Bellavita expo London 2015: a truly Italian exhibition
Italian cuisine is steeped in tradition to an extent that most other cultures can only dream of. When Heston Blumenthal first opened Dinner, and plunged into the past of British cooking, its guests were shocked to at the difference in dishes from as little as two hundred years ago, much of our modern conception of the nation’s food having been developed in the Victorian era. It was a culinary museum, a chance to peek at the relics of old. In Italy, there is no such disconnect. Instead you’ll find a living history of recipes passed down throughout generations, and food deeply entwined in the very fabric of a region.
At the Bellavita expo this heritage was ever-present. Countless stalls invoked that very same idea, promoting themselves on the idea of authenticity and inheritance, on the tried and true consistency that can only come from decades of experience. In some cases this yielded true mastery, stunning examples of Italian cuisine at its finest. Salumificio Squisito offered a gorgeously nutty parmesan, made from the milk of mountain dwelling cows and so moreish that many guests were spotted looping back round for a second or third helping. La Casa del Grano tapped into Sardinian history to produce traditional pastas that were have been used by chefs as prestigious as Gordon Ramsay. Comaro showcased how the country’s varied landscapes could produce everything from the lightest Acacia to caramel consistency of chestnut honey.
The true stars of the show though, were those that realised that a respect for tradition is just the beginning of modern Italian cuisine. You only have to look at the event’s star speaker, the exemplary Massimo Bottura, to see the wisdom in that ambition, his brilliant dishes famed for drawing from the country’s history whilst seeking to challenge and excite.
In some cases, it was a subtle innovation. Toscobosco realised that the taste and texture of many legumes would be a perfect vehicle for truffles, providing a way for this prestigious ingredient to be used used more liberally without greatly diminishing its flavour. La Bolognese con Bottega of chef Franco Cimino offered a smartly boxed meal of tender tortellini coated in luxuriously creamy parmesan sauce. Impressively, it tasted like a proper restaurant dish, a standard that has long been the holy grail of home cooking kits. It wasn’t cheap, retailing at around £30 for what was essentially a meal for two but, with its excellent packaging and serious flavour, it will no doubt find its niche as a treat for a special occasion or a rather unique sort of gift.
The popularity of a stall selling hemp flour marked a noticeable effort to adapt the traditional Italian market into something more topical. The products were remarkably versatile: equally suited to making coarse strands of linguini as they were in the most delicate of pastries, with the nutritional benefits of using the seeds especially relevant in the wake of recent carb backlashes. Evvivo also had their finger on the pulse, offering a “healthy” panettone. That idea might seem like a bit of a contradiction in terms, but by carefully balancing citrus, eggs and olive oil, they’d managed to create a panettone that was still wonderfully rich but completely free from butter and considerably lower in sugar than traditional recipes.
Elav Brewery set out to prove that Italy can be a part of the craft beer revolution too with their star IPA: Punks Do It Bitter (not to be confused with the similarly named and now ubiquitous Punk IPA from Brewdog). Heavy with citrus notes, it’s one of those versatile IPAs that’s both clean enough for casual drinkers and complex enough to hold the attention of serious beer aficionados.
It was products like this that sums up the quiet ambition of many of those involved in Italian cuisine, a desire to embrace their country’s incredible heritage but not rest on its laurels. Bellavita was a stunning showcase of this sentiment, a perfect homage to a powerhouse of culinary culture whose relevance has never been greater.
Photos: Quiris Media
Bellavita expo London was held in Angel’s Business Design Centre , from the 19th to the 21st of July. For further information, please visit here.