Cooking lesson, too
How to make great pasta from scratch: Valentino's Cunninghame West shares hissecrets (with video)
I heard a rumor that Executive Chef Cunninghame West at Valentino Vin Bar at Hotel Derek is shy on camera, at least out of the kitchen — often searching for words and grasping for small talk. But put him in his element, among his friends (the saucepan, raw ingredients and some kitchen tools) and he morphs into a playful giant. Towering over me, his intimidating size is lessened by his warm smile, joyous disposition and sense of humor.
March may be Noodle Month, but the cooking demo I received from West had very little to do with an uninspiring helping of empty carbs. This was no wet noodle. It clearly showed me the difference between good cooking and culinary art. I speculate there is some influence from his parental units: An artist and an English professor, growing up in the countryside of southwest Virginia.
The Lobster Mezzaluna with Brandy Pink Sauce is one of the restaurant's most in-demand offerings. Sicilian restaurateur Piero Selvaggio loves nothing more than showcasing modern Italian cuisine made from the freshest and best ingredients. Many of them — white truffles, fresh porcini mushrooms, Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea fish — make their way from Italy to Valentino while Selvaggio continues his search for one-of-a-kind offerings from local and international food artisans.
I would be remiss not to mention that the wine selection is quite robust, too.
Armed with a camera and a microphone, I found my way through a maze of corridors (with some help) into the kitchen and started asking probing questions. Aside from learning that West loves bikinis (not wearing them, but on women), his modus operandi is simple: Do everything with care and love.
"For pasta, you need the most finely ground flour you can find," West says. "0.0 is the measurement you need to look for, and Caputo is a good brand. The measurements are simple: Two parts flour to one part egg."
Kneading pasta is not unlike making pottery. The texture is right when it is slightly tacky; it should sponge back at you. Your finger won't stick to it.
At Valentino, West uses a combination of pasta infused with squid ink and pasta enhanced with a little egg coloring to create a striped effect. These artful creations are flexible and can be improvised into any sort of shape, including a simply cut fettuccine. True enough, eating begins with our eyes.
Fresh pasta cooks much quicker than dried and can be a little tricky. Some may say that pasta floats when it is cooked, but West does not rely on that old trick. After three minutes, he starts checking for the right consistency.
"In the Italian pasta world everything should be al dente, which means to the teeth," West says. "It should not be cooked all the way through. It should be a little duro."
And following in true Italian cuisine, West finishes the dish with a little extra virgin olive oil.
Chef Cunninghame West Lobster Mezzeluna Recipe:
Lobster Mascarpone Filling
- 2 lobster tails (4-5 oz.) each
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large shallot
- 1 tablespoon Roasted Garlic
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1/3 cup mascarpone
- ¼ cup brandy
Clean the lobster tails and sauté the lobsters with olive oil, shallots, roasted garlic and thyme. Stir the mixture often until the lobsters are almost cooked (time varies on lobster size). Deglaze the pan with the brandy. If using an electric stove, use a lighter or match to flame the liquid after it's added to the pan to burn off the alcohol.
Let cool. Transfer to a food processor and blend with the mascarpone cheese until smooth, and season with salt and pepper.
- 2 cups pasta flour (finely ground flour)
- 1 cup blended whole eggs or ready eggs
Add flour to bowl and mix in the eggs. Blend until all of the egg is absorbed. Transfer the dough onto a working tabletop and work until fully formed. Wrap the mixture and let rest for 15-20 minutes.
Unwrap and make pasta sheets with your pasta machine. Cut out circle forms in the pasta, place a small amount of the filling in the center, lightly spray with water or use egg whites to make sure the pasta stays together, and fold in a half moon shape, pressing around the outside of the mezzeluna to ensure it stays together. Repeat this process until all the filling is used up.
Valentino Vin Bar's Executive Chef Cunninghame West shows CultureMap's Joel Luks how to make pasta: