CELEBRITY chef” is a term widely used and abused overseas but on TuesdayI had lunch cooked by a seriously potential local celebrity chef, the very amiable Ambassador-designate of Italy to Zimbabwe, Enrico De Agostini.
We ate at a chefs’ table in the pristine kitchens of La Fontaine Grill Room at Meikles Hotel as the latest envoy from Rome put Meikles’ staff through their paces in a full dress rehearsal for a Venetian-themed Italian night to be held at the restaurant on Thursday.
This will be open to the public and is something to look forward to as Meikles development chef, Rory Lumsden and his boys and girls, under the direction of His Excellency (he’s yet to present his diplomatic credentials), took to preparing and cooking the gourmet specialities of Venice as if they were born next to the Grand Canal.
The theme was Autumn (in July Meikles will similarly host a Winter dinner with the focus on the food of Rome; there will be a Spring dinner, probably in September and Sicilian fare will be served at a Summer function there.)
Diners on Thursday will have exactly the same menu we enjoyed on Tuesday: Bacalla Mantecato, which is an emulsion of salt cod (“bacalhau” in Portuguese) and olive oil on crispy polenta. Polenta’s really posh sadza, made from yellow maize, then crisply fried: in this case as a small disc.
More fishy goodness in the second course which was delightful tasting risotto di asparagi e scampi (asparagus and prawn risotto).
Many risottos outside Italy are stodgy and bland (possibly the wrong type of rice?); this was light and creamy, subtly flavoured with herbs and with a big flavour bite from plump, pink prawns and al dente bright green asparagus spears. Candidly I’d rather have had this as a main course.
That’s not casting aspersions on HE’s efforts (he wore a smart chef’s tunic decorated with classic green globe artichokes) in cooking the actual main: pollo arrosto con salsa peverada.
The Ambassador (he’s previously been based in RSA, Mozambique and Germany among other postings) explained that roasted chicken with pepper sauce should actually feature guinea fowl rather than huku, but they couldn’t source guinea fowl in Zim (can you believe it? A noisy flock of them wake me each morning!)
The chicken had been stuffed with vegetables and wrapped in ham which formed a crisp russet “skin”. A good sized joint of chicken lay atop a bed of al dente herbed cabbage and came with lightly roast potatoes.
On Tuesday we drank an elegant 2012 Cabernet-Sauvignon labelled Life from Stone (grapes grown in Robertson and bottled at Springfield Estates); the red was Topaz (2008) a very gluggable
Rhone-style wine from Stellenbosch. Next Thursday, suitably paired Italian wines SHOULD be available in addition to Meikles’ extensive range of Cape labels at reasonable prices.
A classic Italian pudding tiramisu (“pick-me-up”) completed food courses. I always assumed the pick-me-up aspect referred to the booze element (Marsala, Sherry or other fortified wines are often used as an ingredient); the Ambassador’s recipe was liquor-free but a generous amount of chocolate gave its famous boost. Ending with coffee or tea this one-off.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. All pictures Dusty Miller