OK, so time to ditch that no carbs after 6pm rule for a night and indulge in some seriously good handcrafted, authentic pasta – we’re talking the real thing! Dolce Vita at The Mandarin Oriental, Singapore has to be on your must-try list if you’re looking for a superb Italian meal. We chat with Dolce Vita’s Italian chef Marco Manocchio to talk pasta and his passion behind it.
When did you first learn the art of pasta making?
Growing up, it came as second nature to me. I fondly recall waking up at dawn on my grandparents’ farm to feed pigs and chicks as a young child; after the freshest eggs were selected, we headed straight to the kitchen in excitement to create pasta from scratch. My ever-vivacious Nonna watched as my sister and I enjoyed our daily game of “fastest fingers first” to perfect the cavatelli, a type of gnocchi rolled up on a wooden board. Even now, when I visit Nonna back in Italy, we continue this tradition of making pasta together.
Traditional pasta making seems to be a lost art these days. Why is using time-honoured methods so important to you?
While technological advancements can make daily life more convenient, it doesn’t mean it’s always for the better. In particular, making pasta the traditional way simply cannot be replicated by technology. Delivering authentic tastes from age-old recipes passed down through generations is something everyone can appreciate when savoured. Guests with more discerning palates are able to taste the difference between handcrafted pastas and machine-cut pastas, and it’s vital not to compromise that.
How labour intensive is it?
The effort and amount of time that goes into traditional pasta making shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s part and parcel of the job as a chef; at the same time, as a young boy, I experienced first-hand how my grandmother never complained about the process. What I gleaned from it was her attention to detail and her beaming smile when the family gathered around the table to enjoy her handcrafted pastas. She was so proud! That became, and continues to be, my inspiration. When I see satisfied guests’ faces, I forget how hard the process can be!
Creating a pasta dish is a combination of several ingredients and intricate steps. It starts with choosing the flour base – there’s a myriad of different kinds, from the classic semolina to chestnut flour to buckwheat. The next step is finding the best shape for the pasta, and complementing it with the right sauce. At the moment, I’m having fun cutting, folding and wrapping tortelli in the Dolce Vita kitchen, and exploring different stuffings, ragùs and shapes.
What’s your signature dish?
Carbonara! I’m from Rome, the homeland of carbonara; it was the dish I grew up with and nothing else tastes like home. Simple and genuine ingredients, with many years of practice, help define this signature dish that has evolved over generations; think al dente spaghetti, eggs and guanciale ham topped with luxurious helpings of grated pecorino or parmesan cheese and a hint of crushed black pepper.
What’s the key to making fabulous pasta?
Apart from using premium produce and perfected techniques, my secret ingredient stems from the passion I have for pasta, having seen my grandmother whip up plate after plate. There are no shortcuts – the key is cooking with dedication and heart.
Marco is Chef de Cuisine at Dolce Vita in the Mandarin Oriental Singapore. His hand-cut pastas are available for lunch and dinner daily as part of the restaurant’s à la carte menus.
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