Mastering Italian cuisine

00:53, Sep 20 2013
James Perry
ITALIAN MASTER: Nelson chef James Perry with Mario Grazia, Chef & Cooking Teacher at Academia Barilla.

Readers may remember that I have written before about chef James Perry. His latest adventure has been a food journey to Italy that I want to share, given my interest in things Italian.

Mr Perry took this journey to Italy to delve deeper into the magic of what makes Italy a food paradise and also to gain recognition for 25 years of culinary practice.

He was made a Master of Italian Cuisine at Academia Barilla in Parma, Emilia Romagna. Academia Barilla says such chefs are "an intermediary, an artist, creatively yet respectfully assembling top-quality ingredients to result in top-quality masterpieces".

There are only a few select working chefs in the world who have been bestowed with this honour and Mr Perry is certainly the only chef in this part of the world to be awarded the qualification.

It recognises a chef who must have at least five years working experience in an Italian restaurant outside of Italy; must be employed at the time of nomination in an Italian food-service operation, must have maintained constant contact with Italy and must demonstrate a proven commitment to respect the fundamentals of Italian cuisine and the Mediterranean diet, including rules of sustainability, seasonality, regionality and nutritional guidelines.

Mr Perry and I started an Italian journey together three years ago when I introduced the Academia Barilla qualification in Italian cuisine, the Fundamentals of Italian Gastronomy (FIG), at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.


Mr Perry took another journey to Italy then to be certified to deliver the Academia training to chefs and Italian food lovers here in Nelson.

I continue to work for Academia on their behalf in New Zealand and Mr Perry has now trained an elite group of people in the food culture of Italy.

Part of this fascinating programme of study is an exploration of the diverse food culture of the 20 regions that make up Italy, learning what makes the food of Italy so varied from the north to the south and the east to the west.

With this understanding now deeply ingrained, Mr Perry and his wife, Tracy, took six weeks out to immerse themselves in this wonderful cultural diversity from Emilia Romagna in the north to Campagnia in the south.

The trip began with a week in Parma at Academia Barilla to accept his qualification. He also spent time with chef Mario Grazia, delving deeper into the science of gelato and exploring regional pastries, and worked on recipe perfection for the latest Academia publication, Pastries. Mr Perry also prepared and served a four-course Italian dining experience to a panel of experts, proving once and for all his consummate skill as a chef, and an Italian one more particularly. I share his menu with you so you can prepare the dishes yourselves.

Mr Perry's journey through Italy after Parma included the beautiful Ligurian coastline of Cinque Terre, then the Tuscan cities of Lucca, Florence, Sienna and also the Chianti region before heading south to Campagnia and the picturesque coastal towns of Amalfi and Massa Lubrense.

Massa Lubrense is well-known to much of the Italian community of New Zealand as there are many descendants of early migrants from there. One of these is Antonio Cacace of La Bella Italia in Petone.

Mr Cacace's family own and operate a hotel and restaurant in Masse Lubrense called Primavera, and it was there that Mr and Mrs Perry spent a week while Mr Perry worked with Mr Cacace's mother.

He watched local market gardeners and fishermen bring their food to the hotel and saw it turned into delicious traditional food of Campagnia. He also had the opportunity to spend a day cooking and debating food with old friend Christof Bob, head chef at the Michelin-starred Santa Rosa in Amalfi, a watering hole for the rich and famous.

August in Italy is a month of festivals and celebrations, including the festival Fiera Agosta, during which for two weeks the business world of Italy closes down. Everywhere they travelled in the heat of the Italian summer they encountered people celebrating and throngs of tourists jamming the main streets. They quickly learned to take to the back streets where the local people gathered in tiny restaurants eating delicious authentic food.

Mr Perry has returned to Nelson energised by the food of Italy and ready to instil that passion into those who come to study with him. There is also the opportunity for you to experience some of this by taking food tours organised by Academia Barilla.

To find out more, check out their website:


Serves 10

500g ricotta
100g butter
125g sugar
25g flour
125g raisins
30g lemon
120g sweet pastry

Knead the ricotta and mix in the sugar, the melted butter, flour, grated lemon zest, a pinch of salt and then the raisins (softened in water and squeezed dry). Line a pie dish with the pastry and fill with the ricotta mixture. Bake at 180C for about 40 minutes.


Serves 5

300g cream
120g parmigiano reggianno
2.5g gelatine leaves

Let the gelatine soak in water, and bring the cream to a boil. Grate the cheese and then mix the gelatine and the cream with the grated parmesan.

Let the mixture cool down then put into small individual moulds or ramekins that are well greased, and chill. Invert the moulds to serve.


500g tuna fillet
100ml extra virgin olive oil
100g zucchini
100g tomato pulp
50g celery
50g onions
25g black olives
25g capers
20g pine nuts
20g pistachios
20g raisins
1 eggplant
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp chopped basil leaves
1 clove garlic
1 tsp chopped thyme leaves
white wine vinegar to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Chop the eggplant, then lightly salt and allow it to lose any excess water. Saute in a little of the olive oil.

Finely slice the onions and celery and brown in more of the olive oil.

Add the chopped zucchini and slightly brown. Add the raisins, capers, pine nuts and olives.

Add the tomato pulp and the eggplant to the other ingredients then add salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes. Add the vinegar, sugar and pine nuts.

Cut the tuna fillet into thick slices, season with salt and pepper.

Heat oil until hot and brown the tuna with the garlic and thyme. Cook medium-rare.

Serve with the caponata salad.