Cookoff with David Rocco: Italy vs India

What do you need to have a clash of two celebrated cuisines like Italian and Indian?

For starters, a celebrity chef with robust Italian blood flowing through his veins. As David Rocco, a famous chef who has charmed audiences with his TV show Dolce Vita, says, “I am not a chef – I’m Italian!”. Taking on the challenge, Rajdeep Kapoor, executive chef for the ITC Hotels, stepped up to the plate.

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Secondly, a variety of ingredients! To make the challenge interesting, the base ingredients of rice, cheese and mushrooms (morrels) were common to both chefs. David Rocco aimed to make a simple mushroom risotto and Rajdeep Kapoor decided to experiment with a stuffed morrel biryani. Intriguing to say the least!

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Chef Rajdeep gets cracking immediately making a delicious cheesy filling with cheddar and pomegranates with some mint. This stuffing promptly is stuffed into the morrels.

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 On the other hand, Chef Rocco starts up by chopping up morrels and porcini and sautéing it with olive oil and parsley.

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 With the mushrooms ready, the chefs start to tackle the rice quotient of the dish. While Rocco uses Italian Arborio known for it’s starchy quality, Rajdeep uses India’s famed fragrant Basmati rice. Rocco cooks the rice in copious amounts of white wine and vegetable stock, while Rajdeep goes the parboiled way.

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 What was interesting to see was not just the differences in the type and number of ingredients used but also the techniques used. While the risotto needed moisture in parts and continuos stirring, the biryani needs to be set aside, covered and cooked on a slow flame what is called dum.

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 While Rocco prodded and stirred his risotto, Rajdeep relaxed while his biryani slow cooked. Maybe Indian cooking isn’t as difficult as they make it seem? But soon enough the dishes were ready and voila!

Rocco’s risotto was perfectly cooked with the rice al dente or ‘to the tooth’. The sautéed mushrooms with muted herbs and the citrusy flavour of the wine came through beautifully. One of the best risottos I have had the pleasure of eating in India.

As for Rajdeep’s dish, I wouldn’t have thought that a cheese mushroom biryani would be as delectable as this one was! Subtle flavours of spice complimented the morrels and the sweetness from the pomegranates added a depth and dimension to the preparation. Rajdeep’s morrel biryani was a clear winner for me! 

ITC 09-Shweta Kaushik

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