The first day of Turin Epicurian Capital 2018
This is it! Day one of why I am here, and I am nervous.
A taxi returns me to Porta Nuova train station, neighbour to the hotel that is to be my base for Turin Epicurian Capital 2018.
Porta Nuova, unlike me, is unflustered and stately…so too is its neighbour, my hotel – the confident, cool and perfectly located Best Western Plus Hotel Genova.
There, on the fourth floor, is my new base – a home not just a room, with two big windows, a writing desk, and a comfortable bed.
The first venue for the event is not far away, an easy walk around a few of the many right-angle turns in Turin.
Jan Egan, fellow hotel guest and Turinepi participant, tells me:
“Turin is on a grid system. You can’t get lost.”
An encouraging thought, but my camera has a mind of its own. Its first focus is on the statues that pose around the streets. They are big and definite. So is the city, and so is the Collegio San Giuseppe, whose theatre is our venue for the day.
First to greet us is Lucia Hannau, the organiser of Turinepi – quick and flexible by email, and in person. With her is Alberto Bonis, the photographer, as well as the other panel members for the morning show – Diana Skok Corridori, an Italian-American blogger and travel planner, and Anotonio DeVecchi and Daniele Taverna, locals (almost) who now run Gelato Village in Leicester.
They all take the stage while I join the audience.
It’s cool in the hall, relaxing. I settle in and enjoy myself. The to and fro on stage is organic, a free-range debate and a revelation in messaging beyond those who are there.
The topics switch from English to Italian, from family meals to the power of supermarkets, all of it linked to the possibilities and value of authentic gelato.
It’s like the perfect cake mix of opinion and experience. Slowly it rises into a full conversation and after an hour or so we take it out with us to the restaurant in the nearby Giardino Aiuola Balbo.
Here there is no rush to do anything. We sit under the umbrellas of Birreria Via Dei Mille, order some of the local food choices and relax.
The chat, in English and still about food, stretches into the afternoon. We are not in any hurry to head back out on to the hot pavements.
In the end it is only the promise of gelato that persuades us to leave.
Again I am distracted by what my camera can find, but the quiet and ever-patient Alberto Bonis, a proper photographer, is careful to shepherd me along.
We pass the outdoor skatepark at Valdo Fusi and then call in on a staircase by Carlo Mollino. I don’t know Mollino but learn that he is a famous Torinese architect/designer – the spiral stairs and the plunging lights give some idea why.
A carpet shop, and a block or so later, we turn into a quieter road, and it’s there that we find the sign we search for – gelati.
I am melted and curious. The shop looks so plain, and there are no gelati or customers in sight…at least not at first.
I peer up at the glass door, filled with envelope sized announcements of each of the day’s choices. None of the flavours listed have more than a few ingredients…a good sign, the experts tell us.
Inside I reach my decision – two different sorbetti, each scooped from their own silver-lidded pozzetto (little well). The little girl in the pushchair, behind me in the queue, goes for chocolate.
My tastebuds, gelato innocents, are completely delighted, like excitable sommeliers setting off on a new journey of discovery.
The fresh rush of iced energy is still with me by the time we reach the last event of the day – a cooking course with Margherita Frari at Cultural Association Qubì (Quanto Basta) on the edge of the Dora Riparia River.
Six of us gather around the ovens at the back of Qubì. It’s a friendly space but it’s hot in the cooking area and we have three dishes to prepare, each based around Piedmont’s famous chocolate.
Margherita Frari is the lead chef and instructor for the night. She also does most of the cooking but insists each of us do a bit for every course.
The first dish is straightforward – chunks of aged Parmigiano Reggiano (the older the better) coated in chocolate.
Next comes the pasta – fresh, hand-made chocolate pasta, which gets a kneading from all of us.
Our last dish is caprese, a chocolate cake made with almond flour. I’ve had this in Naples but never tried to make it.
We measure and mix the ingredients, then divide them into individual servings. So easy in a big group, with a chef leading, and the pleasure of knowing that at some point excellent food, not just raw ingredients, will appear. It soon does.
As the cakes slide into the oven the Parmigiano comes out for tasting. Each chunk is a different size and, secondo me, the bigger pieces, with more of a tang of cheese salt under their dark velvet coats, have the better flavour balance.
As we munch on, Margherita Frari completes the main course.
It is ready in minutes…and eaten almost as quickly as it arrives.
Then comes the caprese. Each cake, as delicious as the island of Capri, is finished in mouthfuls and followed by glasses of chilled Moscato.
That marks the end of a slow-cooked, chocolate feast. No waste, no rush and irresistible results – ottimo!
It’s been a great day.
My thanks to Best Western Plus Hotel Genova for sponsoring my extremely comfortable accommodation for the event.
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Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018