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The Actor, the Diplomat and the Chef

by Shehani Fernando

When Great British Chef Francesco Mazzei suggested a cookathon with his old chum, actor and cookbook author Stanley Tucci, to be hosted by the Italian Consul General, Massimiliano Mazzanti . . . well, how could anyone resist? With Great Italian Chefs launching this autumn, this was a perfect opportunity to delve into the delicious world of Italian food here in the UK.

When Great British Chef Francesco Mazzei suggested a cookathon with his old chum, actor and cookbook author Stanley Tucci, to be hosted by the Italian Consul General, Massimiliano Mazzanti . . . well, how could anyone resist? With Great Italian Chefs launching this autumn, this was a perfect opportunity to delve into the delicious world of Italian food here in the UK.

On a balmy June day in central London, Great British Chefs took over the Italian Consul General’s kitchen in St James’s. Although it’s an incredibly grand residence steeped in history, the walls adorned with photos of famous political faces, for once, no one was interested in political events. With good ingredients, recipes and, of course, plenty of wine on the menu, these three hungry Italians were happy to focus solely on their Italian culinary roots.

The dynamic in the kitchen was set with an early glass of white wine for the kitchen prep and Mazzei (the ‘real’ chef) running it as if it were a restaurant kitchen. Mazzei has always championed rustic Italian food and his dish was a simple rack of rose veal (a dish he cooked for 150 people at Tucci’s wedding) sprinkled with rock salt and then thrown in the oven with some whole garlic bulbs. Apart from the occasional turning, this dish looks after itself and the roast garlic is later mashed into a fabulous paste with salt, marjoram and pepper to be spread over the cooked veal before serving.

Roast veal image
Roast veal
Stanley Tucci and Francesco Mazzei carving the roast veal
Carving the roast veal

Tucci’s glittering acting career spans various genres with many accolades, but he also dabbled in the foodie world as a struggling Italian restaurant owner in Big Night (1996) and as the husband of legendary cookery writer Julia Child in Julie & Julia (2009). Since moving to London, Tucci has somehow found time around filming The Hunger Games trilogy to release a cookbook this year with his wife Felicity Blunt. The Tucci Table is full of dishes inspired by his childhood growing up in an Italian family in America, as well his current family life with Blunt and their children. The parmigiana he cooked for Mazzei and Mazzanti on the day was from this book and is a dish that makes the best use of seasonal vegetables like courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes and his unconventional addition, potatoes. Food is clearly close to Tucci’s heart and throughout the day he peppered Mazzei with questions about everything from provenance to how to check when a joint of meat is ready.

Mazzanti brought his own roots into play when he prepared his Austrian mother’s spaghetti puttanesca recipe, an Italian classic with anchovies, capers, herbs and black olives. While the name of the dish is controversial (it is said that the smell of it wafting through the streets would lure men into the hands of prostitutes), Mazzanti’s dish tasted fantastic with its punchy tomato sauce enlivened by the saltiness of the capers and anchovies.

 
 
Stanley Tucci's parmigiana
Stanley Tucci's parmigiana
Massimiliano Mazzanti's spaghetti puttanesca
Massimiliano Mazzanti's spaghetti puttanesca

There was a lot of laughing, chatting and good-natured banter during the long day of filming but as the three Italians finally tucked into the food, this gave way to satisfied sighs of contentment.

Great Italian Chefs launches in autumn 2015. Follow its progress on google+, facebook and twitter @greatitalianchefs.

 
 

Shehani Fernando is a multimedia journalist and filmmaker who has worked for The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera and a number of independent production companies.

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