Master chefs cook up a connection

AFP
Separated by thousands of miles and hundreds of years of culinary evolution, Italian pasta and Lanzhou beef noodles have the tantalizing air of long-lost cousins.
AFP

Separated by thousands of miles and hundreds of years of culinary evolution, Italian pasta and Lanzhou beef noodles have the tantalizing air of long-lost cousins.

Equally delicious, their outward similarities disguise subtle differences that make each dish utterly distinct, a unique expression of their respective cultural traditions.

On October 11, these two great dishes played cultural ambassadors for their home countries on either side of a stage in a ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton in Beijing.

Organized by the city of Lanzhou and the Italian Embassy, the event brought together master chefs from both countries to demonstrate their art before eager gourmands and VIPs.

“Even though our two countries are very far from the other, we have one thing in common. It’s a very deep history and culture with a rich cuisine,” said the embassy’s Enrico Berti.

“I think noodles represent this proximity — even though they are cooked in different ways, they are both delicious.”

At a marble counter on stage, Lanzhou-based chef Ma Wenbin, 59, deftly transformed thick loaves of dough into five different styles of hand-pulled noodles. He explained the virtues of each type as he demonstrated his skill in a craft handed down over four generations. In a 40-year career, he has won numerous awards.

Photographers crowd around him as he handed the noodles to a sous chef to be plunged in boiling water. Chunks of been chunks and chili pepper sauce are added in the bowl, which the guests finish off almost as swiftly as they are prepared.

Meanwhile, across the stage Italian chef Amedeo Ferri, wearing in white gloves, carefully carved golden sheets of dough into flat coils of tagliatelle. A native of Umbria, Ferri is Chef de Cuisine of the Ritz-Carlton’s Italian restaurant Barolo. Trained in Italy, his 18-year career has carried him from Dubai to Japan and Thailand, and seen him collaborate with several Michelin-starred chefs.

Chef Ferri fries the pasta in a pan with olive oil from southern Italy. “I began making pasta with my grandmother,” he says. “The ingredients should be very, very good, this is the most important.” He adds garlic, removing it after infusing the flavors. After frying the tomatoes for a few minutes, he adds chopped basil and grated cheese.

“This is the first time I have tried these noodles, and I regret I haven’t tried them before — they are absolutely fantastic,” Berti said.

The event’s culinary exchange parallels growing links between China and Europe under President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative. 

Li Yaguang, vice president of the China Cuisine Association, said such events are key to promote “food culture communications” between China and the rest of the world.

As an ancient Silk Road city, Lanzhou occupies a key geographic point linking East and West, and its signature beef noodle dish aims to be a cultural ambassador for its region.

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