They are the ambassadors of Made in Italy all over the world. At Christmas, their mission is further enhanced by new creative ideas. This is all transformed into a menu that unites tradition and a longing for exchanges with other food cultures. They are four of the chefs that host the sezione ‘Marco Polo’ Section and who now talk about their Christmas in the kitchen.
Her New York restaurant, Eolo, was absolutely closed on Christmas day: because Melissa Muller, a Sicilian-American chef, is someone who takes traditions very seriously. «I want everyone to be at home with their families – explains Muller – the kitchen staff, the wait staff, the employees. And besides, even my clientele, who are mostly Sicilian-Americans, love spending the 25 December at home».
The menu you planned for Christmas Eve is somewhat tradition, isn’t it?
«This is the sixth year that on Christmas Eve we organise the Feast of the Seven Fishes in my restaurant. An Italian-American tradition based on the preparation of seven different varieties of fish. We served five courses: a welcome, two starters (one cold and one hot), a first course, entrée, and pre-dessert and dessert. Then for each course I allowed a selection from among four proposals. This year we have sea bass, tuna, dentex, skate… with all Sicilina flavours in classic recipes revisited. I grew up with this celebration. My mother did it, my grandmother did it.”
Do you use Italian ingredients when preparing for the holidays, too?
«Most of my ingredients come from Italy. My cooking would not work without Italian raw ingredients. The flavour would change drastically. Even my team is mostly Italian! I have an obsession, which is to promote Sicily. This is my main scope. My grandmother was born in a town in the province of Agrigento, and I have always wanted to live in Sicily. In May, I will bring my clients here.»
What wines to you serve with your dishes.
«Sicilian wines of course, especially local varieties: Catarratto, Inzolia, Grillo, Etna bianco. I prefer and serve with wines of Feudo Montoni».
«Oh, I overdo it, like all Sicilian women: for two or even three days, I make very rich dishes, especially timbales and lasagne. We never stop eating!»
What flavours do you remember from childhood Christmases?
«My mother would make “falso magro”: meat with a filling made of mortadella and other cold meats, peas, and carrots. It’s cooked in the oven with its own gravy. It’s delicious. My grandmother, instead, would make “pignolata”: a dough similar to that of the zeppole (a sort of doughnut), but less liquid, and then she would fry and cook it in a frying pan with honey. And for Christmas, even a nougat with almonds and honey. Then I remember the flavour of dried figs, and all the biscuits filled with dried fruit. And the flavour of Buccellato (A ring cake made with dried and candied fruit). Now that I think of it, tall the flavours that I repropose in various forms in my cooking.»