• Gabriele Pezzimenti, head chef at Al Fresco Italian Trattoria in Dubai’s Crowne Plaza Hotel, answers our questions on Italy’s produce and his unique gastronomic style

    Describe the ethos of the food at Al Fresco and your style of cooking?

    The ethos of the food at Al Fresco is inspired by the Italian tradition, culture, and most of my memories of it. That’s what I try to convey to my guests. I have travelled around the world extensively and I have a treasure trove of beautiful experiences that are reflected in my dishes along with my Italian roots. I would define my style as dynamic, health conscious, and slightly provocative.

    What are the most popular dishes right now?

    The most popular dish at Al Fresco is the Agnolotti with Truffle Fondue. It’s a handmade pasta dish filled with Burrata cheese and a truffle fondue, rich in parmesan, therefore in taste. We finish the dish off with a few semi-sundried cherry tomatoes sprinkled on top to give it a kick of acidity that completes this creamy combination of flavours. Another bestseller in our menu is the mushroom risotto. We use Acquarello rice, which is one of the best rices in the world and is aged for one year. A variety of mushrooms are used, and the dish is finished with mascarpone and parmesan cheese Parmigiano. I love it.

    People think they know Italian food – pizzas, pasta – what do you think the biggest misconceptions are?

    Beautiful question. There are many misconceptions about Italian food, especially when it comes down to pasta and pizza. Most people believe that these dishes – or Italian cuisine in general – is easy; just a few ingredients and it’s done. However, although Italian food has simple ingredients, it must be of the highest quality and must be treated with gentleness and respect throughout the process of creating a dish. Flavours must be crafted, adding one ingredient at a time, step-by-step. It’s like a conversation between the chef and the ingredients. This must be understood as a slow process. More than anything else, time and consistency are the key ingredients of Italian cuisine.

    Describe the meal you would cook for someone who says they don’t like Italian food.

    I would certainly cook our signature dish Agnolotti with Burrata and Truffle Sauce. It’s a very special dish at Al Fresco and I generally suggest this to guests who visit us for the first time.

    Are you able to cook seasonally bearing in mind you are in Dubai?

    Sourcing produce in Dubai it’s definitely different than back home in Italy, however, it is very convenient. The majority of the suppliers now have daily shipments directly from Italy and Europe, therefore, it makes it easier for us as chefs to offer seasonal produce.

    What is your temperament like in the kitchen?

    My temperament in the kitchen used to be kind of short when I was younger. Working in Dubai really helped me to develop my leadership skills. I love to help teach others and help develop their skills. I have attended many trainings and courses, resulting in a diploma in hospitality leadership. I strongly believe positivity, patience, and consistency are the cornerstone of leadership – and that any team can be developed and brought to success.

    If someone comes to Al Fresco they must try which dish?

    Agnolotti and Ossobuco alla Milanese (veal shank slow-braised for four hours and served with saffron risotto).

    On the time you have off, what do you cook for yourself as a treat?

    I rarely cook at home, but the current favourite would be spaghetti tossed in aglio olio (oil with garlic) topped with spicy shrimp and finished off with a touch of vegan butter and nutritional yeast, which is healthy and full of protein as a substitute for cheese.

    Who are your food heroes? Which other chefs inspire you?

    I am 33-years-old, and although I am still quite young, I grew up with an old-school outlook (professionally speaking), looking up to Paul Bocusse, Gualtiero Marchesi, and other heroes of the Italian and French culinary empire and legacy.

    Now we have a new pioneer of Italian cuisine, the famous and multiaward-winning Massimo Bottura, who is authentic to the Italian roots as much as he is innovative and revolutionary in terms of techniques and presentation. Massimo’s downto-earth approach to charity, to those who need the most, makes him one of the most inspiring chefs of our time.

    Try your hand...

    Wow your next dinner party with a flavour of Italy as Chef Gabriele shares exclusively with Oasis Living his recipe for Bruschetta with Cherry Tomatoes.

    Ingredients:

    Focaccia bread – one loaf
    Cherry tomatoes – one bunch
    Garlic
    Olive oil
    Basil pesto
    Taggiasca olives
    Fresh basil
    Burrata (a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream) –
    optional, as per request
    Smoked Maldon salt (or freshly ground sea salt if you can’t get it)

    Preparation:

    Wash and cut the cherry tomatoes in half and marinate them with olive oil, basil and garlic. Store in the fridge (two days maximum) Blend the Taggiasca olives with a touch of olive oil

    Directions:

    Bake the pre-sliced focaccia bread until it turns golden brown. Spread the olive paste, and rest over a metal tray Toss the cherry tomatoes in the pesto and place it on top of the Focaccia Garnish the bruschetta with basil leaves, and the plate with decorative salad