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Lorenzo Cogo and Maksut Askar four hand dinner

“Infusion is a different event. Maksut and I shared cultures, experiences and flavors. It is as if a new person has been created by our friendship.”

This is how Lorenzo Cogo’s describes the most recent edition of InFusion, an event that brings some of the most important international chefs to the Italian chef’s restaurant Le Coq in Vicenza, Italy to blend their styles, thoughts and creativity.

The lucky guests – there are very few places – have the chance to taste an extraordinary menu, which speaks of two places that at first might seem like polar opposites, but which, in reality, have more in common than you think. The dinner series opened with its first dinner last month with S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 winner and Japanese chef Yasuhiro Fujio joining Cogo in the kitchen.

In this most recent dinner, this “new person”, is presented by the perfect blend of Italian chef Lorenzo Cogo and Turkish chef Maksut Askar, creating a bespoke menu that represented a real “infusion” of Italy and Turkey.

The Essence of Infusion: Friendship and Culture 

If you arrived at El Coq restaurant in the afternoon, a few hours before dinner, you would have seen the two chefs in the kitchen tasting, comparing, mixing ingredients, trying out cooking and pairings and taking notes. But, in reality, they already started work weeks ago.

Lorenzo flew to Istanbul at the beginning of May and toured the markets with Maksut and was imbued with the scents of the Orient. He tasted Za’atar, a typical condiment made from dried spices and aromatic herbs, and he ate at Neolokal, Askar’s innovative zero-impact restaurant that rediscovers the ancient recipes of Anatolia and uses 100% Turkish ingredients.

Then, two days before the dinner Maksut took a flight from Istanbul to Vicenza, and the journey of discovery began again.

The Turkish chef toured the local markets with Lorenzo Cogo, tasted cheeses (like Parmigiano Reggiano, which he fell in love with), visited the vineyards where Amarone is produced and the organic gardens where strawberries and tomatoes are grown. He tasted everything, discovering different and unknown flavors, just as Cogo had done in during his visit to Istanbul.

After this “field” experience they created the menu for the second InFusion dinner.

Watching them work together, the afternoon before dinner, they were so absorbed in their cooking, they were oblivious to the commotion around them. Distracted by neither the cameras nor the photographers they were so fully immersed in the balance of flavors and tastings that they seemed enclosed in their own world.

And, as with all great events, it’s when the unexpected happens that the magic happens. And being at these dinners really is a unique occasion.

Afterall, InFusion is not the “usual 4-hands dinner”, but rather a show of cuisine, friendship, fun, laughter and new flavors.

Come and discover some of the dishes that were created by Lorenzo Cogo and Maksut Askar for the second stage of InFusion, which was held at Michelin starred restaurant El Coq in Vicenza on 5 June 2019.

Antipasti

The dinner began with a fresh and juicy melon which exploded in the mouth releasing the aromatic notes of raki, Turkish brandy flavored with anise and mint, and was wrapped in a thin slice of Italian lard contrasting with the sweetness of the melon.

A tomato: cut into wedges, was hollowed out and filled with a mix of lentils and aromatic herbs. The acidity of the tomato combined with the spices of Za’atar that give the dish character but remained delicate on the palate.

And thirdly, a dish of mussels fried in a crunchy batter and accompanied by the tarator, a Turkish sauce made from walnuts and tahina (based on sesame). The contrast between the marine flavor of mussels immediately dissolved by the sweetness of sesame and dried fruit.

Aubergine with a tahini and hazelnut sauce

Aubergines with tahina sauce and walnuts – credit Annalisa Cavaleri

The next dish was reminiscent of an Italian eggplant Parmigiana except in this case the vegetable was “dressed” with a tahini sauce, based on white sesame seeds, and combined with the acidity of a lime flavored yogurt sauce. A crunchy element was supplied by chopped walnuts with a spicy finish.

Strawberry Salad, Tomatoes and sea snails 

Insalata of strawberries and tomatoes – Courtesy of El Coq Press office

How sweet can a tomato be? At least as sweet as a strawberry! In this case, the two ingredients, chromatically identical, gave a feeling balanced between sweetness, acidity and freshness. A herbal touch was given by parsley, widely used in bulgur (broken wheat) of Turkish school. The savory component and chewability are given by sea snails. The seasoning was given by Pomegranate vinegar to recall, in a Middle Eastern key, the great classic “strawberries and balsamic vinegar”.

Paired with: Soave di Allegrini 2018. Fresh, slight mineral nuances, notes of yellow fruit and a good aromatic persistence.

Bulgar, salgam, cecina, stretcher and carrot reduction 

Bulgur, steamed broken wheat, is “colored” with salgam, a very popular thirst-quenching drink in Istanbul based on fermented red turnip. To give character, a splash of food spray with tobacco and grappa from Capovilla, a Vicenza-based producer of excellent distillates. Fatness and flavor are given away by thin – and incredibly good – slices of Cecina di Rubia Gallega, the so-called “old Galician cow”. Excellent match with the milky component of stracciatella. Finally, a reduction of carrot and orange juice.

Calf tongue with a pepper mayonnaise

The very thin veal tongue, elegant as a flower, is paired with a strong-flavored pepper mayonnaise, with pickled courgettes for an acidic spin and wild garlic for aromaticity

Paired with: Poja by Allegrini, a red wine made from 100% Corvina grapes. 

Raviolo in Saor with yogurt and cannella

Ravioli in Saor with cinnamon yogurt – Courtesy of El Coq Press Office

The iconic dish of the second stage of InFusion best represented the union of two cultures. The ravioli containing the ingredients of sardines in saor, an appetizer based on sardines and sweet and sour onions typical of Venetian cuisine. To accentuate the Middle Eastern references, pine nuts and raisins were added to the recipe. To accompany, the creaminess of the yogurt with the spicy touch of cinnamon.

Paired with: Amarone di Allegrini. Amarone is the most famous wine of Valpolicella. Here the vines Corvina Veronese and Rondinella (respectively 80 and 15%) join Oseleta (5%). The aromas are those of cherry jam, small red fruits, spices and noble woods. The result is an elegant, soft, structured and tannic wine.

Belly of Lamb with Zucchine and Yellow Puree

Veal belly with beetroot barley – credit: Annalisa Cavaleri

A rich and delicious second course of succulent lamb belly  followed, married with a delicate and sweet yellow zucchini puree, the result of a small organic production in Vicenza and a sauce made with coriander and horseradish to add freshness. A side dish of barley was also served and soured by beetroot juice to compensate for the fattiness of the belly.

Ice cream with cherry trees, cherries and syrup with black cardamom

A perfectly balanced dessert sweet. The kernels of cherries were dried and blended, then added to the white base of creamed ice cream in Carpigiani. To complete the dish, a black cardamom syrup flavored with lime leaves and artemisia.

Baklava with ricotta and pistachio cream and ice cream with sambuco flowers

Baklava with ricotta cream and elderflower ice cream – Courtesy of El Coq Restaurant

The other dessert was another perfectly executed blend of Italy and Turkey. Baklava, a typical Balkan-Middle Eastern sweet made from filo pastry, honey and walnuts, re-imagined with fresh ricotta and pistachios “Sicilian” style. A temperature contrast was created by an excellent ice cream made from elderflower creamed in Carpigiani. Crispy phyllo dough, at the touch of the spoon, “collapsed” on the cream making each bite pleasantly crunchy.

Paired with: Recioto di Allegrini. A great classic, expression of the Valpolicella area. Aged in barrique for 14 months with a warm and spicy bouquet, with hints of raisins and spices. Persistent sweetness on the palate.


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About Mary Ellen Bellusci

Mary Ellen Bellusci is a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland... A foodie, traveler, writer, and pursuer of happiness.