Tuesday, March 23, 2021

F & B Cooking Lab - Distance Learning with a Gastronomical Twist

I'm a maths teacher and I love to look at numbers, data, statistics.  Example - internet usage.  According to DataReportal.com4.66 billion people around the world used the internet in January 2021, up by 316 million (7.3 percent) since this time last year.  And social media? There are now 4.20 billion social media users around the world. This figure has grown by 490 million over the past 12 months, delivering year-on-year growth of more than 13 percent. The number of social media users is now equivalent to more than 53 percent of the world’s total population.

One of the reasons for this increase in usage is due to the fact that access to the Internet is made much easier by less expensive mobile devices.   not to mention the worldwide pandemic that hit around 12 months ago. 

How does this affect the restaurant and food business?  If you are a cook or enthusiasts/foodie, the pandemic has not squelched your desire to learn.  On the contrary, it has opened a door -via social media - to travel the world and connect with professionals ‘face to face’.  

It is in this environment that the market for high end cooking classes on a professional level increased significantly, giving birth to schools such as  F & B Cooking Lab. F&B Cooking Lab is a totally online cooking school with an ever growing schedule of masterclasses and webinars.  Founders Daniele Bracuto and Tommaso Foglia's mission for the lab is to convey innovative techniques and processes shared by  experts in the industry who will prepare dishes and share recipes. The primary objective is the dissemination of skills in order to increase proficiency through debate and online dialogue. 

We are reaching out to the  new generation and to those who, despite having a solid theoretical and practical base, want to increase their skills. We are having considerable feedback from abroad, with Italian chefs and young people who are away for work reasons. We are pleased to make them feel a little at home!  - Daniele Bracuto

They offer all accredited students the opportunity to review the recorded lesson, as many times as possible, by connecting to a site with a personal password.

The first class is scheduled for April 12th and will feature Chef Francesco Sodano, (Il Faro di Capo D’Orso, 1 Michelin star).   Info on the course and cost can be found here.

Topics covered in the future will include baking, pastry, and dining room, presented by some of the biggest names in the Italian gastronomic scene.  

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Confessions of a Cesto Convert - Cesto Bakery, Torre Del Greco (Na)

I feel the need to confess, and as they say, confession is good for the soul.
I guess you can say that  we met online.  Cesto Bakery and I...And for me it was love at first sight.  It started off innocently enough, following their instagram page every morning.  Enticed by pictures and short video clips of  croissants, and pandoro and panettone Christmas cakes.  After a couple of weeks, I eventually reached out.  I ordered a pandoro online.  The couple of days of anticipation nearly killed me.  When my package arrived, it was hard to hide my excitement.  One of the best pandoro cakes that I have ever tasted.  I was curious, I wanted to learn more....
It was time to meet Cesto Bakery in person.

Cesto Bakery is located in Torre Del Greco's historic center.  It is about 45 minutes from my home and when I arrived, I patiently waited my turn in line outside the storefront on Via Salvator Noto.  Once inside, I was overwhelmed by the aromas of breads, pizzas and breakfast pastries.  As I was making up my mind, out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar face.  That face, that smile, that voice from Cesto's ig stories.  It was him, Catello Di Maio, the man behind the bakery.
Catello Di Maio
(photo courtesy of Cesto Bakery)

We had a coffee, a croissant and a quick chat.31 year old Di Maio is passionate about his bread making - he has been baking since he was a child, practically growing up in his father's bakery. Di Maio, with a smile, can tell you everything you want to know about bread, yeast, sourdough, and if your lucky - a little bit about Neapolitan history.  I was lucky.  We had this conversation as Di Maio led me from Via Salvator Noto to Via Falanga - Cesto's second storefront.  Here, I was treated to a tour of the bakery as Di Maio and his team were at work.Here I got to see up close loaves going into the oven, knowing full well, that though they may cost a little more than the average loaf in the supermarket, it will last me 3 times as long and will taste sooo much better.  Fun fact - on Sundays, Di Maio and his team bakes loaves that are 2 meters long!


The more I listened and observed, the greater my admiration and respect grew for Di Maio and his operation.  His knowledge of baking is impressive and after purchasing several products on several  occasions - I'm hooked.  

No - wait - I'm converted.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Pastiera Mood -7 Young Pastry Chefs - 7 Mouthwatering Memories


I’ve lived in Italy for nearly 28 years.  Yes, I’ve called the Campania region my home since 1993.  Since that period I have learned to appreciate the traditional cuisine found in this part of the boot.  One dish in particular is the Neapolitan Pastiera.  It is a pie made with ingredients such as cooked wheat berry, ricotta, and candied citrus fruit.  Served traditionally during the Easter season, but can be found year round.

Over the last couple of weeks, I developed a craving for this popular pie.A pastiera like this one by the highly respected Pastry Chef Antonino Maresca.  The aroma of this freshly baked pastiera got me thinking. Wondering.  During the nearly 40 minute drive in my car from Ro World, where the chef works,  I developed a craving for the stories behind it. The mouthwatering memories. I decided to contact 7 of Campania’s top young pastry chefs.  Those who were very young when I had my first bite of a pastiera pie. Why seven?  Because the original pastiera recipe calls for 7 main ingredients and 7 strips of dough baked on top. 

I was curious about 1) their first memories,  2)who taught them how to bake a pastiera, and 3) what, in their opinion, makes a pastiera perfect.

Here are some  mouthwatering memories  that will definitely put us all  in a  pastiera mood.

Pastry Chef Andrea Marano
( Jose Restaurant )

My first memory of pastiera is linked to work - my grandmother (at the time) and my mother are not very good bakers! (hahaha)  So passion that I have today wasn’t handed down to me, instead  it came from within, which perhaps gives it an added value.

I learned how to make pastiera from the first pastry chef to whom I was a commis. He was an older gentleman with no formal training , but who had working in a pastry shop since he was 10 years old. A life among sweets, let's say.  He explained to  the fundamental points for a "perfect" pastiera.

     1)  Ricotta first of all -strictly sheep's milk

      2)  the perfect balance of aromas of orange and Neroli, and

.      3)  cooking process, which must give the right moisture to the pastiera to create the ideal balance.

Of course every pastry chef has his own recipe that he modifies and "perfects" to his liking .... those with blended wheat berry and those without candied fruit ... well ... every recipe is right.   It tells the story in itself and who creates it.


Pastry Chef Ferdinando De Simone
(Ristorante Lorelei)

Pastiera is unquestionably the sweet prince of Neapolitan pastry, typical of the Easter period (spring). It is not just a myth, but a real family tradition handed down from generation to generation, but like all myths it is difficult to codify a recipe capable of putting everyone in agreement on the ingredients and preparation. During the Easter period, in every Neapolitan family, pastiera is made with the recipe left by distant relatives and well it goes without saying that everyone thinks that their own is the original recipe.

I can tell you mine…

I was little, I was about 7 or 8 years old, but I still remember it clearly.  During  Easter week,  I would accompany my grandmother to the shop outside the alley of our house to buy wheat berry to soak for the pastiera. We’d put the wheat to soak in the evening and in the morning it was cooked with milk, lard and orange and lemon peels . Mamma mia, what an aroma!

It is thanks to those scents and flavors that year after year my curiosity grew and during Easter it became routine to help my grandmother to try to learn as many secrets as possible - even if alas, today, after almost 10 humble years of trying, I have never been able to make pastiera like my grandmother.

Over the years I have tried to standardize the recipe by finding the right combination between the different ingredients but I only understood one thing  - besides the finest quality and authenticity of the ingredients that grandmothers and Neapolitan housewives mixed perfectly without being fixated with the exact measurements to the extent to which we "modern pastry chefs" are accustomed, love, devotion, respect for the raw materials of the land and fidelity to traditions are essential. These are the elements that make a perfect pastiera. For my part, from a technical point of view, I would recommend, regardless of which recipe you use, to use fresh but very dry ricotta, to dose and balance the smells well, to preferably use natural candied fruit and lastly not to overdo it with the eggs.

Neapolitan pastiera is a dessert that I care a lot about. I connect the memories I have just told you about. I think it is a dessert that contains a little bit of the essence of the Neapolitan people and of the south in general.   Extremely poor ingredients  which represent flourishing and rebirth (a characteristic concept of Easter and Spring).


Pastry Chef Laura Cosentino
(George Restaurant)

Almost all of my best childhood memories are linked to conviviality and food because in Naples, cooking is a gesture of love. Just as that of the pastiera is linked to my mother, to her hands, to the small fingers with the two gold rings, intent on kneading the pastry, trying to convey the value of those gestures to me. I don't remember the moment of tasting, but I remember the moments that precede it very well.  My mother taught me to prepare it, although as a child I could not appreciate it, but then one grows, one’s tastes change and evolve and today it is one of my favorite desserts. Over time, the recipe has become a little more personal but never going far from the original.

I do not believe that the perfect pastiera exists. Everyone conceives their own recipe as tradition requires, no Neapolitan would think of distorting, the pastiera is a heritage of humanity, a family image.

Each pastiera is perfect if done with love and, for me, better if tall, moist, and fragrant.

Pastry Chef Cesare Casoria
(Ro World)

My  pastiera memory is 12 years ago when my mother made it.  It was the first one that I ever saw!  My mother taught me how to make it, and over time, I improved it my own way, tweaking it here and there.

What  makes a pastiera perfect?   Love and the passion that a person puts into making it!


Pastry Chef Sara Sciotti
( former pastry chef Palazzo Petrucci)

Pastiera is one of the traditional desserts to which I am most attached, both because it is a classic dessert very rooted in the Neapolitan culture, and because it is typical of the Easter period, so it inevitably brings back memories of when I was little and I watched my mother preparing it for the whole family.

It is no coincidence that it was she who taught me those little secrets that make pastiera special:

the respect and quality of raw materials and the amount of aromas, which “play” a very important role in the creation of a perfect pastiera.

I also think that the key trick to making a good pastiera, in addition to the right balance of ingredients, is knowing how to mix experience with love and passion for what you do.

Pastry Chef Carmen Peluso (Il Mosaico, Ro World)

On Good Friday, Easter cakes were traditionally prepared at home, a day spent in the hands of my grandparents at home, they had a nice wood-burning oven. The sweet casatiello was prepared, the Lenten cookies and obviously the pastiera was the host. It was a hectic and tiring day but also one of the best days I remember from my childhood.

Growing up I could never have imagined that pastry would be my great passion and today my job.

In December 2018 I had the opportunity to taste chef Antonino Maresca's pastiera and learn his concept of the perfect pastiera. A rich dessert, characterized by the fresh scent of orange blossom, with a soft, compact,  but at the same time,  creamy filling with the right amount of pastry at the base and the 7 strips on the surface as legend has it.

The secret to a perfect pastiera?  Creating the right balance between the ingredients that make it up: wheat, quality ricotta, all enhanced by the orange blossom water that releases its characteristic scent.


Pastry Chef Fabio Del Sorbo
(Molino Dallagiovanna)

Pastiera is one of those fundamental desserts in my life.  It is one of those desserts that shorten the difference between me and my birthplace. And naturally, it is one of those desserts that makes me feel at home.  I can when remember, during the 'production period', I would be the one placing the strips of pastry dough on top of the pie towatds the end of the preparation.  It was something fun and magical, because it was the chance to do something geometrical while completing the pastiera - this was fun.  I can thank my mother for introducing me to the pastiera.  When the Easter season was approaching, pastiera production became something 'spiritual', 'magical'.  We made a lot.  I remember that we made an average of about 40 to 50 pies. These pies ended up as gifts for everyone in our neighborhood.  We used, and still use today, a wood burning oven.  I remember that at the time, I wasn't a big fan of desserts made with ricotta.  The only one was that I enjoyed was pastiera. That's because that combination of cooked wheat berry, orange blossom water, and ricotta was really something magical.  So, my first teacher was my mother.  Since then, I have advised many clients to include different types of chocolate, different types of fruit, and even dried fruit.  In my opinion, however, he classic recipe is unbeatable. What makes a pastiera special?  That combination between ricotta, orange blossom water, and wheat berry.  Today, many pastiera producers use wheat berry that is already cooked.  I advise  my clients to try to begin from scratch...meaning to but the wheat berry, cook it and add aromas.  In this way, one can create a product that is special and has the characteristics that one believes in.

And if those stories don't put you in a pastiera mood, I do not know what will!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Cucinanuova - Because the Future Matters

Salvatore Sodano, Pasquale Trotta, and Francesco Sodano

Every generation needs a new revolution- Thomas Jefferson

 In a year where the pandemic has slowed down and, in numerous cases, crushed the dreams of many in the restaurant business in Italy, it is refreshing to see that there are those who are looking towards the future. No, the last 12 months have not been easy, but it also gave an opportunity for three young Campanian chefs to reflect on their profession, the definition of ‘Made in Italy’, and yes …the future.

Back in Jamuary, chefs FrancescoSodano, Salvatore Sodano, and Pasquale Trotta – officially announced the formation of a new association -Cucinanuova.  They did so by presenting a manifesto listing their intentions, opinions, and objectives. 

Here’s a taste of what they had to say.

"Cucinanuova" is proposed as a cultural movement, formed by chefs who like us, have had the opportunity to have cross-border experiences or study techniques and cultures outside the schemes related to traditional cuisine and who, taking advantage of all the accumulated knowledge, manage to identify themselves by a type of cuisine that, while remaining Italian in its roots, defines itself as unconventional.

We have witnessed great revolutions which have affected all European countries, although in different time spaces, where innovation has taken over knowing how to elevate traditional cuisine to the "next level" using modern techniques; see  for example the chemistry applied to cooking in Spain during the Adrià crusades in the 90s or the revolution of Nordic cuisine, which as a spokesperson for ancestral techniques applied to a modern food concept, has completely created from scratch a new line of cuisine admired all over the world. Not to forget the advent in recent years of Modern British Cuisine that has shifted the fulcrum of "traditional" English cuisine, super influenced by France and old colonies, on the concepts of "local" and "organic" finally starting to promote products belonging to the "common" kitchen and knowing how to take them to extreme levels.

 One of the big questions that Cucinanuova posed was ‘Are you ready for the revolution?.’  A question, that at the time, may have seemed shocking and/or offensive to some in the Italian food community.  There were those who initially felt that these young guys were throwing mud on their roots, their traditions.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future. Winston Churchill

More from the manifesto:

Too often our cuisine is highlighted with stereotypes that denigrate, in our opinion, both our culture and our desire to cook and it is for this reason that Cucinanuova aims to unite Chefs, agricultural producers, excellent breeders but also artisans, experts in communication who feel the need to make themselves heard, to get out of the box, who make the search for unique products and the deepening of both new and ancestral techniques their way of conceiving the new  Italian  catering.

The aim, therefore, is to create a food-network capable of stimulating a spirit of solidarity of the entire community and that manages to make the consumer perceive the concept of Cucinanuova using professionals who, through their experiences, can shed light on what is the entire supply chain of organization of a new way of cooking.


When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness. Alexis de Tocqueville


The avatars of some of the chefs of Cucinanuova.  The chefs decided to block out their eyes, making them practically faceless.  A decision to create unity and also focus on another one of their themes -  build ideas, not ego.

A couple of months has passed and the Cucinanuova community has grown, now boasting 42 Italian chefs.  I decided to speak to founders, Salvatore Sodano and Pasquale Trotta.

* It seems that since the ‘launch’ of Cucinanuova, there has been a lot of positive feedback, particularly from young chefs/cooks.  Did you expect such a ‘quick’ reaction?

Sodano: Truth is that I was expecting a nice reaction, but I was literally overwhelmed by the amount of people that demonstrate an interest in a cause like this. It made me proud, a lot, seeing young chef fascinated by the topics that we were touching and also older chefs too intrigued by the concept to create a solid community for this category.

Trotta: I expected a quick reaction because I was aware of the validity of the project. Many young Italian chefs feel the need and the desire to have a cultural belonging that was being lost, we have only helped them.

* I’ve noticed that you have begun a series of Wednesday night live interviews.  How important is social media to your ‘mission’?

Trotta: Social media nowadays, especially in this historical moment is fundamental. To date, there is no possibility to meet or organize meetings so without this tool Cucinanuova would not have been born.

Sodano: I believe that social media has become the essence of information nowadays. The fact that it is so direct and can reach millions of people at the same time for me represents the apotheosis of the concept of information. Since the main focus of Cucinanuova is about the possibility to let people know what is the true essence of a gourmet restaurant, the organization, the incredible research for ingredients and the support for the producers that help us doing our job  I’m truly fond that social media has a vital importance for our cause.

*You have also had the opportunity to go ‘on the road’.  Could you tell me something about your outings?

Sodano: One of the aspect of Cucinanuova that make me proud is that we are willing to create a solid community between chefs, so we organized a series of Pop Up dinner called “Cucinanuova in movimento” that give us the possibility to improve first of all the relation between chefs that sometimes doesn’t t know themselves in person (in this way our community grows stronger) and the other important aspect is that in time like this, where we are so limited in the restaurant business, we give the possibility to create a little hype and hopefully a nice dinner for the customers.

 Since we believe that Cucinanuova has a important impact on a social profile as well, we were humbled to participate to the Monday lunch for homeless people organized by the association Made in Cloister. I believe this is an harsh time for everyone, but especially for people that doesn’t t have the luck to have a family or a house to stay. So helping Chef Sabrina Russo to do something good for people that are less lucky than us made ma even more satisfied that I chose this job.

Chefs Salvatore Sodano, Sabrina Russo, Francesco Sodano and Pasquale Trotta

Trotta: I had the honor and the pleasure of dedicating some of my time to help the Made in Cloister Foundation in Naples. In addition to the nice gesture of helping someone, it helped me even more by not complaining about my current situation, even if it is not optimal.

(Pictures by Chef Sabrina Russo)

*What are the plans for Cucinanuova in the immediate future?

Trotta: What we aim to do with Cucinanuova in the near future is certainly to increase our network with people who embrace our philosophy. We continuously say, it is not a question of cuisine but a question of a way of thinking. We will expand "Cucinanuova on the Road" by organizing dinners with partners and in 2022, hoping for better times, organizing a mega event Cucinanuova with all the chefs.

Sodano: Unfortunately, this period does not allow us to organize activities that involve people from an operational point of view but we will continue our job with live streams, introducing the chefs and producers that joined Cucinanuova’s cause from behind the scenes we will continue to organize surprises for next year!!

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. John F. Kennedy