ingredients,” says Barciulli who is off to Dubai next week for another promotion. But travel has also taught him a valuable lesson about the standardization of ethnic cuisine around the world.

“As a chef,” he notes, “it’s important to maintain the original identity of the food as distinct as possible.”


By Park Soo-mee Staff Reporter [myfeast@joongang.co.kr]


Matia Barciulli By Kim Hyeon-dong


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