The first month spent by the ALMA chef in its new school branch in Thailand within The Food School Bangkok, the great hub dedicated to Italian, Thai and Japanese cuisine that will take final shape in a few months, has been full of meetings and planning.
Francesco De Rosa, Martina Sabbioni and Enrico Nativi started their Thai adventure at full speed, and all the planning, organizing and work involved in the final rush have already produced the first satisfying results. After arriving in the capital a few weeks ago, they immediately began familiarizing themselves with their new context: “Bangkok is a difficult city to get around in – says Enrico Nativi, Pastry Chef ALMA – because it’s very crowded and with different logistics from our big cities!”
Their various commitments during this intense initial period have included participation in events such as Thaifex, the main national food fair, events for the Italian embassy in Bangkok and, finally, the first workshops with journalists, bloggers and food lovers to introduce them to ALMA and Italian food.
What have you been doing in these first few weeks? “We’ve held many meetings with the academic sector in order to define the content and performance of what will be the first lessons – explains Francesco De Rosa, Head Chef ALMA. “We’ve learnt to look at the world from a different point of view and to adopt a new attitude to work. It’s a stimulating change of structure, but we remain loyal to the “ALMA model”, in order to always do things according to the highest standards, while learning at the same time that there are different ways to achieve this besides ours.”
“We have found a very proactive and collaborative environment, which from day one has got us involved in the planning of daily activities,” says Martina Sabbioni, also ALMA Chef Instructor in Bangkok. “Everyone is very helpful and kind and they manage to maintain an enviable calm even at the most hectic of times. This is why we can always find a way to understand one another and find a way to agree.”
What is ALMA in The Food School hub like? “It is part of a very new, modern structure – explains Nativi – that boast the latest technology and is fully equipped. There is also a centre dedicated to start-ups, to catering businesses taking their first steps, the so-called Incubator, which is a beehive of energy and activities ahead of its imminent opening. The Food School is guided by a different concept of school: there are 3 Cuisine departments in the same location, the expression of 3 different cultures, tied to very different raw materials and techniques, which it often seems almost impossible to integrate and coordinate and which are nonetheless working together splendidly.”
Can you tell us something about Thai food? “Food is everywhere in Thailand – says Sabbioni – and you see people eating at all times of the day! We may have thought that interest in food was all-absorbing in Italy … well, in Thailand they beat us! You will see people who, while at work, stop everything to eat, or who eat while talking to a customer in a shop. Eating is all-important and on every street corner you can find any kind of food you can think of. Bangkok really is a culinary destination that welcomes cuisines and identities from all over the world: whether in dedicated restaurants or in fusion environments, it is always done with a great sense of gastronomic and cultural sharing.”
“Italian cuisine is really popular – adds De Rosa – and of an excellent standard.”
Any memorable dishes? “To me, pastries were a real discovery – emphasizes Nativi, whose life revolves around the art of creating desserts – because they play with very different textures from ours. Based on our experience so far, the tastes are always very recognizable and fruit plays an essential role. The textures are also very different from what we are used to: the use of starches, starchy rice and cassava results in generally chewy structures. There is, it should be noted, an almost total absence of fats, except from fruit, such as coconut, which is used very often, especially as milk. Here they use “chewiness” a great deal, they bind everything with coconut milk, so that the effect is often the same for different sweets, but in the end each one has its own distinctive taste feature. And mangoes, here, have a heavenly flavour!”
“You will find pork and chicken in every form and served with every possible and imaginable condiment – adds De Rosa – A food that really caught my attention, especially after I found out what it was, was fried duck giblets served as chips: fabulous! But crab meat in Thailand is so good it blows you away!”
“For me personally, – says Sabbioni in conclusion – the top was Tom Yam soup: I can’t explain it, you have to try it to understand!”