Pasta maker takes on the world
A Nelson chef is hoping his twist on the Italian national dish could see him crowned the pasta world champion for 2014.
James Perry has been picked to compete against 20 top chefs from around the world in the Pasta World Championships in Parma, Italy next week.
The Nelson Marlborough Institute Technology cookery tutor will make a dish with a Nelson influence to showcase the ties between Kiwi and Italian cultures.
He has spent weeks preparing and fine-tuning his dish of a pork and fennel bavette, with a manuka smoked tomato ragout and fennel pesto with Pecorino cheese, and has a challenging 40 minute timeframe to complete his dish.
"It's a matter of just making it over and over again.
"With 40 minutes, every second is quite critical," James says.
His wife Tracey has eaten so many trial dishes she does not want to eat it again.
Contestants have to use a dry pasta in the competition; he has chosen bavette. Bavette is a ribbon noodle, and a narrower version of tagliatelle. It is similar to spaghetti, but has a flat section and a slightly convex shape.
"It's got a little bit more bite to it and will suit the meaty dish."
Being forced to use dry pasta in the competition, adds an extra "curve ball" as chefs need to be really creative to come up with a stunning dish.
"It would almost be easier to make your own pasta. You have to really think outside the box."
Another challenge will be finding the finest produce to use in his dish in Italy, he says.
James was awarded the title of Italian Cuisine Master Chef from Academia Barilla in Parma, Italy last year and is the only chef in New Zealand, and one of 200 chefs in the world, with that qualification.
He was invited to attend the pasta world championships on the back of that award.
James' dish is influenced by the huge Italian influence in Nelson and Wellington and the Italian heritage that still thrives in both cities.
Italians settled in the Nelson suburb The Wood in Nelson where they put up glass houses and grew tomatoes for the Nelson and Wellington markets. "One of the dishes they seem to make is pork and fennel sausages.
"I'm doing a pork and fennel combination."
The two-part pasta competition in Italy, now in its third year, is televised and theatrical.
James has added his own showy touches to his dish to hopefully impress the judges.
When judges lift the lid on the dish that contains his manuka smoked tomatoes they will be greeted with a "pufff of smoke" billowing out from the glass dome.
Academia Barilla is an international centre dedicated to the development and promotion of Italian gastronomic culture.
The institute has strong ties with NMIT and after he has competed, James is looking forward to spending two weeks in the kitchen with the chefs at the academy.
The competition starts on June 12 where all the chefs will compete. The top four finalists will cook off on June 13. James, who has 20 years' experience in cheffing including working for three- starred Michelin restaurants, bought and re-opened Cable Bay Cafe last year, before selling it this year.
As well as working at NMIT he has been running cooking courses at Nelson's Prego Mediterranean Foods. See thefoodstudio.co.nz.
10 COMMANDMENTS OF PASTA MAKING
1. Never add oil to your water when cooking pasta - it stops the sauce from sticking to the pasta. Italians would shudder at the thought.
2. Never rinse your pasta. The starch allows the sauce to coat the pasta and makes it yummier.
3. Always keep some of the pasta cooking water to moisten the sauce if needed. It will thicken the sauce and blend better with the pasta.
4. If using dry pasta always cook your pasta for 1 to 2 minutes less than the time on the package. The cooking will continue in the sauce. This way you will always have the perfect al dente.
5. Always have the water at a rolling boil and add salt just before you put the pasta in.
6. Always use fresh and seasonal ingredients. There's no comparison.
7. Make sure you turn the heat off before you add the cheese. The cheese should be incorporated gently to the sauce rather than cooking it. Add a little more cheese before serving.
8. Pasta in Italy is served as a course, not as a side dish.
9. Don't add too much garlic it tends to take over all the other flavours. Italians use whole garlic cloves to flavour the oil at the beginning and tend to remove them quickly from the sauce.
10. Pineapple on pizza or pasta? Luigi would turn in his grave.
The Nelson Mail