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Barilla World Pasta Championship 2017: the world cup of pasta

Barilla Pasta World Championship 2017: the world cup of pasta

by Ollie Lloyd 11 October 2017

Ollie Lloyd travels to Italy to see the world’s greatest pasta chefs battle it out over three days. Learn more about the global competition and find out who took home the coveted trophy.

Our knowledge of Italian cuisine is constantly improving in the UK. While we know that the food you find in northern Piedmont is very different to what you’d see in southern Calabrian restaurants, it’s clear that pasta is the one food that brings Italy together as a country. That’s why the Barilla Pasta World Championship is one of the most exciting cooking competitions in Europe; it takes one of the most traditional, beloved foods on the planet and proves chefs can still innovate, experiment with and reinvent the simple combination of durum wheat and water after hundreds of years. I’d attended the championships in 2016 as a judge, but this time I was able to relax and enjoy the event from the stands. This year’s contest was bigger than ever before, so I had the chance to talk to some of the world’s leading chefs, food writers and bloggers over the three-day event, which included talks and demonstrations concerning everything wonderful about pasta. Of particular interest was Pietro Leemann’s speech about how well-suited pasta is to a vegetarian diet – see what we talked about afterwards here.

The scale of the competition is, quite frankly, massive. Hosted across Milan and Parma, a purpose-built amphitheatre was set up to house all the press and competing chefs. Barilla put so much time and energy into this event because they believe that chefs are the key to the future of food, looking to them for innovation and new ideas. It’s no surprise that this year’s theme was the future of pasta, which meant there were some seriously inventive dishes on show throughout the competition and even some 3D printed pasta (but that is a story for another day)! On day one, the competing chefs created their signature dish; on day two, they were tasked with recreating the iconic classic spaghetti al pomodoro, and the final day saw the three finalists cook for a very special panel of judges. The whole competition proved just how versatile pasta can be; the same packet of linguine can be used to create a simple midweek dinner in under fifteen minutes, or incorporated into a complex, avant-garde dish that pushes the boundaries of contemporary Italian cooking.

Pasta is a food that comes from the past. It has tackled every challenge posed by the times and changing lifestyles of people. From Italy it has spread worldwide, bringing with it all the pleasure of a delicious and nutritious food. There is no other dish like it; the mere mention of it makes people smile and puts them in a good mood. All of this has been achieved also thanks to the contribution of skilled chefs, who have interpreted it with recipes that suit every palate. Today, more than ever before, they are our best ambassadors.

Paolo Barilla, vice-chairman of Barilla

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The chefs competing this year came from as far as Japan, Turkey, Israel and China, proving pasta truly is a global food
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The judging panel was made up of some of Italy's most celebrated Michelin-starred chefs, including Lorenzo Cogo and Caterina Ceraudo

Contestants and judges

Twenty chefs from fifteen different countries across four continents made it to this year’s Pasta World Championship. All of them were under thirty-five years old, which meant there was plenty of enthusiasm, a willingness to push boundaries and break from tradition. But what interested me the most was the fact that these chefs came from all over the globe, often combining pasta with ingredients and flavours associated with their own countries. Even Italian-born chefs working abroad were offering something new; Leonardo La Cava, for example, now lives and works in Miami, Florida, and his dish of Cacio e pepe with red prawns, mango tartare and raspberries reflected that perfectly. Other contestants came from as far away as Japan, Australia and Sweden to showcase their pasta dishes, proving it truly is a worldwide phenomenon.

Throughout the competition, each of the young, talented contenders were constantly observed by an esteemed jury of Michelin-starred Italian chefs. The line-up featured Matteo Baronetto of Del Cambio in Turin; Caterina Ceraudo of Dattilo in Calabria; Lorenzo Cogo of El Coq in Vicenza; Alfio Ghezzi of Locanda Margon (two stars) in Trento and Roberto Rossi of Il Silene in Tuscany.

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Turkish chef Tolgar Mireli's signature dish combined a spinach cream with a confit quail's egg yolk
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Berliner Adrian Maximillian Augustin reimagined spaghetti carbonara, using dandelion and smoked eel instead of guanciale and cheese

Signature dishes

The first day of the competition saw each chef prepare their showstopping signature dish for the judges in Milan. These were recipes they’d spent many hours creating, tweaking and perfecting specifically for the competition. Last year, I’d been presented with some truly crazy inventions – pasta stuffed inside a crab, pasta dusted with prawn powder and even pasta with a wasabi mousse and Cognac jelly. This year, however, the dishes seemed more refined – although that’s not to say the chefs were playing it safe. Ingredients such as powdered clams, grouper fish, deer and squilla mantis – a Mediterranean shrimp – featured in the final dishes.

From Berlin, chef Adrian Maximillian Augustin presented his interpretation of spaghetti carbonara which included smoked eel and dandelion – a tribute to northern European flavours. Turkish chef Tolgar Mireli served up a vibrant plate of spaghetti with spinach cream and a confit quail’s egg yolk – a simple yet stunning dish. Switzerland’s own Sabine Possamai combined two Italian classics together by making mini arancini with orzo pasta and rabbit, while Greece’s Giorgio Spanakis turned pasta into a street food by deep-frying breaded cannelloni filled with lasagne and serving it with an Amatriciana sauce. Take a look at each of the signature dishes in our gallery for a taste of what was presented on the day.

Another key difference between this year’s competition and last year’s was the choice of pasta. Cannelloni was the most popular choice last year, as it can be stuffed with all sorts of ingredients and presented in a variety of ways. For 2017, spaghetti was much more prevalent, and it was great to see a type of pasta we all use at home frequently reimagined into all sorts of weird and wonderful dishes. Other more regional varieties, such as casarecce, were thrust into the spotlight too, and it was fantastic that these less common shapes were given the attention they deserve.

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Leon Li created a tomato jelly for his version of spaghetti al pomodoro…
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…while Australian Salvatore d'Alterio used infused oils – administered with a pipette – to bring a point of difference to his

The skills challenge

Only half the chefs made it through to the second day of the competition. The next task tested their ability to recreate an Italian classic: spaghetti al pomodoro – spaghetti in a simple tomato sauce. It’s the perfect example of the country’s cuisine; simple yet incredibly effective. To give the contestants some inspiration (and to show how high the bar was set), the judges presented their reinterpretations of the dish beforehand. Lorenzo Cogo perfected his dish with the help of a blowtorch, some liquid smoke and a pair of chopsticks, while Alfio Ghezzi used several different types of tomatoes, extracting water from one, making a powder from another and freeze-drying the third. Certainly a dish that reflected his two Michelin stars.

Barilla Pasta World Championship 2017

See Lorenzo Cogo create his twist on spaghetti al pomodoro.

After the judges’ dishes had been presented via videos, it was time for the competing chefs to have a go. The pressure was immense, as they had to cook to a time limit and were constantly observed by the eagle-eyed judges. However, everyone managed to create something truly astounding. Federico Benedetto (France) left the tomatoes intact, while Omir Cohen (Israel) turned them into a sauce for the spaghetti. There were pipettes full of flavoured oils in Australian Salvatore d’Alterio’s dish, and Aniello La Muro (UK) created a tomato broth for the pasta to sit in. Tomatoes were turned into jelly by Leon Li (China) to go with his spaghetti, while Keita Yuge (Japan) used beautiful Japanese crockery to present his version of the classic. In the end, the judges chose three chefs – Accursio Lotà (USA), Keita Yuge (Japan) and Omir Cohen (Israel) – to progress to the final round, which was hosted in Parma.

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Accursio Lotà (USA), Omir Cohen (Israel) and Keita Yuge (Japan) made it to the final round
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The auditorium was engulfed in a shower of ticker-tape as the overall winners were announced

The final round

Joining the jury of chefs on the third day was Francine Segan, who has written many books on the beauty of pasta, and Tom Rachman, a British-Canadian author and lover of Italian cuisine. It was announced that the finalists needed to create their signature dishes once more for each judge to taste – plus a presentation plate. With over 200 people in the auditorium watching their every move, the three chefs seemed incredibly relaxed, delivering their dishes with effortless flair.

After tasting and making notes on the three dishes, the judges were clearly impressed by the level of skill on show. However, there could only be one winner, and it was Accursio Lotà of Solare Ristorante in San Diego, USA who managed to clinch the top spot. His Sicilian-inspired dish of seafood carbonara was a complete triumph; perfectly representing the future of pasta and just how inventive he could be with such a universally loved staple. By replacing the traditional chicken eggs with fish roe and green mandarin before slow-cooking scallops, red prawns, cuttlefish and amberjack in rendered guanciale fat, he transformed the Roman classic into a knockout seafood dish.

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Accursio Lotà, who cooks at Solare Ristorante in San Diego, was declared the overall winner of the Pasta World Championship
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His seafod-based interpretation of spaghetti carbonara wowed the judges, as it took a traditional classic and reinvented it in a whole new way

‘This success means a lot to me,’ he said after being presented with the trophy, shaped like a trafila (the dye used to extrude pasta). ‘It was so exciting to be chosen amongst the three finalists, and actually winning has been amazing. I work abroad, but due to my Italian roots I believe pasta is already perfect in its simplicity. This is why in my opinion the future of pasta will be realised not only by reinventing it, but by regenerating and reworking the classic accompaniments and sauces in new ways. This doesn’t mean we have to destroy our traditions; it means we must rethink and reimagine both ingredients and techniques.’

As the competition came to an end, it was clear that while pasta is a food steeped in tradition which must be respected, there is still so much we have yet to do with it in the kitchen. The classics will never go out of fashion, but who’s to say we can’t create new dishes today which will stand the test of time too? After all, no one knew about carbonara until the 1950s, and puttanesca sauce only became popular in the 1960s. And because it’s so easy to cook at home, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be getting a bit experimental ourselves. Barilla’s certainly pushing the boundaries themselves, using 3D printers to create intricate new pasta shapes specifically designed to hold certain sauces. We’re on the frontier of a new chapter in Italian cuisine, and no doubt next year’s championship will be even more thought-provoking.

Accursio Lotà's winning dish

Fancy recreating Accursio's seafood carbonara at home? Take a look at the recipe here.

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