The heavens opened at around 3pm on Saturday a few hours after the official opening of the Al Meni, an annual event organised in Rimini under a giant coloured circus tent sent between the sea and the Grand Hotel that evokes a great master of world cinema, Federico Fellini.
Heavy rain, thunderstorms welcomed the opening day of the seventh edition of Al Meni, a festival that is organised annually in the Emilia Romagna city of Rimini in June.
“In a world where walls are being built, and in a place where we were surrounded with walls 1,000 years ago, we want to break the walls and say to everyone tat you are welcome here. We love to have you here, we love to host you here, come and enjoy yourself. This is what Al Meni is about,” Massimo Bottura said at the opening of the event before flying to Singapore for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ceremony.
The Italian chef was not there for the evening session where a thunderstorm and torrential rain forced the street market to close earlier and the centre of attraction became the show cooking under the circus tent.
It’s the first time that a storm like this partially disrupted the activities that took place during the two days at this idyllic seaside town of Rimini. And the themes chosen to surround this food festival were clearly topical focusing on the sea as a shared resource and the importance to reduce the use of plastic, two elements among many that have become crucial for the earth’s future.
A selection of 12 chefs from Emilia Romagna and 12 up and coming international chefs were selected by the curators of this event Enrico Vignoli of Osteria Francescana and Andrea Petrini, food writer and one of the most influential players in the world of food for the past years.
Coming from Canada, Colombe St Pierre, who made a first appearance in Europe at GELINAZ! DOES UPPER AUSTRIA, was definitely the star of the show and not just for her cooking which proved to be spot on. She defied all odds to get to Rimini after a delay in Montreal and a connecting flight from Brussels to Munich, a delay because of a storm before final arrival in Bologna.
Changing wigs with more frequency than a kitchen changes the water to boil pasta, she created a perfectly balanced dish of clams with a dashi and a smoked pine mayonnaise.
There was of course Davide di Fabio, sous chef of Osteria Francescana who made a risotto with prawns that was topped with an edible postcard, a tribute to Rimini. That edible postcard was proudly displayed by Massimo Bottura on stage at the opening. On the other side of the stage, Simone Tondo, an Italian chef who is famous for his Italian restaurant Racines in Paris served Trolley crab.
Tim Butler, an American chef whose been living in Thailand for many years made a Laab with tripe and tongue, a perfectly seasoned and perfectly spiced dish with Thai influences. Dalad Kambhu, who is a Thai chef based in Berlin (and has a Michelin star) had a little incident in the week before the festival which threaten to which threatened to spoil her participation at the event. She went for a light dish of melon with prosciutto (after all we are in the Emilia Romagna region). She, gave it a Thai touch by marinating the melon in Thai spices. It was a triumphant dish, simple yet so flavourful.
Young French chef Marie-Victorine Manoa made her interpretation of eggs ‘en meurette’ which turned out to be a perfect dish with different processes. The eggs were cooked perfectly in a sauce made with red wine, bacon, onions and shallots and served with croutons and mushrooms. A perfect dish to accompany the storm outside.
From ‘fritto misto’ to sardines, Italian chefs made good use of ingredients and techniques. Maybe the favourite dish of the Italian chefs was the one made by Raffaele Liuzzi, an artichoke heart flavoured with bay leaves and plums and accompanied by bottarga (fish roe) and cuttlefish liver.
What was however missing over the two days was an excellent pasta dish. Only one Italian chef presented a cold pasta dish (similar to soba noodles) but in the heart of Emilia Romagna, famous for its fresh pasta, one would have expected at least one chef to make a pasta dish shine.
Both Jefferson Alvarez and Francisco Cardenas brought a touch of their cultures to their dishes in Rimini while Tom Anglesea surprised everyone with a splendid dish, no wonder his restaurant the Laughing Heart is considered one of the most popular spots in London among colleagues in the restaurant industry.
Kim Mikkola and Evelyn Kim created a Finnish-Korean bento box. Other chefs who performed under the circus tent were Bledar Kola, Matteo Salbaroli, Tom Anglesea, Marco Cavallucci, Franco Cimini, Giovanni Passerini, Mario Ferrara, Jefferson Alvarez, Michele Bacilieri, Rino Duca, Mattia Borroni, Francisco Cardenas, Giovanni Cuocci and Romain Tischenk.
Jordan Bailey was the only chef to create a dessert. The chef who worked with Esben Holmboe Bang before deciding to open a restaurant in Ireland created a fresh dish with rhubarb and a freshly charcoal smoked meringue.
But Al Meni is not just about the show cooking. It is also about bringing producers from farmers to cheesemakers, fishermen and winemakers as a food market with regional produce is created next to the circus tent.
“Al Meni is a dialect of ‘with your hands’ and that is what these artisans do,” Massimo Bottura said.
He spoke of the beauty of the region and the importance of always dreaming big. “It is not because I am here but I can see the beauty even in fog. People can wake up in November in this region and see fog around them. They might be returning back to work and there is fog. I see beauty in fog. We would not have our produce, our parmigiana reggiano, our culatello, or our balsamic vinegar if we did not have this kind of temperature or this type of humidity. With fod, you do not see anything so you can see whatever you want, that is the beauty,” Bottura said.
Speaking about al Meni, he said he loved the enthusiasm and the energy of the people. “It is for a weekend but you can breath the energy and the passion for food. People come from all over Italy and the world and this is amazing,” he said.
Apart from the open air market on the seafront promenade a Sunday picnic in the gardens of the Grand Hotel was organised.
The idea was conceived by Massimo Bottura six years ago, when he imagined a circus tent in the middle of the square inspired by Fellini, celebrating the cuisine and products of Emilia Romagna with all the spontaneous atmosphere of a street party. It was developed into an event by the Municipality of Rimini, together with the passion and knowledge of the Chef to Chef Emilia Romagna Cuochi Association on the one hand, and Slow Food Emilia Romagna on the other, which is responsible for promoting the products of this region.