For those of you who follow me on Instagram would know that recently I spent a week in Italy with Barilla for the 6th Annual Pasta World Championships! Needless to say, it was AMAZING! It wasn't what I expected at all, it was so much bigger, better and just 'more' of everything.
Day one kicked off in Milan at an arena that was actually an old ice-skating rink. Inside was the arena with six full-size work benches for the chefs who would be cooking on a rotating basis for the day. The arena was full by the time 9am rolled around, filled with chefs, bloggers, media and culinary experts from around the world. Within the first 10 minutes of the day, I found my way to the only other Aussie in the crowd (our accents are like dog whistles ha!), Maria from I Heart Rome. We sat together in a prime position within the arena so we could 'Facebook Live' the important parts which you guys may have seen (and still can!) on Barilla Australia's Facebook page. It didn't take long for our Aussie competitor to begin cooking, Chef Salvatore D'Alterio, who is head chef at Risorante Isola D'Ischia in Balmain, Sydney. Salvatore made his signature dish, 'Cala Cala', which denotes the dish’s strong influence from the sea. Lots of mussels, prawns, squid and pippies. In the first round, the chefs had 60 minutes and obviously I wasn't cooking, but it seriously felt like time just whittled down in about 5 minutes! One minute they were starting and the next the countdown to plate was on and then the gong rang out through the arena to signal the end of cooking time! Seriously impressive work by all the chefs considering they had dozens of people surrounding them, photographing, filming, and talking. Showing true skill, Salvatore finished on time (unlike some of the other chefs) and presented his dish to the judges, all Michelin starred chefs based in Italy.
The judges included Lorenzo Cogo from El Coq in Vicenza, Alfio Ghezzi from the Ferrari Sparkling Wines restaurant, Roberti Rossi from Il Silene in Seggiano, Caterina Ceraudo from Dattilo in the South of Italy and Matteo Baronetto from Del Cambio in Turin. All chefs have been awarded Michelin stars and are all quite young and very accomplished, plus they all have an immense love for modern cooking with traditional Italian flare. Perfect to judge the pasta competition!
At the end of day one, Salvatore made it through to the semi-finals along with nine other competing chefs and we headed back to our hotels to get ready for the gala dinner in record time. The dinner was held at Mudec in Milan, the museum for culture, with 2 Michelin star chef Enrico Bartolini creating an amazing menu that felt like something you'd see during Heston week on Masterchef! My favourite dish of the evening was the pasta al pomodoro which was a peeled tomato skin encompassing fine al dente spaghetti in a neat little ball on a spoon.
Day two was an early start after arriving home late from the gala dinner but we were to be moving to Parma after lunch so it was socks on and out the door! During the course of the morning we saw the semi-finalists make their rendition of the quintessential Italian pasta dish, Spaghetti al Pomodoro, more variants on the kind I’d sampled the night before. Sounds very simple and has only a few ingredients but to be done well, is difficult. The chefs only had 30 minutes to make the perfect spaghetti al pomodoro and the dish took many different shapes and forms, including the addition of ingredients like cumin and soy sauce from a couple of the international chefs. Ultimately, Accursio Lota, Omri Cohen and Keita Yuge from Italy, Isreal and Japan respectively, were announced as the three finalists and onto Parma we went.
We visited the world's largest pasta making factory, Barilla's, in the afternoon which was mind boggling to see. I mean you think it's going to be huge, but then you actually see it for yourself with your own eyes and it's really overwhelming! Tonnes upon tonnes of pasta is produced each year along with pesto and a range of sauces and all are produced with Barilla's goal of doing so while reducing carbon emissions and water consumption.
That evening we returned for a dinner at Barilla headquarters where we were sat according to types of pasta assigned to our names, mine was 'ditalini lisci'. I sat with the Eastern European contingent and sampled 3D pasta amongst lots of other delicious courses! 3D pasta is created simply by dreaming of any shape possible and then 'printing' it like a 3D printer which is mind blowing! At the dinner we enjoyed an urn, a sphere and a basket. Towards the end of the evening, we all began moving around and chatting over coffee before being escorted to the buses to take us back to the hotel to get a little sleep and prepare for the final day.
Day three began at Academia Barilla in Parma where we all sat in what reminded me of a lecture theatre (perfect for everyone to see from an vantage point!) and were greeted by the competition's host, John Dickie, who had been keeping the audience entertained since day one. Each chef was making their signature dish that they made on the first day again, but in half the time with all eyes concentrated on them. The chefs absolutely smashed it, all finishing on time, and with great precision. Towards the end of the morning, once all chefs had cooked, the judges took some time to come to the verdict. My hopes were pinned on the Italian chef who now lives and works in San Diego, Accursio Lota, because he seemed very humble and was the only chef to leave the dish as it was on day one, the others tweaked theirs slightly.
We all anxiously waited for John to announce the winner, and sure enough, Accursio Lota was awarded the title of Pasta World Champion for 2017, and I've never seen a guy so happy! Ultimately, the judges found him to be the best because he stuck to his recipe, worked well within time frames and plated each one of his dishes without help as well as being very gracious throughout his time at the competition.
After the announcement, we were all served pasta (of course!) and began saying our goodbyes to those leaving that afternoon. After such an action-packed, full-on few days, it seemed so strange to have some time alone but the time was quickly filled with my memories and new friends checking in to see if I'd like to catch up for coffee over the weekend. It's really amazing how an experience like this can bring you not only a new-found knowledge for cooking and culinary practices, but new, life long friends from all around the world.
My time at the Barilla Pasta World Championships was incredible at a minimum. I'm still floored by the opportunities offered to me as a food blogger and nutritionist and I feel that this experience will be sitting at the top of my ‘experiences shelf' for many years to come!
This post is in partnership with Barilla Australia and all opinions and thoughts are honest and my own as always.