Noted Italian restaurateur Annamaria Forgione had opened the doors of the first stand-alone restaurant of Italian cuisine on the high street of Kolkata. That was July 1995, before which Italian cuisine was restricted only to the five-star hotels. Her outlet in Kathmandu, Nepal, was opened earlier in 1995. She shares her culinary journey with Anirban Sarkar
Tell us something about your childhood days.
I belong to a large joint family at Naples, Italy. We were immigrants and not well off. I was part of a large family which was quite usual in those times and even today in Italy. As a child I was an expert in household chores such as ironing shirts, which I can still do to perfection.
What brought you to Nepal and India?
I used to accompany my (ex)-husband, who was a banker, on his visits to different countries. One of those visits took me to Nepal. I started selling tomato sauce there. As demand for my sauce began to steadily grow, so did the local expectations. This induced me to open my restaurant called Fire and Ice in Kathmandu in 1995. In 2004, I came to Kolkata on an invitation from the Consulate General of Italy. Subsequently, I started Fire and Ice at Middleton Street in Kolkata. This was in 1995. By 2012, I had opened my second outlet called Fire and Ice Picollo at Sarat Bose Road in South Kolkata.
How do you characterise Italian cuisine?
There are 21 regions in Italy, each with its own variety. This makes Italian cuisine extremely rich and varied. We use a large variety of fish and meat in our food. However, what makes Italian cuisine truly stand out is the freshness of the ingredients. Tomao sauce and olive oil are two of our primary ingredients, along with a variety of cheese such as goat cheese, sheep cheese and lamb cheese or Pecorino. Fortunately, most of the ingredients we use are available fresh here.
Please tell us about your famed dairy project
Being a woman, I wanted to empower local women. I embarked upon a project in 2005 – an NGO called Indian Institute of Mother and Child – in the southern outskirts of Kolkata near Sonarpur. As a micro-financing project, cows were given to local women on loan and I taught them to make Mozarella cheese at the factory I had set up. Through the money they get by selling the cheese, they repay their loan so that subsequently they become owners of the cows. During seasons when the cows are dry, the women work on a fishery project. This is a self-financing project, of which I am very proud as it has worked wonders for the local women.
What according to you is the most important aspect of Italian cooking?
It is al dente, which means “not overcooked.” In fact we serve spaghetti and penne al dente as it is served in Italy. This is the delicate art of Italian cooking which lends the food a striking balance between the meat, vegetables and the sauce. This also makes it more healthy and easier on the stomach.
Do you customise your dishes to suit the local palate?
No. I want to offer Italian cusine in the way it is meant to be enjoyed. It is an entirely different experience which in itself is its USP. So why should one dilute it? In fact, Italian food authentically is not served on plates but is self helped by the people at the table. I practise this. Not only does it help the cheese and ingredients from not spilling, but it also helps bond the family members together.
What are the parts to an Italian meal? Please tell us the names of some of your signature dishes.
Begin with antipasti (starters). The main course comprises of pizza, spaghetti or penne, or risotto. Soups and salads accompany the main dishes. This is followed by desserts with a delightful cup of tea or an expresso shot or a capucinno announcing the finale of the meal. Some of my popular dishes are Focaccia with melted mozarella cheese, Fire of Bengal pizza, Chicken Liver Risotto, freshly made sweet pancakes filled with Nutella chocolate.
Have you noticed any change in eating trends over the years?
When Fire and Ice was opened in Kolkata eight years back, it was a stiff challenge as people had not been much exposed to new tastes and experiences. Even I faced resentment when guests were expected to serve their own food in true Italian style. However, over the years, more eateries have opened, which is a healthy sign. People have also become much more open to new tastes and flavours.