Fresh Ideas From Chef Betania
by Terry Baxter, Member Since 2002
The pasta ladies of Bari, Italy, set up their tables as the sun rises. They line up on the cobblestone street in front of their homes, telling stories, singing, and forming handmade fresh pasta. Th scene encapsulates the spirit of Italian food. The nonnas (grannies) of via del’Arco Basso in the southern coastal town of Bari have become a tourist attraction, drawing crowds from the cruise ships. The Lonely Planet has named Bari one of the top ten Italian destinations.
Chef Betania, the Chef de Cuisine of Gianni Ristorante, brings some of that Italian magic to our Ocean Reef Fishing Village every day in the form of fresh pasta. We may not have a granny, but Jose is our version — Jose opens the Gianni kitchen at 7:30 each morning. He is happy working by himself, turning out endless trays of fresh handmade pasta. “It’s like therapy,” he says. Betania and Jose worked together at the Biltmore years ago, and she recently recruited him to join her at Ocean Reef. By mid-morning they are both dusted with flour from producing ravioli, tagliatelle, gnocchi, or whatever fresh pasta is featured on Chef’s Weekly Special menu.
Last week, Chef Betania wanted to create “something nice and exciting” for Valentine’s Day. She made a five-cheese ravioli with a vanilla cream sauce. She combined taleggio, ricotta, robiola, parmesan, and two varieties of stracchino cheeses. Jose and Betania made about 1,000 raviolis for the weeklong special. It was divine.
Betania showed me her cheese locker where she constantly tastes and pairs cheeses. On the Gianni menu, Betania regularly features BelGioioso stracchino, a cheese produced by member Errico Auricchio. “He came to the kitchen the first week we were open,” she remembers, “with armloads of cheeses. He was so excited to have an Italian kitchen at Ocean Reef, he wanted us to have all of his products. We exclusively use BelGioioso Burrata for our caprese salad.”
How wonderful that Italian food creates such passion in our Chef, in our suppliers, and in our diners. It turns out that food writers are not immune…what time does dinner begin?