Accursio Lotá, Executive Chef of Solare Restorante in San Diego, CA was one of two chefs representing the USA at the 6th Annual Barilla Pasta World Championship that took place in Milan, Italy, September 27-29.
Twenty chefs from around the world competed at the three-day championship, before a panel of Michelin-starred Italian chefs, where ultimately Chef Accursio took the 6th Annual Champion title with this final dish, “Spaghetti alla Carbonara de Mare”.
Below, he dishes out on what inspired his final dish and the motivation that took him through to the win.
How do you preserve your Italian traditions while still adding a modern twist through your cooking?
Cooking Italian for me means respecting the Italian way of being, and that all starts with the simplicity of the ingredients. I try to keep the ingredients simple, while playing with technique.
What was the most challenging part throughout the three-day Barilla Pasta World Championship?
For sure the first day, when from 20 chefs we were left with only 10. I didn’t want to be cut on the first day! I knew if I made the next round, anything could happen, and all I could do was play my best to get up there.
As the competition progressed from 20 Chefs to 10 to the final three, how did you keep motivated and creative under the pressure?
The pressure of the competition is something that is very hard to explain. The excitement and the tension definitely built, and got so high it was hard to keep under control.
The good thing is that once the timer starts I’m just cooking, something that I know how to do. During that time the focus was on the cooking and it felt like I was floating in a tension free zone.
My motivation also got higher and higher, because I started getting to understand the judges thoughts, which made my creativity and taste evolve throughout the three days of the Championship.
Each candidate was placed with a Coach guiding each Chef throughout the competition. Who was your coach and how was it working with him/her?
My Coach was Chef Matteo Baronetto from “Del Cambio” in Torino. Baronetto is a chef that likes to work with a lot of technique and his food has a lot of facets. It was definitely great to work with him, he is a very communicative person.
He gave me some great advice, we talked a couple of times about how I was going to do it, and opened me up to a different perception of the competition.
What were some aspects that helped you win the Pasta World Championship?
I will answer this question with three parts:
- I made sure that the taste was the most important thing; presentation came after the taste. In competitions I think it’s easy to focus on presentation, but then your dish can fall flat.
- I made sure that the dishes represented me, who I am and where I am coming from 100%. When you feel confident in a dish in that way, it has a much better chance of being successful.
- I worked to tell the story behind my dishes; the why and the how, not just an ingredient list of what is inside.
What was your goal while representing the US, as well as your family in Italy?
My goal was to make sure I was doing something correct for myself first. Cooking well, with the right approach and personality. I’m proud to represent USA, I’ve been living in San Diego for 7 years, and I’m part of this city, state and country. In fact, I just received my US citizenship shortly before the competition!
Your reinterpretation for the Classic Pomodoro challenge was very unique. Can you explain your reinterpretation and the creative process of this dish?
I grew up eating the classic Pomodoro Pasta. I was born and raised in Sicily, were tomato is one the most used ingredients. When I created the pasta dish, I broke down the process and taste into two parts…
The Pasta: I cook the pasta in 100% tomato water using a Sicilian Datterino tomato. I cooked the pasta risotto style, but without butter and cheese. At the end I finished it with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and basil.
The Sauce: I used a natural tomato concentrate from Sicily, a paste made from simple fresh tomato sauce, but dehydrated under the Sicilian sun. With the paste I cooked a sauce adding celery, carrot, onion, and the leftover tomato water, and I let cook until it was becoming like a ketchup texture.
The pasta had the freshness of the tomato, with some of the acidity of the fresh tomatoes, while the sauce gave the sweetness of the cooked ripened tomatoes, but in a very concentrated and compressed way. I finished the dish using Greek basil, which gives a very intense and anesthetizing sensation.
Your “signature” dish the seafood carbonara, was what ultimately gave you the win at the end. What was your inspiration behind the dish?
Carbonara is a most controversial Italian dish; every city has its very own recipe. I took that funny fact, and I made it my way.
I grew up by the Mediterranean Sea, where seafood for me was the most accessible ingredient. So, I thought “why don’t I replace the hen egg of the carbonara with a mix of different seafood eggs, to reassemble the mouthfeel and texture of the carbonara. And instead of the succulent guanciale, use a variety of seafood cooked with different techniques; and fish with a fresh green mandarin zest (another signature Sicilian ingredient).”
Finally, what was your most memorable experience throughout the competition?
My dad came to Milan during the whole competition. Getting to spend time with him, during the competition, was very important for me.