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Bill Marchetti is a celebrity chef and restaurateur. Despite hailing from Australia, and traditionally being an Italian, he is about as Indian as as they comes as we discovered post our tete-a-tete with him. Yes, he fed us too, and you can read all about it here, but back to Marchetti for now.
He started his career at the tender age of 13, and later, took up his large and in-charge post at The ITC Sheraton. Now, he’s the celebrity personality and mastermind behind one of India’s most successful Italian chains, Spaghetti Kitchen, and his phenomenal success in the culinary world is spectacular to say the least. Considering he’s one of those names that’s on a constant ascent, we couldn’t wait to decode the culinary phenomenon that is Bill Marchetti. We hope you enjoy reading about him, as much we enjoyed compiling it.
Guylife - Where did your all-consuming passion for food come from? As a kid, did you prefer aprons to footballs?
Bill Marchetti: As my Mum used to say to me, "With your love of good food, better go and work in a kitchen.” Even as a kid, I used to hang around grandma and aunties when they were cooking. Football was just useful for building up a healthy appetite.
Guylife - How did India come to feature in your scheme of things and how long have you been here now?
Bill Marchetti: There has to be some sort of Karmic connection. Even as a 7-year-old living then in Munich, I had India on my brain and used to spout wisdoms about the country, much to my family’s amusement. I first came to Mumbai in 1981 and then come about seven times in the 1980s in search of spirituality. In the end, it was food that brought me back and has kept me here since 2001 and will keep me here forever.
Guylife - In the years you've been here, how has India's dining trend evolved?
Bill Marchetti: It’s evolved in leaps and bounds. As Indians are travelling more abroad, they come to expect more from us Restaurateurs. Once, when Nirula’s said: ‘This is Pizza’, we had to accept that as the truth. Now we know better.
Guylife - Cooking shows like 'Masterchef Australia' are very successful here. Do you think such programs significantly help in bringing about a culinary evolution?
Bill Marchetti: Exposure is the big change agent. This show is watched more here than in Australia itself. It has opened the public’s eyes to possibilities in foods and food preparation and created a strong aspiration.
Guylife - What's your take on molecular gastronomy and the incredibly scientific new approach cooking has taken over the last few years?
Bill Marchetti: It’s not for everyone, including me. I need to have bone on my meat to enjoy it. But interest in the scientific aspects of cooking can only have a positive lasting effect
Guylife - Spaghetti Kitchen is a major Italian chain restaurant now. Was it always your aim to make such food accessible to more people, or is it still to create exquisite and unique foods people here haven't been exposed to?
Bill Marchetti: Both. It is important for the future to make Italian cuisine accessible (read: non-scary) to a larger audience. But at the same time, there is a large group of knowledgeable and well-travelled Indian and NRI diners that are looking beyond pizza and pasta. I have just launched a (necessarily extensive) new menu across the chain, particularly to satisfy that market. We have added more meats like beef and veal from Bangalore, European-bred pork from Mysore and prawns from Chilka lake.
Guylife - Do you have any plans to expand even further in the country, especially in smaller cities?
Bill Marchetti: Even in smaller cities, the aspirations have been fuelled by the food media. We are soon opening in Chandigarh as a first step, and then we will look at other tier two and three cities.
Guylife - Tell us about your most memorable experience in the kitchen?
Bill Marchetti: When I was 13 years old, I walked into my first commercial kitchen. As soon as I opened the door, I was hit by tsunami of heat, smoke, smells and a cacophony of yells, obscenities and clanging pots. I knew I had arrived home. All chefs are adrenalin junkies. We love the chaos and hope everyday to create order and a smooth service out of it. When it works, it’s memorable, when It doesn’t, even more so, in a painful way.
Guylife - Thus far, what's the most innovative concoction you've whipped up in your chef headquarters?
Bill Marchetti: I am not a great one for what often passes as innovation, like fusion, for example. I have spent my life learning and perfecting my trade. After 44 years, I feel I am still only doing that, but believe that I am finally beginning to scratch the surface.
Guylife - If there was one restaurant in the world you would tip your chef's hat off to, which would it be--both in India and internationally if possible? Who is the one chef in the world you admire?
Bill Marchetti: In India it would be Rahul Akerkar from Indigo Deli. He is the pioneer in free-standing upmarket continental restaurants, and is still going strong. One Restaurant that’s very much on my bucket list is Carnivore in Kenya. All the game meat you can eat, washed down with some fine South African wines.
Guylife - What does your palate make of Indian food and what's your favorite Indian dish?
Bill Marchetti: The reason I am still in India after 11 years is that I love the food here. I get a lot of chance to travel and try out the regional cuisines. Haven’t met an Indian cuisine yet that I didn’t like. But I am still looking for that perfect gosht biryani.
Guylife - How important is the sourcing of ingredients for you? Do you prefer to use fresh, local produce?
Bill Marchetti: Italian cooking is fairly uncomplicated and straightforward, but relies heavily on the quality of its ingredients. I spend more time sourcing and developing sources than on any other topic. When I fist came to India in 2001, rucola was not known or available. On my next trip to Italy, I brought a carton of seeds and gave them to my greengrocer, who in turn contracted farmers to grow them for us. Rucola is indispensable in all Italian restaurants.
Last year, I did the same thing with a range of culinary herbs and got a farmer in the Kangra Valley to set aside two greenhouses for them. I now have fresh basil, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, etc available all year. A friend with a farm in nearby Chattarpur has just seeded a crop of Italian tomatoes for me, so post monsoon, we will eat the first ever organic San Marzano grown in India. Local fresh produce is the cornerstone of Italian cooking. There are plenty of green-thumbed Indian farmers out there to grow the right stuff for me.
Guylife - Would you say health consciousness is more on the rise in India considering its rapid increase in Western countries?
Bill Marchetti: It sure is, and a healthy diet of natural food is is crucial in that. We are forming a new company called From Farm to Table to encourage just that. The idea is to ‘contract farm’ superior quality foods and bring them to market promptly and in sanitary conditions. This goes not only for vegetables, fruits and herbs, but also meats, fish and seafood and dairy products.
Guylife - What has been the biggest challenge when it comes to setting up an Italian restaurant in India?
Bill Marchetti: Rents. We are paying Tokyo prices for properties, but without the necessary Tokyo returns. Not easy!
Guylife - What's the one thing you miss the most, which you can't cook in India?
Bill Marchetti: Game and offal. Though I agree with India’s strict game laws, else there would be no wildlife left in the country.
Guylife - Which one dish and dessert do you suggest our readers try at Spaghetti Kitchen?
Bill Marchetti: Try my version of Tiramisu: rich, scrumptious and very, very boozy... hic!
Guylife - And finally, could you share a simple recipe from your repertoire that you think would be ideal for a bachelor to prepare for a date--preferably one filled with aphrodisiacs?
Bill Marchetti: Women looooove men cooking for them. The quickest way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach. Keep it simple, is my advice and find out beforehand what her dietary restrictions are. Risottos are so damn simple to make, but impress enormously. Together with a salad, they make for a simple, effective meal. And you can tailor risotto to veg, pure veg, chickentarian or full-blown meat eater.
Risotto alla Marinara (Italian Rice with Seafood; serves: 4-8)
Ingredients: 1 liter fish or chicken or veg broth (powdered stock can be substituted), 1/4 cup olive oil, 250g arborio rice, 1 cup dry white wine, salt and ground black pepper, 2 bay leaves, pinch of saffron, 500g mixed fresh seafood (prawns, scallops, squid rings, cooked crayfish and oysters). 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon chopped chives, 1/2 tablespoon chopped parsley, 2 tablespoons grated parmesan, a dash of masala or dry sherry.
Method: Heat the oil in a heavy braising pan, add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the rice and sauté, stirring continuously, for about a minute. Add the white wine and stir until it has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.
Lower the heat and begin ladling fish stock over the rice. Add further ladles only when the previous one has been absorbed.
Add the bay leaves and saffron. When the rice is almost cooked, begin adding the seafood. Be careful not to add the seafood too early, as the heat of the rice will cook it in just a few moments. Prawns and scallops need only to turn opaque to be cooked and the mussels, oysters and crayfish only need warming.
Finish by adjusting the salt and pepper and adding the knob of butter, chives, parsley, Parmesan and Marsala. Serve immediately!
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