Sunday, March 17, 2013

Zonin's Italian Culinary Experience with Eating House

They're back! And our smiles couldn't be bigger. Casa Vinicola Zonin's monthly Italian Culinary Experience, otherwise known as ZoninICE, returned this month. Held at the Miami Culinary Institute, the monthly five-course lunches host writers, public relations professionals, and others in the industry to a pairing of local chefs' cuisine with wines from different Italian vineyards represented by Casa Vinicola Zonin. With its initiation in 2012, ZoninICE showcased outstanding wines from different regions in Italy, while featuring delicious Italian cuisine from popular restaurants such as Cecconi's at the SoHo Beach House, Scarpetta from the Fontainbleau Hotel, Cioppino from the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Quattro Gatronomia Italiana, and Salumeria 104. To kick of this year's series, Zonin paired select wines from Rocca Di Montemassi Estate in Tuscany with cuisine prepared by Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli from Eating House. The focus of this experience was to highlight how the Italian wines pair well with all types of cuisine, not just Italian.

Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli giving us his charming smile.
The afternoon began as usual, with guests mingling outside the demonstration lab, also known as the food and wine theater, while drinking a glass of refreshing Zonin Prosecco. I have to admit, I have become quite addicted to this Prosecco and will not go without having a bottle or two in my refrigerator. I used to serve it when I prepared brunch at home on Sundays but it has quickly become a nice ritual in the evenings at home as well.

Chef John Richards from the Miami Culinary Institute
welcoming us alongside Jelena Todorovic Meisel and Pieruccio
Riccobono from Casa Vinicola Zonin.
After a few minutes, we entered the impressive demonstration lab and got a look at the Institute's culinary students helping Chef Rapicavoli prepare the Aperitivo. We learned how important it is to pair your wine according to the specific food you're having and not the other way around and how certain aspects of the wine fully bring out the flavors of the food. Then we started our lunch with a variation of Eating House's popular Tomatoes, featuring a mix of local tomatoes, peanuts and coconut ice. It is a tantalizing and cooling combination of salty and sweet, as are many of Rapicavoli's dishes, that I have had the pleasure of enjoying at his restaurant in the past. This starter paired very well with the Zonin Prosecco.


In his usual laid back and witty style, the chef talked to us about his childhood, his Italian heritage, and his preference of real-life experience in the kitchen rather than formal schooling.  The raw passion Rapicavoli has for cooking, and his non-status-quo views on life deeply resounded in his words. He went on to say how when he was a child, he was the kind of kid who when the teacher explained how tomato sauce was made, he'd reply, "No, it's made like this..." We indulged in his Antipasto creation of Blue Crab, Yuzu Yogurt and Grapefruit, topped with a sliver of cucumber, while listening to his experiences on the Food Network's television show Chopped. This course was exquisitely paired with Rocca Di Montemassi Calasole, a pleasant white with a straw-yellow color and a bouquet of white  flowers and spicy notes.

Blue Crab Dish
The First Course was Pork, served with smoked Sweet Potato and a Dr. Pepper Miso glaze. This course was not only savory and rich, but as an added bonus, we got to see how Rapicavoli used one of his favorite tools in the kitchen: The Smoking Gun. He smoked the sweet potato chunks in the device for about 2 minutes and gave them a perfect, smoky taste to complement the meat. To complement the dish, we sipped Rocca Di Montemassi Le Focaie, which brought out the meat's bold flavors.

The Second Course consisted of Oxtail, sitting on a bed of "rice-like" cauliflower and sesame. It was an interesting way to prepare the side dish that I had never tasted before. The wine pairing for this dish was my favorite: Rocca Di Montemassi Sassabruna. I loved the ruby red color of the wine and the intense, rich up-front notes of ripe wild berries accompanied by scents of spices and licorice. It combined superbly with the savory profile in the meat.


Excited for dessert, I was giddy to find out to hear Rapicavoli was treating us to one of his most popular: the Dirt Cup, a messy yet decadent combination of Nutella, chocolate and salted caramel.  Like many of his dishes, it was a mind-blowing concoction of sweet and salty proportions. He explained how it was not difficult at all to make, yet people loved it. It is very easy to taste why.  Rapicavoli also shared an inspirational thought he followed; one he learned when he first started his career: You must strive to make your rent in a day and then the rest will fall on its own. Dessert was paired with Castello D'Albola Vin Santo, a sweet-tasting ending to a perfect meal.

"Dirt Cup"
We didn't just get a mouthful but also an earful of some of Rapicavoli's upcoming plans. He is thinking about opening a cocktail bar adjacent to Eating House called the Drinking Room, where guests can come and sip on cocktails before or after getting their fix at the restaurant. Since he feels there are no great doughnut shops in Miami, he plans on opening one creatively called Dese Nuts, and bringing us some more of his unparalleled and original fare. This young chef is as impressive in the kitchen as he is outside of it and I can see him continue to go nowhere but up in this industry.

All wines were spectacular! Here is my
favorite one!
As always, Zonin's Italian Culinary Experience was an afternoon of palate pleasing, wine-loving wonder. I can't wait until the next one....

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