The German-born chef Heinz Beck is a culinary pioneer whose international portfolio of restaurants includes the only Three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Rome – La Pergola.
When he passed through Toronto this spring to cook a collaborative dinner with Rob Gentile at Buca Osteria & Bar, he took an hour to sit down first with Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants and discuss what it takes to break the rules – and how to save money on Italian pasta.
C100B: Great Italian food often seems so simple. Only a handful ingredients on the plate, only a few steps in the recipe. But getting it exactly right is very tricky.
Heinz Beck: That’s the problem with Italian cooking. Two people can make the same dish, same ingredients, same recipe – but one turns out very good, and one is lousy. It depends only on the ability. You have to do it and make it again and again and again until it is perfect. And this is what we are doing at La Pergola. Because when you do a traditional dish, you must do it perfectly or don’t do it.
C100B: But you also take traditional dishes and make them in an entirely new way. Like your Cacio e Pepe, which should be just pasta, pepper and cheese. You add two more ingredients – and one is shrimp, so you’re also breaking the old Italian rule about not mixing cheese and seafood.
HB: This is very rare, I don’t do it in more than maybe three or four dishes in 25 years where I mix fish with cheese. Here it works because of the lime, and the sweetness of the shrimps. If you take the wrong shrimps, it won’t work anymore. Change anything, and it doesn’t work.
C100B: You need sweet white shrimp. Genuine Pecorino Romano from of the two remaining Roman producers – and not the imposter pecorino “Romano” from Sardinia. And the best available pasta –
HB: I am working now with De Cecco for 16 years. Pasta is semolina and water. They have their own mill and produce their own semolina. They don’t have to buy it. So the size, the grind, it’s always the same.
C100B: A lot of people here are used to paying double or triple for Italian imports labeled “artisan produced.”
HB: There is no artisanal dry pasta. By law, all dry pastas are done with machines, with a pneumatic press. It’s an industrial process. The only way to qualify it as artisanal is the quantity of employees. If you have a certain number of employees, you can call it artisanal, and if it is over, you have to call it industrial. So in Italy, there are a lot of “artisanal” pasta companies that when they reach a certain number of employees, they make a second and a third company at the same address, just to keep the artisan label.
For Chef Beck’s Cacio e Pepe recipe, click here.