The Italian Culinary Experience returned this week at the Miami Culinary Institute. This time around, with Food Network's Chopped winner and Eating House owner and head chef Giorgio Rapicavoli cooking up some of his dishes, paired exquisitely with select wines from Casa Vinicola, Zonin's Rocca di Montenassi Estate. The goal this year is to showcase how Italian wines can be paired with almost any cuisine type, not just Italian.
As usual, the day began with a pre-reception outside of the cooking lab at the Miami Culinary Institute. Students could be seen inside alongside Rapicavoli, helping prep the dishes about to be served. This event is in its second year now, giving MCI students firsthand experience every month with a renowned local chef.
Zonin's crisp, delightful Prosecco was served to starts things off. In Italy, prosecco is usually served at the beginning of festivities or celebrations. It's not overwhelming or expensive in the slightest and can be found at several shops in the area. This prosecco was also paired with Rapicavoli's first creation, a fresh tomato apertivo served with a creamy peanut sauce and coconut ice. Rapicavoli is known for dissecting certain dishes and flavors and giving you his own take, and that's how he started the day.
The antipasto, or appetizer was a dollop of fresh blue crab with yuzu yogurt, cucumber and sprinkled with grapefruit juice.
“You'll get way more juice out of a grapefruit than a lemon or lime,” Rapicavoli said.
This one was paired with Rocca Di Montemassi Calasole 2011, which bursted with melon and peach flavor.
Next up was what could be the best of the lot. Using an electric smoker, which Rapicavoli described to be “similar to a bong,” he smoked chunks of sweet potato for about two minutes. Any more time than that and you would get an ashy taste, he said.
“This is my favorite tool in the kitchen,” he said. “I use it to smoke flour to make smoked pasta.”
He then showed how to trim and cut your pork tenderloin perfectly, and how to cook it to medium-rare, which is how he likes his pork. He served the pork with the sweet potato and added a Dr. Pepper miso glaze with some dark pulverized onion ash, which definitely gave the dish a dramatic presentation. For wine, the Le Focai 2011 went with the first course. It started light, floral but finished smooth and pleasant. It accompanied the miso glaze exceptionally.
The final course was a fried ox tail with cauliflower “fried rice” and sesame. Rapicavoli uses the words fried rice loosely here because the cauliflower and sesame really just resemble the flavors of a fried rice. Unfortunately, the soft, tender ox tail that should just melt in your mouth was masked by the tough, fried outside. The meal could have ended at that pork and sweet potato, but after dessert, happily it didn't.
One dessert that is very famous at Eating House is Rapicavoli's dirt cup, and he brought it to the Italian Culinary Experience. The chef demonstrated how he makes his whipped Nutella and simply adds salted caramel, chocolate crumbs and pretzel bits. Sweet and salty and everything to end on a high note.
Right now, if you wanted a reservation at Rapicavoli's restaurant, Eating House, you would have to wait until late April to get a seat. It truly was a treat to not just be able to try his food as he made it, but to also listen to the young man with the down-to-earth-attitude and overpowering love for food.
“Cooking is what I've always wanted to do,” Rapicavoli said. “I grew up eating fresh pasta one night and vaca frita the next, so I like a lot of different flavors.”
Right now, Rapicavoli is in the process of opening a bar right next to Eating House called Drinking Room. He is also in the works of opening his very own doughnut shop hilariously called Dese Nuts. Yes, you read right. Expect a lot more from this Miami chef in the future.
By Leoncio Alvarez