I’ve just been on my feet for seven hours kneading and shaping pasta – I couldn’t be happier! After filming a new series in Florence last week I jumped on a train and headed up to Parma to the prestigious Academia Barilla. On the train a dapper old man in a three-piece suit and silk pochette said to me in Italian, “Scusi signorina, but can I ask are you going to see your lover – I see you are in love by this look in your eyes and on your lips!” I had to explain that no, I wasn’t travelling off for some rampant love affair but rather, to chop guanciale and grate parmigiano from morning til night. I’ve really got to stop this habit of grinning and gazing off out train windows thinking about pig cheek.
You may have heard of Barilla pasta, but you may not know they have a culinary institute in the quaint little town of Parma that is proudly protecting the heritage of Italian cuisine with a variety of cooking courses for both enthusiasts and professional chefs. The thought of spending my days with these incredible chefs studying the art of everything from tortelli to tartufi is such a thrill, I felt like a little girl on her first day of school yesterday. To be honest, I was also a little nervous. Italians in general are defiant about their region’s techniques and recipes, to please a professional Italian chef would be near impossible. There are dishes like trofie alla genovese and amatriciana that I’ve been making, eating and talking about ever since I moved to Italy years ago but I’m an instinctive cook, I’m not classically trained. I’ve spent too much time in trattorias and around old Italian women who are lax on measurements and precision.
Sometimes I think I will never learn the definitive way to cook any Italian dish because each new town I go to there is a chef, grandmother or taxi driver who grabs me by the shoulders, their face deadly solemn as they declare, “Guarda, quel piatto si fa cosi’!” This basically translates as, “Listen here, I’m telling you there is only one way to cook that dish!” Fortunately my teacher Chef Tommaso is understanding. “Kylie, when you ask someone in Italy if it is right to put onions in the amatriciana, is like you drop the atomic bomb and then explodes the most polemic debate in history.” He’s not always so diplomatic though. When it comes to how foreigners cook Italian overseas he throws his hands up, rolls his eyes and cries, “When I see dis menu dat says spaghetti with bolognese I want to die. Forget it. For me I prefer to starve.” For the uneducated, the reason for such disgust is that ragu’ alla bolognese should only be made with tagliatelle pasta, never spaghetti.
However, I am learning some less controversial techniques that I cannot wait to share with you on my next video. There are some tricks and secrets that turn your dish from looking euphemistically ‘rustic’ to Michelin star in seconds. The type of results that will have you screaming at your partner “No, no, no! Wait, don’t eat it – I just want to take another photo for Instagram!”.