“Can I help you hold your purse?” a thoughtful man in white asked me as I fumbled around in my bag for my camera at the restaurant entrance. I wanted to be ready for a photo with the Singapore-based celebrity chef who would be taking over the Finestra kitchen that evening to whip up an Italian feast for us lucky ones in Manila.
“Why, thank you,” I replied, grateful for his assistance.
“You’re welcome. I am Diego Chiarini. Will you be joining us for dinner tonight?”
I stopped and looked up. My eyes were met by the smiling hazel peepers of the very man who will be warming our bellies with a 6-course dinner that I had been looking forward to for weeks. Standing before me was the co-owner and executive chef of Ristorante OSO in Singapore. Prior to opening his own restaurant, he worked in many prestigious establishments, namely the Royal Monceau in Paris, Four Seasons Hotels in Tokyo and Milan, and Hotel de Paris in Monaco where he cooked alongside Alain Ducasse and where I had one of the most unforgettable meals of my life.
My excitement was evident and Chef Diego tried to calm me down by describing his food to be very simple and straightforward. “I don’t want to impress anybody. I come to Manila, a city with already so many good Italian restaurants. I will make something simple, but different.”
So modest and refreshing, this one.
With Chef Diego Chiarini
A collector of cookbooks, Chiarini decided that for this dinner, he would take from each century a dish that people served during festivities.
We started with some sparkling wine
Our appetizer of Poached Prawns in Beetroot came from a 1549 recipe found in Christofaro Da Messisbugo’s “Libro Novo nel qual, s’insegna.” The rose-colored prawns were an unusual sight and reminded me of pink and orange blooms in a garden of salad greens, beetroot slices and edible petals.
Poached Prawns in Beetroot
Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Le Gemme
Next came a light and delicately flavored Fennel and Milk Soup from Bartolomeo Stefani’s “Dell’arte di Ben cucinare,” published in 1655.
What a delight when Chef Diego came to our table to shave fresh black truffles over our bowls.
Fennel and Milk Soup
The Ravioli filled with Sea Bass, dusted with gold powder and swimming in tomato water was taken from a 1773 publication entitled “Cuoco Galante” by Vincenzo Corrado. The pasta was thin and fine, the fish inside remained moist and tender. Chiarini shared that during the 18th century, tomatoes were considered poisonous and were used only as ornamental plants. “You do not eat the tomato which is the poison, but you drink the juice. Hence, tomato water is used in this dish instead of tomato-based sauces that we are accustomed to today.”
Sea Bass Ravioli
Louis Cheze Viognier 2012
The chef’s personal favorite was the 12-Hour Pork Belly with Black Figs from Pellegrino Artusi’s book “La Scienza in Cucina e l’arte di mangier bene” written in 1891. “I’ve never tried Philippine pork before and it is very beautiful! So juicy, so tender! When I return to Singapore I will use the same,” Chiarini said excitedly and animatedly. Indeed, the pork was fork-tender and full of flavor. I finished the whole block in no time. Obviously, it was also my favorite dish of the night.
12-Hour Pork Belly with Black Figs
DOC Etna Rosso 2011
Incredibly delicious was the Milk Ice Cream recipe in Angelo Paracucchi’s book “Cucina Creativa all’Italiana,” published in 1986. The sweet and creamy frozen dessert was drizzled with 25 year vintage balsamico and served with marinated strawberries and the prettiest edible flowers. I took so many photos of this lovely bowl and it is now the wallpaper on my phone. Reminiscing about this dessert puts a smile to my face.
Milk Ice Cream
Langhe Freisa 2011
To close the meal was Chiarini’s very own Oven Baked Honey and Cardamom Cake presented simply in a sauce made with beetroot, rosemary and Campari. The chef brought this to our table himself while jokingly announcing that he had to practice his serving skills because if he does not succeed in life as a chef, at least he could have an outstanding career as a waiter.
Oven Baked Honey and Cardamom Cake
Bergerac Clos des Verdots Moelleux 2012
In one evening, Chef Diego Chiarini, through Epicurean Masters, took us on a 6-course journey from 16th century Italy to the present. His talent, passion, candidness and humor captured not only our tummies, but also our hearts.
My super funny seat mate Brian who entertained us all night
Epicurean Masters celebrates Asian talents, produce, heritage and culture and brings to Manila the biggest culinary talents in Asia. For more information on future Epicurean Masters events, call 0915-7326292 or visit www.epicureanmasters.com.