DINNER WITH GENNARO
A VERY SPECIAL EVENING AT FIFTEEN CORNWALL | 28 April 2014
It was Graduation Eve for Fifteen Cornwall’s eighth intake of students, and what better way to test their recently honed culinary skills than with an opulent Italian feast, hosted by celebrated chef Gennaro Contaldo.
The signature menu was created by Head Chef Andy Appleton along with our host, Gennaro, who presented each course to his enraptured audience. Classic Italian techniques and flavours, combined with the freshest Cornish ingredients, and the promise of “the theatre of the kitchen” made for a seriously delicious and exciting menu.
Gennaro was introduced to us as the “Godfather of Fifteen”. Famously known as Jamie Oliver’s mentor and one of the “Two Greedy Italians”, Gennaro described himself to us as a cook and felt that he couldn’t be called a chef until he was a hundred years old. Speaking from the heart about food, he used the word “passion” again and again.
Gennaro is warm, friendly and so very personable, and Fifteen’s mission is obviously one of his passions. He cares deeply for the apprentices, taking time to help them, explain techniques and listen to their stories. Along with the graduating students, the ninth cohort also participated in the event. Just one week into their training they really were in at the deep end.
As the evening began, a steady stream of guests arrived, chatting, mingling and eagerly anticipating the evening ahead of them. Armed with one of Josh Linfitt’s wonderful cocktails they admired the view, watching surfers enjoying the last waves of the day.
I hovered around the open kitchen, watching the new trainees fill bowls of olives and lay out beautiful glazed plates in preparation for the first course. One of the apprentice chefs was concentrating intensely as he rolled out the dough for the poppy seed crackers using a pasta machine.
We took to our seats and tucked in to huge Gordal (literally meaning “the fat one”) olives, meaty, salty and smooth, and dunked the crusty, soft bread in peppery olive oil. Our appetites were well and truly whetted, and we were ready to eat.
The accompanying wines from Livio Felluga’s highly regarded vineyard in Friuli, North East Italy, were chosen by Fifteen Cornwall’s Head Sommelier Gordon Lawrence. The Fellugas have a long-standing relationship with Fifteen since working closely with Jamie Oliver back in his River Café days. Livio’s son, Andrea Felluga, introduced the wines course by course, explaining why each variety was chosen to complement the flavours of the food and the energy of the dish.
ANTIPASTO | Crispy quail’s egg with ‘nduja and asparagus
‘Nduja is a spicy Calabrian sausage meat, a spreadable salami with a hint of chilli. This was wrapped around a just-poached quail’s egg to form a mini Scotch egg, which was served with garlicky aioli and beautiful Cornish asparagus, the first local asparagus of the year for most of the guests.
The salty crispy coating, spicy pork and soft egg was an intense and warming combination, balanced by the fresh, sweet asparagus. We were off to a good start.
Livio Felluga, ‘Sharis’, 2012: Fresh and bright white, spicy aromas of citrus, mint and cherry blossom, notes of apple, kiwi and ginger.
INSALATA | Octopus carpaccio with blood orange and Florence fennel
The wafer thin slices of octopus melted in the mouth in this refreshing dish, enhanced with blood orange, extra virgin olive oil, fennel leaves and shavings of fennel.
The octopus had been boiled in stock for 45 minutes then tightly wrapped in cling film to rest for 24 hours in a refrigerator before being finely sliced. Tender and sweet, I’ve never tasted octopus quite like it.
Livio Felluga, Friulano, 2012: Well balanced white, herbaceous and floral, hints of citrus, vanilla, liquorice, tropical fruits and spice. Bitter almond aftertaste, balsamic note on finish.
PRIMI | Wild garlic tortellini of duck and hazelnuts in a rich balsamic butter sauce and crispy sage
I could have eaten this course forever. The vivid green pasta was made using the leaves of local wild garlic, giving it a subtle garlic flavour, not at all overpowering. The duck within was cooked so slowly that, according to Gennaro, it almost “dissolved from the bones”. Gennaro was proud to let us know that he had been personally involved in creating over 300 tortellini by hand alongside the Fifteen chefs.
The tortellini themselves were smooth, moreish and savoury, filled with the soft, melting rich duck and a sweet balsamic butter. There was a crunch of hazelnuts and a scattering of crispy sage, with grated parmesan and wild garlic flowers adorning the dish. Just thinking about it makes me want to lick my lips.
Livio Felluga, ‘Vertigo’, 2011: Intense black cherry red, herbaceous and fruity, notes of sweet spices and liquorice. Vibrant and well-structured.
SECONDI | Planeta olive oil poached turbot with clams, pancetta, peas, broad beans, baby gem and agretti
Cornish turbot, simply poached (not fried) in olive oil at 60 degrees. In perfect contrast to the previous course, this fish was fresh and light and accompanied by spring-green vegetables, including agretti, which is similar to samphire.
The fish was served with a light broth, clams, pancetta and a drizzle of olive oil. “Healthy” pronounced Gennaro, much to our delight as we tucked in and, in his own words, “really really good”.
Livio Felluga, ‘Terre Alte’, 2009: Highly perfumed white with notes of elderflower, almond and vanilla. Fresh and full-bodied, elegant with a hint of sage and citrus to the finish.
FORMAGGI | Cornwall v. Italy cheese plate
What a wonderful idea, pitching three Cornish cheeses against their Italian counterparts. Gennaro enthused about the cheeses: “They’re all the best!”; “Can you imagine finishing your life without a very good Cheddar or Manchego?”; “Adding parmesan to a meal is a miracle.”
On the Cornish side we had Cornish blue, Cornish Gouda and Helford White, and facing them were Taleggio, Parmigiano-Reggiano and an Italian Blue. These were served with a sweet chutney, perfect poppy seed crackers and carta di musica, or music paper, an unleavened crisp bread so named due to it being paper-thin. The slice of walnut and fig roll, which looked like salami, was heavenly, especially when combined with the parmesan.
Gennaro and Andrea challenged the guests to decide whether the dessert wine was better suited to the cheese or the chocolate. After much deliberation and banter, the winner was announced to be the Cornish Gouda.
Livio Felluga, ‘Picolit’, 2006: Elegant and complex dessert wine, hints of orange, apricot and fig, aromas of flowers and citrus. Luscious, long and fragrant.
DOLCI | Amedei chocolate tasting plate
Full? Not us, when faced with what shall be renamed as “heaven on a plate”. The swan like curl of chocolate was a surprise and can be best described as chocolate paper, a cross between very thin pastry and rice paper, but intensely chocolatey.
The torta di gelato (or, in English, ice cream cake, which doesn’t sound anywhere near as exciting) combined thin, light layers of sponge with smooth dark chocolate ice cream. The cubes of blood orange jelly were zingy and refreshing.
But oh, the white chocolate, where do I begin? A set white chocolate truffle, cleverly containing a dark chocolate ganache infused with blood orange zest, and the entire truffle then rolled in white chocolate shavings and sprinkled with finely chopped pistachios.
Coffee and petits fours
We finished off with a smooth Origin coffee, accompanied by dark chocolate truffles, sprinkled with dried raspberries and little squares of treacle tart/flapjacky yumminess.
With the meal drawing to a close, the room was buzzing with the hum of conversation of satisfied diners. Gennaro worked the room, chatting to and charming his guests. There’s something very special about the ambience at Fifteen Cornwall. It’s relaxed location on the beach, comfortable interior, inherently professional service and faultless food mean you can’t fail to enjoy yourself here.
LA FINE | the end
And so the end was upon us. The meal was truly memorable, both for the food and for the atmosphere in which it was cooked and served. The students’ participation during the evening continued to remind us that Fifteen gives them a bright future. The new intake of students, just one week into their year, were immersed into the Fifteen ethos of hard work and the realisation that it is intensely rewarding to bring such enjoyment to a restaurant full of customers. They are the stars and I wish them well. Gennaro’s parting word was “arrivederci” – not “goodbye”, but “until we see each other again”. He’ll be back.
For more details of Fifteen Cornwall and the Cornwall Food Foundation, including details of upcoming events, the apprentice scheme and how you can donate, please visit www.fifteencornwall.co.uk.
Thank you to Fifteen Cornwall for inviting me to attend this wonderful event.