When Venice comes to Pune

Amrita Prasad
Monday, 28 January 2019

Chef Marouane Rahali has brought the authentic flavours of Venice to Alto Vino, JW Marriott Pune. He talks about his journey as a chef,  his love for cooking and Venetian cuisine

I love working with flavours and ingredients that give a feeling of home. I use locally available ingredients and give them a homely touch. The risotto that I created here (J W Marriott Pune) is something that every child loves to eat and we grew up eating. So as a chef, I work a lot on creating memories through food,” says Chef Marouane Rahali, head chef at Bengaluru Marriott Hotel Whitefield. A native of Venice, Rahali is in town to take Puneites on a gastronomical journey through his specially curated Venetian menu.

Called Benvenuto which means ‘Welcome to Venice’, the set menu has been meticulously curated by Rahali with strong emphasis on robust, rustic flavours and aromatic herbs. Some of the delectable dishes include his childhood favourite Seafood Soup, Beetroot Gnocchi with Sweet Blue Cheese Sauce, Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder, Cocoa Ravioli with Butter Sage and Jus, and fresh handmade Pasta tossed in slow cooked Duck Ragu with Red Capsicum Coulis. The menu also offers a range of decadent desserts. The entrées are being served at Alto Vino till February 3 for lunch and dinner. 

Rahali says that Italian cuisine is all about rustic flavours and simplicity of the ingredients which makes it so popular globally. When asked about the difference between Venetian and other Italian cuisines, he says that in Italy, there is not much difference between the two. “In Venice, we use a lot of products from the lake, otherwise it is very similar to the North Italian cuisine. Just like you have 29 states in India, each with its own cuisine, we too have regions that have their own food. Although I am originally from Venice, I grew up in Milano, hence my cooking style is influenced a lot by North Italy. The major difference in cuisines from South and North Italy is that while in the southern part, the food is very healthy and light, in northern region, it is slightly rich. For example, while risotto in North will have a lot of butter and Parmesan cheese, in South, people use olive oil,” he adds. 

Venice has always been surrounded by water, hence the traditional Venetian cuisine has always been based on fish, wild game, and any kind of seafood. It also includes vegetables that can grow in the surrounding area. 

Rahali explains how the love for cooking started in his childhood. His mother has been a homemaker, and he being the youngest among his siblings, spent a lot of time around her — helping her arrange the house, give her a helping hand in the kitchen and so on. “I was like her personal assistant. In the beginning, I didn’t know if I wanted to become a chef, I just liked to help her. However, many a time, she wouldn’t be too impressed with my skills. Every time we visited our favourite restaurant, the chef, who was very fond of me and was friendly, would joke that he was going to teach me cooking someday,” says Rahali who back then nurtured a dream of becoming a pilot. But before that, he wanted to be a better helper to his mum. “Since I wanted to get better at helping my mom, one day I asked the chef if I could go to his restaurant and help him in the kitchen to learn things in a proper way. He first laughed but later agreed to teach me and told me that he wasn’t going to pay me anything. I lapped up the opportunity because all I wanted was to learn. In the beginning, I was only assigned to chop onions and parsley,” he recalls.

As for his dream, the chef informs that in Italy, it is very difficult to become a pilot. “I have some problem in my eyes because of which I couldn’t qualify in the physical test. I was left clueless. My father, whose dream was to see one of his sons open his own restaurant, suggested that I should try at one of the most renowned culinary schools there. I did. My elder brother couldn’t pass the entrance test there, but I got through. In the beginning, I wasn’t too sure about continuing with the profession of a chef but with time I realised that the reason why I wanted to fly an airplane was because I wanted to do something with my hands for people. Similarly, in cooking too, I’m engaging my hands to create food for people who feel happy after eating it,” he adds.  

Rahali loves to travel and explore different cultures. He keeps learning new things during his trips. He also visits different hotels as a part of his training and that helps him to strengthen his love for food and cooking. “Now I love my job and it feels great to see people feeling happy eating your food. My father often asks me, ‘When are you coming back to open your own restaurant?’ But since I am still young, I want to travel a lot, discover new tastes, ingredients, eating habits to enrich myself as a chef,” he says.   

Rahali likes using and creating dishes from all the ingredients based on their availability during a particular season. “It is difficult to recreate the same Italian/Venetian dish due to geographical and climatic conditions here, so we created dishes that work with similar tasting available ingredients,” says Rahali who loves  Dosa, Butter Chicken Masala, and Laccha Paratha.

To taste the flavours from Venice, head to Alto Vino, JW Marriott Pune, Senapati Bapat Road. The festival is on till February 3 for lunch (12.30-3.30 pm) and dinner (7 pm onwards)

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