A toddler wanders along the grass racetrack, a cone of basil gelato half-forgotten in one hand. A young couple stands, hands folded together, quietly exchanging opinions on the small tray of Neapolitan pastries set on the counter before them. The smell of herbs and spices - fresh, pungent rosemary, fried garlic, basil, sage and even a hint of curry - fills the warm spring afternoon air, encouraging visitors to wander hungrily from one stall to the next lest they miss something delightful.
Welcome to the third annual Taste of Milano, held for the first time in spring, from 17 May - 20 May. Set up around the half circle of the Ippodromo di Milano, Milan's municipal horse racetrack, the open-air event brings together both established and up-and-coming chefs from restaurants all over the city, providing visitors an economically alternative route to tasting some of the finest cuisine Milan has to offer. The two previous editions of the event were held in September, drawing more than 30,000 visitors.
This year, notes the event's press liaison Gloria Ceresa, there is an attempt to increase those numbers, moving the festival up to May. 'The idea was to generate the kind of success a similar food festival has had in London, where it is one of the city's key springtime events. The organisers want to give the Milanese public a chance to spend a day outside, surrounded by green, enjoying superior cuisine. What better way to shake off the cold, gray days of winter'? At heart, the event is a giant, open-air gourmet picnic.
Each individual chef's stand offers five or six dishes, as well as an extra, special dish for children.
But forget hot dogs, hamburgers and potato chips. Taste of Milano proffers economically lean haute cuisine, allowing visitors to try complex and unusual culinary creations that can cost four or five times as much when ordered in the restaurant. The dishes are expressive of the best modern Italian cuisine has to offer.
Chef Matteo Torretta from the Al V Piano restaurant presented fried shrimp and ginger cakes with a sauce made of yogurt, cucumber and fresh sprouts, as well as a triple-fired suckling ham on a bed of zucchini and mint foam. Chef Matias Perdomo (Al Pont de Ferr) offered beef and foie gras sashimi with bearnaise sauce and umeboshi, then lamb from the Pyrenees accompanied by an eggplant caponata. Guest chef for the event was Atul Kocchar, a chef who has earned two Michelin stars with his London eatery Benares, considered among the finest Indian restaurants in England. Kocchar's offerings included vegetarian potato pies with tomato and spiced chutney sauce, as well as a small, Goa-style beefsteak with spices, bearnaise sauce and chili pepper. Each chef's stand offers a special children's dish as well.
These are generally presented with whimsical names like Libertyburger (a veal hamburger with spinach, grana padano cheese and bacon by chef Andrea Provenzani) or Memories of a salami sandwich (chef Torretta's nouvelle-cuisine take on a traditional Italian children's lunch meal), and are a deliberate, declared attempt to encourage younger diners to try something new and unusual out on their inexperienced taste buds.
Ticket prices range from a 10-Euro student's day pass to a 75-euro evening food and wine pass. Family tickets cost 45 Euros (two adults and two children ages 5-13). Children under five years can attend the event for free. Ticket prices provide entrance to Taste of Milano and free participation in any of various workshops, presentations and discussions held around the complex. Inside the event, chef and restaurant stands sell individual dishes for between 4 and 6 Euros each.
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