Food For Thought: Chef Andrea Zanella10 Feb 2017
I became interested in being a chef when I had to choose what I wanted to do after finishing high school. When I told my father, he was surprised, because at the time being a cook wasn’t a ‘good’ job, like being a doctor or a lawyer. He sent me to a neighbouring trattoria, supposedly to train under the chef there and see if I had any talent, but in fact he asked the chef to make me change my mind! However, I liked it even more and the chef ended up telling my father that I really liked the job and could handle the stress.
Nothing is easy. When you’re young, your friends go out on Saturdays and Sundays but you have to work, and if you want to learn you have to leave home and go far away. But this job has also given me the chance to travel out of my kampung and around the world, opening my mind. I’ve experienced different cultures and people, all of which have basically become my schools. I don’t regret stopping culinary school because it wasn’t what I was looking for. What I’ve learnt has been from my work.
Early on in Malaysia, I was in the kitchen and something was cooking. It smelt bad! I searched around, opened a pot and the smell just hit me in the face. Then they told me, “Chef, it’s the staff meal.” So I said, “Oh. It’s very good!” It turned out to be belacan. I didn’t like it at first, but now I have no problem with it. I understand that if it’s used in the right context, it actually improves the dish. I also discovered that there are different kinds of belacan – I find the Bintulu one less pungent and more flavourful.
Here in Anita Laguna, I try to move away from the ‘I’m Italian’ label. I still respect the food that I first learned how to cook and what I ate when I was a kid, but I want to incorporate the ingredients that I found in my travels. There’s nothing wrong with spaghetti and pizza, but I feel it’s not me any more. I learned to cook French cuisine when I was a kid, how to make a pie in London, and how to cook pad kra pow in Thailand. Why must I stick to Italian food when I have been out of Italy for so many years?
All these cultures have different perspectives on how to use ingredients, how to cook and how to preserve food. For our miso crème brulee, I find miso paste a very nice way to give the dish more flavour. Should I not be able to use it because I’m Italian? If I put a little bit of soy sauce in jus de viande, a French mother sauce, the flavour is even better. I respect the classics, but I don’t see why I must stick with that when I can improve it. But I wouldn’t call it ‘fusion’ – I just call it contemporary, or modern.
Like pork, veal belly is always the best side as it’s the most tender. It’s served with a risotto croquette, where we’ve incorporated some lemon and lime at the last minute into the risotto, then after cooling down, mixed it with mascarpone cheese, coated it in breadcrumbs and fried it. Also, when you oven roast the veal, you put some vegetables in to give the meat flavour. Ordinarily, these vegetables will be pressed to make sauce. But I find them very nice, so why throw them away? So I made them into something to eat.