BEIRUT: A slice of Italian life came to Casino du Liban this week as the Italian Cultural Institute brought a music, food a drink to Jounieh. “I was glad to see so many friends joining us,” Italian Ambassador Massimo Marotti, who launched the culinary event in the presence of diplomats and leading local figures, told The Daily Star. “This year, the focus of our Italian-Lebanese cultural activities will revolve around experiencing the Italian way of life.”
The event, which opened Thursday and runs until Feb. 18, was named La Dolce Vita (“the sweet life”) after a classic Italian movie directed by Federico Fellini. The 1960 film portrays a journalist’s journey through the city of Rome in search for love and happiness.
Italian Chef Michele Zamagni was the mastermind behind the culinary experience at Casino du Liban.
With more than 70 percent of the ingredients shipped directly from Italy, Zamagni said he was determined to showcase the best of the Italian traditional art of cooking.
“If you have quality ingredients, there is not much else you need to do,” Zamagni told The Daily Star as the glitterati tucked into steaming dishes at the event. “This is what Italian cuisine is all about: combining quality products that are cooked in simple ways.”
A fresh menu was carefully crafted for each night to convey the regional varieties of the Italian peninsula. The chef promised a wide range of surprises for his guests, ranging from a refined Valentine’s night tiramisu prepared with white chocolate, to the tasty “piadina romagnola” – characteristic flatbread street food typical of the center of Italy.
Zamagni readapted all the recipes to cut down on fats by using aromatic herbs, which allow for healthier compositions that maintain an unaltered original taste.
He said a lot of thought was also given to the combination of dishes, which were each chosen to complement the other.
“It is important to start with something light that stimulates the appetite and then gradually proceed with richer dishes,” Zamagni said.
“The dessert must then be complementary to the meal. A lemon dessert, for instance, can help digest a meat dish.”
An important element of “La Dolce Vita” is the music that accompanies the meal. Monia Angeli and her band traveled to Lebanon to express, through traditional Italian music, their vision of what their home country’s culture is all about.
“Italy is so much more than the Colosseum,” Angeli told The Daily Star. “One of its main characteristics is the ability to laugh even when life is tough. This trait features in many songs written during the war and this is the characteristic of Italy that I want people around the world to know about.”
As part of the institute’s mission to convey “the Italian way of life,” Italian composers will take part in the Al Bustan Festival, which begins on Feb. 15. In its endeavor to promote cultural exchanges between Italy and Lebanon, the Italian Embassy is also supporting efforts to set up a Lebanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale this May.
The Daily Star on February 11, 2017