Margarita Forés to cook ‘sinigang’ in an Italian town piazza

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MARGARITA Forés

A famous Italian culinary school will open in the Philippines, while Filipino chef/restaurateur Margarita Forés will demonstrate how to cook sinigang in a town piazza in Italy.

Apparently, Filipino and Italian diplomats are convinced that food is the best way to forge relationships between countries.

When Italian ambassador Luca Fornari, with his wife Silvana Novelli, assumed his posting in the Philippines a few years ago, among the first people they met was restaurateur Margarita Araneta Forés, the leading local proponent of Italian cuisine.

Impressed with the authenticity of Forés’ repertoire, the Fornaris said she could best represent here the cuisine of their country.

To mark the 65th year anniversary of Philippine-Italian relations, the two countries have forged a gastronomical partnership. This involves the opening of a famous Italian culinary school in Makati, and a Filipino food festival and cooking demonstration in Italy.

Casa Artusi, the famous Italian school, will be launched  June 1,  the Italian National Day.

Italian cuisine has become part and parcel of mainstream Filipino dining—think spaghetti, although, as everyone knows, almost every Filipino household has its own version of spaghetti, and we’re not counting in yet the spaghetti of McDonald’s and Jollibee.

FOOD learned in the afternoon is served in the evening, to be partaken by the students.

Dedicated to the art of Italian home cooking, Casa Artusi is a touchstone of gastronomic culture in Forlimpopoli, a town in northern Italy.  It is a mixed-use center—a restaurant, library, museum, special events venue and culinary school. It pays homage to Pellegrino Artusi, a native of Forlimpopoli.

A writer and a gastronome, Artusi is considered the father of Italian cooking. His book, “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well,’’ was published in 1891. With 790 recipes, witty observations and literary asides for the home cook, Artusi’s book is a classic among Italians.

Simplicity

Artusi espouses the use of quality ingredients, particularly natural ingredients and  those  in season—while still maintaining variety.  The cook must adopt the virtues of simplicity, enthusiasm, accuracy.

“Be mistrustful of cookery books (including mine),” concludes Artusi.

The cooking school is the crux of the center’s activities, designed for both hobbyists and professionals who want to improve their knowledge of certain areas of Italian cuisine.

Artusi insisted that practice was the best maestro.

Hence, Casa Artusi students take hands-on lessons in a training hall that’s divided into complete workstations. Courses vary, from making classic home-made pasta to preparing fresh fish.

Students start their lessons by going to market to test the students’ shopping savvy, and end by preparing a full evening meal.

MARGARITA Forés with Artusi faculty as she hand-rolls the pasta

On May 30, Forés will sign a memorandum of agreement with the mayor of Forlimpopoli, Paolo Zoffoli, to open Casa Artusi Center in Manila.

At this launch, Casa Artusi instructor Carla Brigliadori will demonstrate fresh pasta making.

Casa Artusi teachers are referred to as “Mariettas.”  The title was derived from the name of Artusi’s devoted cook, Marietta Sabatini, who road-tested the recipes sent him.

In Forlimpopoli, the Associazone delle Mariette (Mariette’s Association) upholds the practice and gastronomical knowledge passed down through generations, mainly by women.

The courses will begin in 2013 at Whitespace on Chino Roces Extension, Makati.

“I’m going to set up a culinary center with a library of cookbooks and other books on Italian culture. We’ll take it a step further. We will train Filpinos to do elegant service in the grand Italian tradition,” said Forés.

Forés and her team will hold a Filipino food festival at the Westin Excelsior in Rome on June 12-19.

ARTUSI espouses the use of freshest and best seasonal ingredients.

Organized by Ambassador Virgilio Reyes, the event coincides with Philippine Independence Month. The contingent will demonstrate 30 recipes from “Kulinarya,” a definitive book on Filipino cuisine, where Forés is one of the featured author-chefs.  A diplomatic reception will be held  June 12.

The Filipino contingent will join Festa Artusiana, Forlimpopoli’s yearly tribute to Artusi. On June 16-24, the town will host gastronomic tours, cultural performances, a food festival and food tasting.

Forés will demonstrate the preparation of Filipino fare such as sinigang, adobo and pancit   in the town piazza and at the Casa Artusi cooking school.

With the establishment of Casa Artusi here and its home-style cuisine, Forés feels that not only has she come  full circle (Fores studied the cuisine in Italy), but also  her experience with Italian cookery has been validated.

Authentic pizza

“My appreciation of learning Italian cuisine goes back to the three signoras who taught me. I never went to a formal cooking school,” recalled Forés.

When the Araneta clan lived in New York during the Martial Law years, Forés became immersed in Italian culture, starting with a stint in the fashion house Valentino.

CASA Artusi in winter

The early ’80s saw a boom in Italian restaurants and cuisine. Forés would dabble in cooking Italian recipes and would invite friends over for dinner. She even worked as an apprentice in an Italian restaurant, learning how to make risotto.

When her grandfather, Amado Araneta, the man behind the development of Cubao, died in 1985, the clan decided to return to the Philippines.

Back in Manila, Forés felt restless, longing to expand her knowledge of Italian cuisine. She flew to Florence, referred by a friend to an Italian woman who conducted cooking lessons in English in her home.

“Many of the concepts and recipes taught me by my first teacher Masha Innocescenti are found in the Artusi book. It was through the course that I discovered that the Artusi cookbook is the most important Italian cookbook of all time,” she said.

After her month-long course, Forés sought out other teachers  in Milan and Rome.

On the birthday of her sister Bledes, Forés prepared cocktails that aroused the curiosity and appetite of Perfecto Quicho, who was general manager then of Hyatt. He invited her to do a food festival in April 1987.

Over the past 25 years, Forés has become one of the most famous caterers in town. She is a foremost exponent of authentic Italian cuisine.

The uncompromising Forés recalled that her restaurant Cibo served pizza only after a decade of its existence.

“People wanted us to offer pizza, but I hesitated. I didn’t want to do something I didn’t learn from the purists or from where the tradition came,” she said.

She flew to Ischia island in Naples to learn how to make the perfect pizza dough from Master Gaetano Fazio.

When she went to Casa Artusi for some courses, she picked up tips on how to make the pasta as yellow as those made in Italy.

Setting up a school is a logical move, and the entrepreneur-turned-educator is excited about this cross-cultural endeavor.

“It’s like getting a seal of approval from the Italian government,” Forés said.

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