LEBANON: MASTER CLASSES TEACH LOCAL CHEFS AUTHENTIC ITALIAN CUISINE

The Italian Trade Agency has launched a new round of cooking master classes to teach the country’s cuisine, with a senior diplomat saying that the professional Lebanese chefs taking part should expect the unexpected.
During the second edition of the two-day Italian Cooking Master Class that began Tuesday, 12 local chefs will learn dishes that are “totally Italian, but new to the market,” said Francesca Zadro, who directs the Lebanon office of the embassy-linked Italian Trade Agency.
She said that while Italian food is common in Lebanon, it does not always meet the standards of the authentic cuisine of her homeland. “A lot of restaurants are introducing some dishes of Italian cuisine,” she said. “Maybe they call themselves Italian restaurants, but they are a bit far from the real Italian. This is one purpose of the master class: to teach what is authentically Italian.”
Italian-Australian chef Carlo Maria Ricci, who will teach 16 new recipes to the Lebanese chefs at the master class, said, “Everybody’s always interested in what we’re going to bring, because we don’t do the classics.”

The cuisine of the northern European country has a large market in Lebanon, comprising 11 percent of the market share for Lebanese food and beverage imports, with Lebanese consumers particularly fond of Italian pasta, rice, cold cuts and tomato sauce.
While it is competing with a surge in popularity for restaurants based on Asian cuisines, Zadro said that the close proximity of Lebanon and Italy, combined with the similarity of the two food cultures, means that Italian foods will always be popular in the country.
“Italian food is based on ingredients that are also available in Lebanon. The outcomes are totally different recipes and totally different dishes, but the roots are similar tastes. This will help Italian cuisine to remain stable in Lebanon,” she said.

Chef Ricci said that he had been struck by the similarities between the two cuisines since arriving in Lebanon. “Some of the products are pretty much the same that you would find in Italy. … There’s definitely parallels from the Mediterranean influence,” he said.
“In the south of Italy, you have a pastry culture where a lot of cheeses go into desserts, especially ricotta, or cheeses similar to labneh.”
Many typical Italian ingredients – particularly in the southern Italian island of Sicily – were brought from the Middle East and North Africa region to Italy by the Aghlabid and Fatimid dynasties, who ruled the island between the ninth and 11th centuries.

Zadro has an appetite for future initiatives to bring authentic Italian cuisine to Lebanon and share her country’s rich viniculture. While some local Lebanese wines might be cheaper, or French bottles typically carry prestige, the diplomat thinks Italian wine is the natural partner for the cuisine. “What we are trying to say is that you should eat Italian and drink Italian. They are made to be together.
(ICE BEIRUT)