Arts, Culture & Media

First Ever Pasta Championship Held in Italy

For the Geo Quiz, we are looking for an Italian city that is famous for its cheese.

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You must have sprinkled it on your pasta more than once.

The city is in Italy's Emilia Romagna region, south of Milan, north of Florence.

Parma is the answer to the Geo Quiz. It is the city where the first World Pasta Championship was held. The competition put a spotlight on how Italian food is cooked and consumed outside of Italy.

The first Pasta World Championship was held in Parma, Italy this month. 26 top Italian chefs from restaurants scattered from Kiev to Jakarta took part in the competition.

The assignment was the same for each chef: prepare and present the pasta dish most popular with customers of their respective restaurants around the globe, in 40 minutes or less.

Gabriele Paganelli, a chef based in Toronto, gamely worked the hot pans around his shiny chrome cooking station during the event.

He said he knew Canadians had finally begun to understand Italian food when customers started requesting a dish he could hardly move out the kitchen door at first. It's called 'ravioli burro salvia' or ravioli with butter and sage.

"The first three, four years I couldn't sell it," said Paganelli. He says costumers didn't fully understand the dish. They thought it was too simple. "In Canada, the mentality was: many ingredients, better is the dish."

Most of the chefs in the competition said their customers have grown more sophisticated over the years. Gone are the days when they were forced to entice patrons with bastardized concoctions like spaghetti with meatballs, or horror of horrors, cream-soaked and mushy Fettuccine Alfredo.

But some still feel the pressure to compromise – like Salvatore De Vivo who cooks for Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs in Kiev.

"Many times they ask me to change the recipe to white sauce, creamy sauce," said De Vivo. If my first first chef, my teacher, saw me cooking something with cream, he would kill me! But sometimes, with special guests, I close my eyes and adapt."

Creamy or not, the point of the cook-off was to see what Italian chefs are doing outside of Italy.

"Basically we want to see what dishes are they actually successful cooking … how Italian cuisine is evolving and try to identify who has interpreted the dishes the best according to an Italian jury," said Gianluigi Zenti, head of Academia Barilla, the Parma-based food academy that organized the event.

He said the dishes were judged by appearance, taste, how al dente the pasta was and, most important of all, how Italian it was. "We have a bonus on Italianity," said Zenti.

Not all of the competitors were Italian, though. London-based Yoshi Yamada stood out as he slid around pans of scampi, calamari, clams and mussels.

Yamada is Japanese, but he was trained near Naples. So he jokingly calls himself a 'Japolitano.' He says what won him over to Italian food was the culture.

"I just simply love it," said Yamada. "The culture, the lifestyle, the people. Not only the food, but very slow style, slow life, slow food. It's the atmosphere, the lifestyle, they look after their families.

Yamada's love of Italy clearly shone through to the judges. And full disclosure here, I was one of them. We awarded the 'Japolitano' top prize.

The ultimate proof that you don't have to be Italian to cook good pasta.

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