Over the past month, Alto Vino — the Italian restaurant at Marriott, Whitefield has a new face in its kitchen whipping up some divine lamb shank with risotto Milanese and vegetables. It is slow cooked for 17 hours leaving a caramelised flavour to the tender lamb that melts in your mouth.
It’s a signature dish by the newly appointed Chef Marouane Rahali who has moved from his previous assignment at the Grand Hyatt, Muscat where he worked for four years as Sous Italian Chef. “You know, I actually had never heard of Bengaluru, and did not want to take up a job here,” he admits sheepishly.
“I didn’t think you get ‘real’ tomatoes here that has the right balance of sweetness and freshness. And what about the vegetables that go into my dishes! I had my doubts,” he explains.
But he was pleasantly surprised when he was driven to Ooty, about five hours from Bengaluru, where he discovered freshly grown artichoke and asparagus. “I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think they grew artichoke in this part of the country. We use it extensively to make stew. The asparagus too was good unlike the ones we used to get from Thailand which are really thin,” he says.
Now that he has inhibitions out of his way, Rahali is enjoying his new role as head chef and is happy teaching his style of cooking to his team. “Much of what I’ve learnt is through my mother. I am the last born in the family and all of us are boys. By default I was made to help my mother in kitchen at a very young age and have enjoyed it ever since,” he reveals.
At 14, he started working as a trainee at Antica Locanda Postporta, a restaurant in the city of Gallarate. “I worked for free because I wanted to learn and this was one of the best restaurants in our home town and my parents used to dine here every week,” he recalls. The place was known for its handmade pasta.
He later worked in Sweden and Brussels where he trained under a Michelin star chef. “From him I learnt how to make tiramisu affagato cafe. It’s a combination of two Italian desserts. It’s among my signature dishes today.” Saffron risotto, a delicacy from his hometown in Casorate Sempione on the periphery of Milano, is another signature dish he is proud of.
While he enjoys bringing the best of authentic Italian cuisine to the table, there have been times when the lesser-travelled Indian guests ask him to incorporate changes to his dishes and ‘slightly Indianise’ them. “I was once told that the mushroom risotto was a bit raw though it tasted nice. While I am willing to adapt to small changes to suit the Indian palate I cannot cook a dish in an entirely different way or add curry leaves or extra garlic to pasta. I explained to the guest that there is only so much I can do, and he was obliging enough to understand,” Rahali recounts.
But such instances are rare, with locals here having travelled the world. They know and understand what an Italian dish should taste like and the chef is more than happy to cater to such guests much like he would serve his finicky father, a food lover who would gladly travel 300 km to Geneva in search of fresh fish. “It makes me very happy when my guests are satisfied,” he signs off.