Local chef Mark Reilly takes a gastronomic trip to Italy, bringing a slice of Italian cuisine back home to Northern Ireland…
For some of the world’s greatest chefs, no amount of culinary expertise can compare to the inspiration that is gained from travelling the world. The authentic delights of local cuisine provide a connection to the destination like no other, which is why culinary trailblazers constantly seek opportunities to hone their craft and bring life to their creations.
Homegrown pizzeria brand, Little Wing, has its roots firmly planted in traditional Italian style cooking. Since opening its doors in 2009, Little Wing’s philosophy has been focused on bringing authentic, Naples-style pizza to Northern Ireland. They take pride in the quality of their ingredients, right down to their perfect blend of Italian flour. However, it was the ripe tomatoes of Parma, Italy, tasted by executive chef, Mark Reilly that led him on this particular Italian venture.
It goes without saying that a trip to Italy is a feast for the senses, with great Italian food in abundance. However, whilst sampling fine Italian fare was an added perk of the trip, this visit was very much one of discovery and education. Visiting the home of Greci Prontofresco sauces, the exact sauce used on Little Wing pizzas; dining in an authentic Italian restaurant dating back to 1928, and a visit to a local Parmigiano Reggiano factory were just a few of the unforgettable experiences Mark enjoyed on his travels.
Commenting on the experience, Mark says there was something very special about following the produce from farm to fork: “I have stood in the fields where Prontofresco’s tomatoes are harvested; tasted tomatoes straight from the crop; and followed their journey right through the production line.
“Meeting the farmers, chefs and suppliers involved in their production really makes you think about the integrity of the ingredients, and it was clear to see that the emphasis in this factory is on quality rather than mass production.”
An experience at the Parmigiano Reggiano factory was equally educational. Led by owner, Achille Ghisoni, Mark and his group were taken through the history and production methods of what has been regarded for centuries as ‘the king of cheeses’, before sampling the unique textures and flavours of a 36-month matured cheese for themselves.
But for Mark, the highlight of the trip was undoubtedly the four-hour chef demonstration with pizza master, Gianfranco. Not only did the group have the opportunity to taste dozens of products and recipes, but this part of the trip offered a unique opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge from a true pizza master.
“The two things that stood out in Gianfranco’s cooking were the use of fresh ingredients and a creative approach to using a range of sauces as an alternative to the conventional tomato pizza sauce,” says Mark. His cooking style combined traditional Italian cooking with new trends that are only starting to become popular outside Italy.”
“His passion for creating the very best pizzas was infectious and inspiring. I’m excited to bring this newfound knowledge back home; perhaps you might see something a little different popping up on a Little Wing menu soon.”