For the fourth year in a row, the now annual Identita Golose event returned to Eataly this past weekend, bringing together an unparalleled collection of six New York City chefs paired with six of Italy’s most notable for hour long cooking sessions and seminars, each focused on a different culinary staple. With two cooking seminars each day alongside two All-Star Chef Dinners separately held by Eataly co-owners Mario Batali and Lidia Bastaniach on the rooftop of Birreria, the weekend would be a truly unique experience for anyone fortunate enough to head to the massive Italian inspired warehouse. As fundamental as it might appear to focus solely on basic components like eggs, cheese, fish, pasta, tomatoes, and rice, through the creative minds and in the creative hands of these talented chefs, each ingredient is allowed to shine.
Blog: Identita NY: Sara Jenkins and Mauro Uliassi
Slated to attend one session on Saturday and one on Sunday, we perused the schedule and immediately signed up for the two seminars that caught our eyes. We began on Saturday in the late afternoon where Porsena and Porchetta Chef Sara Jenkins would be working on a dish featured around the tomato. Chef Jenkins would team with Chef Mauro Uliassi, whose Italian restaurant Uliassi opened in 1990 and in 2013, received two Michelin stars for its greatness. Upon our arrival, both chefs could not have been nicer- posing for pictures with guests before and after the seminar and taking time for photo opportunities together for this historic cooking session. Sitting at our two person table, we found three empty glasses in front of us alongside some fresh rustic bread and some extra virgin olive oil suitable for dipping as we awaited our hosts’ session to commence.
With two video screens overhead, Chef Uliassi was introduced to the crowd of a few dozen lucky guests and although the sound was spotty at times, we understood the concepts of utilizing plum tomatoes in his dish. We sipped on “La Rossa” a malt-laden beer courtesy of Birra Moretti, which was downright delicious as we watched the chef prepare and plate his “Red Shrimp with Yellow Tomato and Yellow Plum Bearnaise Sauce.” Using hints of sugar, Chef Uliassi combined the plums and tomatoes in a blender to create the thick base of sauce, used sparingly on the plate alongside some small hunks of cucumber and dried capers. Although we frowned upon having to destroy such a beautifully presented dish, the fresh, uncooked shrimp was absolutely outstanding when dragged through the slightly sweet yellowish drizzle and we wiped the plate clean.
Chef Jenkins was up next and if Chef Uliassi’s offering was the lighter, chilled apertif, Chef Jenkins’ heartier dish was certain to send us home satiated. Known for her reputation as one of the country’s finest American bred Italian chefs, she used tomato wonderfully in her dish without overpowering its overall flavor profile. Utilizing a large vat, Chef Jenkins began by combining a rainbow off different tomato colors into the pot, mixing in some garlic afterward to blend into the tomato base without burning. She also added in sprinkles of pancetta which added a certain richness to the dish along with some grated Grana Padano cheese, which Jenkins prefers to Parmigiano Reggiano. The strands of “Pasta al Pomodoro” were served cleanly in a white bowl, delicately plated and subtly flavored. The just soft enough al dente style spaghettoni was flavorful enough on its own but surrounded by the sweetness of the yellowish tomato sauce, brought the dish to other levels. Both Chefs utilized a basic tomato so differently that it might surprise you to find that one was used at all.
Blog: Identita NY: Matthew Lightner and Carlo Cracco
Sunday’s Identita seminars began at noon, only this time, the focus was on rice. Once again, we entered Eataly’s La Scuola Grande space and were handed some crisp pours of Berlucchi ‘Cuvee ’61 Brut Franciacorta’ and ‘Rose’ upon our arrival. And again we found ourselves similarly situated and similarly unable to resist from immediately dipping our slices of bread into the mouthwatering tray of olive oil in front of us. Sunday’s session kicked off with Atera Chef Matthew Lightner who spent his portion of the afternoon focused on the surprising aromatic features of rice- not something we’d typically associate with the white grain. Chef Lightner inventively used some grape seed oil, vinegar, and gelatin for his dish, which would feature the use of fresh crab meat as its main protein. His final product admittedly didn’t look like much – white rice decorated by some chrysanthemum’s for design’s sake. But wow, was it absolutely delicious. Chef Lightner’s “Carolina Gold Rice with Crab and Garlic” highlighted the savory crab among the standout flavor of normally bland white rice. And the flower petal finish actually added another element to the outstanding creation.
Chef Lightner admitted that he was intimidated to prepare rice alongside Italian Chef Carlo Cracco, who has made a living from his incredible preparation technique and his innovative cooking style. And after seeing Chef Cracco’s serving, we can certainly understand why. Using caviar in both of his dishes, the chef began utilizing rice intricately in a pasta style. His “Rice ‘Tagliolini’ Salad with Sea Beans & Caviar” was served chilled and each delicate strand deliciously paired with the rich caviar in as brilliant a fashion as we’ve ever tasted before. Chef Cracco followed up with a dish that even managed to exceed the previous, with perhaps the best that we tasted all weekend long. His “Creamed Rice with Beetroot and Caviar” was so incredibly complex that there were almost too many variables to keep track of – in a good way. First, the dish was plated like a piece of art- a bright purple layer ensconced the bottom of the plate decorated with chunks of fresh beets, beautiful spheres of black caviar and a green garnish. The taste alone was mindblowingly creamy and fresh. Fortunately once the dish had been polished off, the remaining slices of bread proved perfect for cleaning the purple from the plate entirely.
Eataly’s mastery of cooking ideology is unmatched in New York City. From some of the freshest and hardest to find Italian ingredients and produce to the many restaurants housed within its walls, the place brings a little piece of Italy to our bustling metropolis. But the chefs flown in for the Identita Golose festival this weekend proved that regardless how far our cooking has come in the states, there’s no place like the ‘other side.’ And tasting the dishes of just two accomplished chefs has us eager for our next trip back to Italy, which after this weekend, will come much sooner than we previously anticipated.
- Jane Van Arsdale