Wednesday, April 28, 2021

An Invitation to Ibiza - Chef Massimo Larosa and Comely Club


Chef Massimo Larosa
I remember that day as if it were yesterday.  Three years or so ago - a sunny spring day on the island of Ischia.  Ischia Ponte, to be exact. I was sitting on a bench eating a mortadella sandwich, which now that I think about it, was probably not the ideal moment to meet someone for the first time. But I digress. That someone was Chef Massimo Larosa. Larosa was on the island enjoying a sandwich with his family as well. Larosa has a jammed pack curriculum which includes goes back nearly 20 years including Celler De Can Roca, Il Mosiaco as sous chef with Nino Di Costanzo, and at the time IT-Ibiza with Gennaro Esposito.   We got to talking and it was then that the chef extended an invitation to visit him in Ibiza so that I could get a chance to enjoy his cuisine and the island life. 

The years passed and I still haven't been able to get to the island off the coast of Spain, but I am definitely living the Ibiza life, virtually, through the chef’s social network. It was there that I learned about Larosa’s latest project moving Ibiza a few spaces higher on my bucket list.  That project is Comely Club.  And it looks fantasticaaa.

I contacted Larosa this week to learn more.  Here’s a taste of what went down.

Before you tell me about the project, I'd like to know more about you. I usually write about chefs from Campania and, although you are from Genova, I know that you have ties to the Campania region. Does Campania have any influence on you as a chef in terms of traditions, ingredients and / or menus?

Yes, Campania is now a part of me. My wife Stefania is from Ischia, my daughters were born in Ibiza, but half of their blood is Campanian. And then, you asked me about the project, the influences, and the menus? Let's say that Comely Club is an idea born from a dream of mine and two other people - my partners.  Where do you think they are from? Campania, obviously. The first is from Vico Equense, Costantino Russo, who has thirty years in the hotel, food & beverage world as well as one of Spain's leading experts in Italian wines is here with me on the island. The second partner, on the other hand, is Virgilio Panarese, a Neapolitan engineer, an expert in marketing and public relations- uniting the work, creativity, and numbers. So, we can say that we represent a good slice of Campania. The menus and traditions? I'll get there in a while.

 I read what you wrote on your fb page and the pdf file you sent about this ambitious project. I don't know if there is something similar in Italy at this level. It must be exciting for you. Tell me a little about a typical week.

The project is ambitious, but as Einstein said - If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it - and it is precisely from this assumption that Comely was born, a club able to offer all "top-notch" services ". We have exclusive villas, the possibility of flying on business jets, sailing on luxury yachts and many other services with an extremely high standard. All, however, have a common denominator: food and beverage. Yes, my cuisine interpreted in a new concept – a concept different from that of a private chef. It is a real restaurant in our guests’ homes. Comely Club is, in fact, a nomadic home restaurant, with ad hoc menus, staff, our dishes, our glasses, our sommelier and everything you could find in a restaurant. What's the benefit? That the location could be a villa, a beach, a yacht, or a jet. Keeping quality, mood, and experience intact. The typical week? I can summarize it in three words - frenetic, exciting, and compelling – everything is in flux. Everything is research, everything is new and therefore explorable.

 After a year of pandemic life, do you think projects like this could be the new wave?

We hope that the idea can be the new wave, this would mean for us to have identified a path of success. But at the same time, it would be an honor for Costantino, Virgilio, and I to have been the forerunners of a new way of imagining catering. Why not? Perhaps one day it will be possible to receive an important recognition such as the Michelin star even with a home restaurant.

I suppose you have a kitchen brigade to help.

I have my people, the guys I trust but also new collaborations. The pace in a home restaurant is different and to maintain quality, experience, and uniqueness the work is quick/tight. A site inspection allows us to understand what, how, and why to act in a certain way in order not to find surprises.

 One last thing, on the pdf, Chef Massimo Bottura is mentioned. What role does he play, or will he play in this project?

We will have the opportunity, here in Ibiza, to propose and organize in synergy with Massimo a private experience, a real evening with the cuisine of the great Bottura at the home of one of our guests.

Wow! Is there anything else would you like to add?

We could talk and I could write to you for a long time to come. There are other services such as wine delivery of top Italian and French wines, our products from caviar, truffles, pasta, tomatoes, and Massimo Larosa oil. All that remains is for you to come and visit us, taste our cuisine, and see what has changed in the meantime.

Well, that sounds like an invitation that I can’t refuse!

A presto! And thanks for the pics, chef!




Sunday, April 18, 2021

FoodHacker ...from #foodporn to #foodlove

I have the pleasure and honor to be  participating in an extensive investigative project that began nearly a year ago. The theme Food, data and influencers in the era of the pandemic will be presented in a format which includes  5 video episodes and accompanying articles that investigates how the relationship between food and digital is changing in the era of Covid, created by RuralHack in the research / action programs carried out with the Department of Social Sciences, University of Naples  Federico II.

The format includes an introductory episode followed by 4 thematic episodes on:

·         digital food and lockdown,

·         Mediterranean Diet,

·         food quality and its communication and,

·          a further episode dedicated to the theme food influencer marketing.

FoodHacker intends to "hack", to recombine the concept of #foodporn by trying to understand if some parts of his grammar can be used for food of quality by restoring a relationship of love between food and interconnected audiences.

The issues are therefore treated from different points of view, by operators in the sector and by food  influencers, to offer a vision of the phenomenon that is now part of the social network, of marketing, of life online but also off-line, in a moment definitely particular like this one - the pandemic.

Question. Can digital media and these figures that move in the infosphere influence lifestyles and eating habits, redesigning the meanings of quality, transmitting values ​​and concepts related to food?   With this format, with all the research behind it and its future development, this project will try to understand if the information highway can help in marking the transition from #foodporn to  #foodlove in a meaningful and innovative way.

 The players for this first edition, besides myself, are some of the main food influencers of the web, all very different from each other but chosen on the basis of their peculiarities turned out to be very interesting:

Luciano Pignataro, food and wine journalist, founder of Luciano Pignataro Food & Wine Blog and author of numerous books on the culinary tradition and wine from Campania and Italy in general.

Sonia Peronaci, founder of Italian food bloggers, cook, writer and TV presenter, she is known for being the founder of Giallozafferano, among the first food blog full of recipes.

Flavia Corrado, better known as Zia Flavia foodn’boobs, food blogger Neapolitan transplanted to Milan.

Valentina Castellano, sociologist from Campania, specialized in communication and marketing, currently holds the role of social media manager, responsible communication and events at various facilities in the food sector.

So, beginning  April 21 and for the following 4 Wednesdays, an episode a week will be visible  on RuralHack as well as the various partners and protagonists social outlets, as well as an in-depth study article on the AgriFood Today website.


FoodHacker is a format created by RuralHack in the programs of research / action carried out with the Departments of Social Sciences at the University of Naples Federico II, in partnership with AgriFoodToday, Museo Vivente della Dieta Mediterranea, Identità Insorgenti, La Nuova Ecologia, Osservatorio Giovan and with the support of Europa Today, Napoli Today, Societing4.0 e PIDMed.



Sunday, April 4, 2021

#Pastieramood - Taverna Estia, Brusciano (Na)


Weekend- 27/28 March 2021.    Myself,  like many,  spent the morning scrolling through Facebook feeds and  Instagram stories. That's when I noticed a story by Chef Francesco Sposito of Taverna Estia, 2 Michelin stars. This story was a little different than his usual ones that he had been posting over the last couple of weeks.  Posts and stories dedicated to the hard work and devotion that he and his team had been dedicating  Colomba cake production.  This was different because…because he gave a hint to what was coming soon.  A teaser, if you will, hinting to the fact that h was about to begin producing a limited quantity of pastiera pies.


decided at that moment to write the chef a DM.  

‘Francesco,  Azz (wow!!), are you going to make some  pastiera pies??!!!??’ 

He answered back after a couple of minutes, ‘Yes!’.

That is when I decided right away to reserve one.  I hadn't read any reviews or seen any pictures and/or selfies from  who have tasted Sposito’s pastiera, but that did not matter.   I know the chef, I know the family, I know their two Michelin star restaurant .

I called the restaurant immediately  and spoke with Mario Sposito . Mario and I made an appointment for the following week - Thursday to be exact giovedi Santo for me to pick up my pastiera . One thing you have to know about this particular pie is that it is made to be eaten 2 or three days later  due to the fact that the ingredients need to meld, forming a firm, not hard filling that is pleasing flavorful and aromatic. . 

Thursday Santo/Holy Thursday , at about 11:15 I arrived  at Taverna Estia . Obviously sad to see the restaurant closed for normal business, but happy to have a chance to sit down and chit chat with Francesco Sposito about pastiera and things in general. While chatting Mario slices us a piece of pastiera. Francesco mentioned this was made this morning it's going to take taste a little different than one that is made that is one destined for the Easter lunch table . No problem, we tried it anyway-  fluffy flavorful aromatic . Telling stories about not only about pastiera and  its citrus flavours but a little about the Sposito family, Brusciano – where the restaurant is located -and their traditions .

I could not wait then to bring my pastiera home.   Feeling the duty of a blogger - maybe incorrectly - as soon as I got home, I took the obligatory photos of the bag,  of the box. 

,  that box. That box that I was so excited about - the fantastic design on the outside, that mistakenly, in my haste,  I dropped the box causing the pastiera to fall .

Pastiera - day 1

@@##!!! I thought! What kind of photo am I going to take with a pastiera that has a cracked filling!!I had a slice, I took a ic... Later that afternoon I confessed to the chef. Francesco,  your pastiera day one is fantasticaaa,  however I dropped the box, managgia!!'

Sposito didn’t seem to mind …in fact he laughed a little and told me -Karen, you are the the one who gets to eat it…

He was right. He was right,- he knows that what counts about this pie, this pastiera, is its taste.  Its flavors. Its story.

Flash forward to Saturday afternoon, April 3, 2021.   I opened the box again, cut a slice, poured a tazza of caffè, and tasted that pastiera.  The flavors, as he mentioned a couple of days before, would blend, would meld, the filling would firm up at room temperature.   The aromas were there… and so was the memories of that afternoon… of that family recipe…  of that Easter feeling tradition/tradizioni…friendship/amicizia.

All the perfect ingredients for a#pastieramood.



Saturday, April 3, 2021

#Coffeebreak - Pastry Chef Tommaso Foglia

Chef Tommaso Foglia

Oh, how I love my coffee breaks!  Like a recent one I shared - virtually - with Pastry Chef Tommaso Foglia.  Foglia, currently the Executive Pastry Chef of San Barbato Resort in the Basilicata region, but his curriculum has taken him in various top restaurants in Italy, London, and Dubai.  Foglia was in the area a couple of weeks ago and amongst his many errands, one stop he made was to deliver personally his Colomba Easter cake to make my coffee break a little sweeter.   

And with every coffee break, there is a little chit chat ... and to keep with the theme, we decided to talk about Colomba cake.  Spoiler alert - I've tried Foglia's colomba in many ways;  warmed next to the fireplace, toasted and topped powdered sugar, and al naturale.  With each slice, I hear Tommy's (Foglia) laugh, see his smile, and feel the warmth of a friendship that goes back nearly 7 years.

Ciao, Tommy! Have you always made Colomba cakes  for the Easter season, or is it something you have been doing more and more in the last couple of years?

Hi Karen, I've been producing this great leavened product for a few years and in all honesty it fascinates me a lot. It is a dessert that requires a lot of attention in all stages of preparation and gives so much satisfaction for the sacrifice it requires.

I know they are available in many varieties.  Which is the most popular?

I think the most popular Colomba is the classic one. The perfect combination of orange, vanilla and almonds.

Ok, so what is your favorite flavor?

I love chocolate but at the same time I also love candied fruit, so I could tell you without a doubt the dark chocolate and apricot Colomba.

Tommy, I'm  curious how many hours you spend per day when you are in the production period?

That's a good question! During full production I can spend 16/18 hours in the laboratory. The production of a large leavened product starts first from the care of the lievito madre/sourdough,  then the selection of the raw materials and then to all the various phases of mixing and kneading the dough.

What are the challenges in making this particular cake?

We are now in the alveoli/air pockets era!

Therefore I believe that the most interesting part is to create a product that is balanced in acidity and softness, but at the same time presentable.

What do you find satisfying when you prepare this cake?

First of all I would say the baking process! Seeing one's Colomba literally stand up and take flight in the oven gives me a deep sense of satisfaction. And then observe the expression of the customer who appreciates its characteristics, be told about the taste sensations. On the other hand, those who choose this job do it to satisfy others through their creations.

Like all coffee breaks, they eventually must come to an end. I thanked Tommy for his time, and hoped that soon, when all 'this' is over, we can have a coffe break come si deve...

 Have you ever wondered what coffee is? Coffee is an excuse. An excuse to tell a friend you care.- Lusciano De Crescenzo


Friday, April 2, 2021

#Coffeebreak - Pastry Chef Michele Cannavacciuolo

Chef Michele Cannavacciuolo

Over the past few weeks, I've noticed that my coffee breaks have become a special part of my day.  Sitting on my balcony in the sun after a full day tied to my computer teaching elementary and middle school math lessons, I look forward to that  tazza of espresso.   That little cup, paired with a  sweet treat is my way of relaxing.   My latest coffee break was this week with Chef Michele Cannavacciuolo. I've been a following Cannavacciuolo's work for quite some time.  The chef, known and respected Campania-wide from his work at Hotel Capo la Gala, La Torre del Saracino, numerous pastry consultant jobs, and pastry courses which focus on viennoiseries is extremely busy this time of year preparing for the Easter season.  He's busy preparing, alongside other precious baked goods, the Colomba - an Italian Easter cake.  This past week the chef sent me his chocolate version which gave us a chance to have a virtual coffee break while I enjoyed every last bite of his airy, light, soft and chocolatey cake.  

Michele, have you always produced Colomba cakes, or is this something that you have taken up recently due to the increase demand?

I've always made Colomba  cakes, but obviously in this period I studied a lot more I had more time to perfect many little things.Leavened products have always been my passion, working and making mistakes, above all, fascinates me even more.   It is not a product to be taken for granted, it changes constantly and the most fascinating thing is that yeast, with the right attention and treated with love always gives you something wonderful. 

What is your favorite Colomba?

The classic with lemon and orange candied fruit is the top for me.  Timeless classic aromaas cannot be replaced with anything -citrus fruits totally make a difference. 

How much time do you spend a day preparing Colomba cakes?

It is difficult to say because you have to give time to obtain a quality leavened product.  You are working with sourdough, lievito madre - so sometimes the dough rises in 3 hours, sometimes 4, other times, 4 1/2.  You have to stay on top of it practically, and before you know it the day flies by.

It sounds challenging, challenging but at the same time, satisfying. Giusto?

 The most beautiful challenge is to see people happy and to be able to convey the message that a great leavened product takes time, patience.  It is extremely satisfying.  like watching a child.  You see him/her when they are small, and you take them in your for them.  That is what also fascinates me about croissants, pain au raisins and brioche. Like  during the courses I teach.  They have a different charm....The other day, a man for northern Italy, Piedmont, had a chance to try my classic Colomba cake.  He said 'Oh, so it is not true that in Naples there is only Gomorra (mafia).  You have a product that the north may not have tasted yet.'  This gives me so much  joy and  it also gives me more stimulus to do even better when said by someone who really understands what is behind my work.

Like all coffee breaks, they eventually must come to an end.  I had a few errands to run, the chef had to get back to his  cakes, like this mini -panettone.  

Hopefully our next coffee break can be da vicino.  Like the quote by Neapolitan writer, film actor, and director Luciano De Crescenzo states - Have you ever wondered what coffee is? Coffee is an excuse. An excuse to tell a friend you care.