Chef Matteo Fonatana, Corporate Chef India for Le Cirque, The Leela

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Chef Matteo Fonatana, Corporate Chef India for Le Cirque is a flag bearer of original flavours of food while playing with colours, texture and composition to fuse the local with the exotic.

Food was a passion since he was a child and Chef Matteo Fonatana fondly recollects his kindergarten class where all the children were playing football and other games, he was playing with plastic pan and pots. As he grew up with his grandmother as his parents were working and he always saw her cooking and fell in love with cooking. This is also why he always knew that being a Chef was always his calling. An alumnus of Institute Carlo Porta in Milan, Fonatana has worked under Michelin Star Chefs. “I did the five years culinary school in Milan and after that moved to Sicily where I worked under 2 Michelin starred Chefs Ciccio Sultano at Duomo restaurant in Ragusa Ibla for almost four years. After that I moved back to Milan where I worked for two years under the 2 Michelin starred chefs Negrini and Pisani between ‘Il Luogo di Aimo e Naida’ and ‘Al Fresco’ restaurants. In the 2014 I moved to Abu Dhabi where I opened the Cirque restaurant with the Maccioni family located in the Intercontinental Hotel. In December 2017 I moved to New Delhi and joined The Leela Palace, where I currently work as a Corporate Chef for Le Cirque brand in the country.”

Chilled Heirloom Tomato Consommé with Tomato Salsa Crostini
Chilled Heirloom Tomato Consommé with Tomato Salsa CrostiniChilled Heirloom Tomato Consommé with Tomato Salsa Crostini

Chef ensures that Indian guests have the experience to dine in an authentic European restaurant and serves Franco-Italian cuisine, a mix of Italian and French preparations in a modern way. “In India we incorporate a good variety of local vegetables produced by local farms from in and around the city and try to leverage local grown or home grown produce to add a local touch to the food.” Likewise as a fairly large population of India is vegetarian and also there is a wave of veganism today, there is enough choice for them in the menu he has designed. “Vegetarian and vegan food is playing a big role in the food market in India. In Le Cirque we have a good choice and variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes and our tradition Italian recipe like the famous Egglant Parmigiana is prepared by using a large number of vegetables.” Again Chef admits that being sustainable is not just about being local but also seasonal and hence there are special menus introduced in each season that uses the seasonal produce. “We are following the seasonality of India, Italy and France in our menu and this is why we always try to get the best from each of these countries in every season, as much as possible like white asparagus and many fresh vegetables from locals of India and France.” Looking ahead, Chef says that in India, he and his team is trying to make the menu of the three restaurants as similar as possible so the guests can identify Le Cirque India as solid group where you will receive the same good service with the same good food. “Of course each restaurant will have some different aspect respect to another one due the different locations and the different food style of the same area. But my role as a Corporate Chef is to have few same signature dishes across all the three restaurants in the country.” Food that fuses the sensibilities of different nations has certainly come together really well to create a distinctive plate full of flavour.

Here is a recipe by Chef that suits the Indian palate.

Chilled Tomato Consommé with Tomato Salsa Crostini
Chilled Tomato Consommé with Tomato Salsa Crostini

Chilled Tomato Consommé with Tomato Salsa Crostini

Ingredients   

For the tomato consommé:

  • Local Farmed Indian Tomatoes                        1 kg
  • Fresh Genovese basil (Sweet basil)                 30 gms
  • Salt                                                                  to taste
  • Pepper                                                             to taste
  • White Wine Vinegar                                        20 ml

For the Tomato Sorbet:

  • Tomato Juice (Real or Tropicana)                    500 ml
  • Liquid Glucose                                                  80 ml
  • Salt                                                                  to taste
  • Genovese basil                                                 30 gms

For the Tomato Salsa:

  • Fresh tomatoes (blanched and de-seeded)      100 gms
  • Garlic Chopped                                                10 gms
  • Genovese basil                                                 10 gms
  • Salt                                                                  to taste
  • Pepper                                                             to taste
  • Black olives                                                      20 gms
  • Chopped onion                                                 30 gms

For the Pearls:

  • Tomato Juice                                                   100 ml
  • Fresh basil                                                       30 gms
  • Lemon Juice                                                     20 ml
  • Water                                                              300 ml
  • Agar Agar                                                        8 gms

Method

  • For the tomato consommé, blend all the ingredients for the consommé till fine and place in a muslin cloth to get the extract like the preparation for hung curd overnight allowing a clear tomato soup to be extracted. Check seasoning of the broth and adjust if needed with salt and a pinch of sugar
  • For the tomato sorbet, blend all the ingredients to a fine paste and freeze the mixture and churn in a Pacojet machine or an ice cream churner to a consistency of a sorbet. (Needs to be done a day prior and set in the freezer).
  • For the crostini, cut a thin slice of bread and toast in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Chop the blanch tomatoes, black olives, basil, garlic and onion and toss gently with salt and pepper to prepare the topping for the crostini. Just before presentation spoon out the topping on the bread and place it over the consommé as shown in the picture above.
  • For the basil pearls, blanch the Genovese basil in 200 ml of water and blend to a fine paste. Add 4 grams of agar agar while the mixture is still warm and strain the mixture. Using a syringe inject the prepared mixture into a bowl of cold oil to form small droplets and they would be firm by the time they sink to the bottom of the bowl. Strain and remove excess oil on a kitchen paper and use it to top the sorbet.
  • For the lemon pearls, dilute the lemon juice with 80 ml of water season with salt and sugar, warm the mixture and add 2 grams agar agar and inject in cold oil as was done for the basil pearls
  • For the Tomato pearls, warm up tomato juice and season with salt and sugar, add 2 grams of agar agar and strain the mixture before injecting into cold oil as done for the basil pearls.
  • To plate the dish place a quenelle of the tomato sorbet in the base of a deep plate and garnish with the prepare pearls. Place the crostini across the plate as shown and pour in the consommé just before service or at the table.

This story first appeared in The Tribune dated 29 June, 2019

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