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Chef Maximiliano Cotilli,or Max,epitomises Italian chefs-he has a big,warm handshake,a friendly smile,and undeniable passion for what he does.

Stella at the Leela is hosting a month-long Tuscan food festival

Chef Maximiliano Cotilli,or Max,epitomises Italian chefs — he has a big,warm handshake,a friendly smile,and undeniable passion for what he does. He is one of the lucky few who always knew what he wanted to do; at 17 he spent four months in Sicily working in kitchens and discovering regional Italian food. “I grew up in a coastal village near Rome,where everybody ate only seafood – meat was considered poor man’s food,” he laughs. He has traveled around Italy and regularly reads about regional food to expand his knowledge; his menu at Stella thus evenly reflects several regions of Italy.

“Tuscan food,” he says,“is rustic and involves mainly fresh vegetables and several soups. While soups are one of the most important dishes in Tuscan food,we’ve limited it to a few for this promotion and created a well balanced menu.” The soup we tried was a Ribbollita which is normally a hearty stew of vegetables,beans and bread. This one was layered,with a layer of toasted bread sandwiched by a paste of assorted green vegetables and served in a glass. This is finally topped off with some vegetable broth,and re-filled every time the soup gets too thick. Soup,however,wouldn’t really be the ideal thing to describe this dish that is more a complex layered starter than our traditional perception of soup.

Another interesting dish was the sea bass,made all’acqua cotta,which literally translates to cooked water (or apparently in some regions referred to as muddy water). It is one of the simplest dishes — poached sea bass with a green vegetable paste on top served with sea bass broth,mixed vegetables and olive. As the chef explains,the dish is simply “created out of nothing”,and given that it enhances the flavour of the sea bass,we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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We would also recommend the Tiger prawns wrapped in lard,tomatoes and bread chilled soup which has a strip of rolled prawn meat wrapped around lard that is unique and divine. We are confident that the Panzanella would be excellent too,although this isn’t a salad that is exclusive to Tuscany.

Chef tries as much as possible to incorporate local ingredients wherever he is (he spent 10 years in various restaurants in London as well),if the quality is good enough. “As much as possible,I try being eco-friendly and do not like importing anything I absolutely cannot do without — such as balsamic vinegar or Parmagiano cheese.” For a person who likes simple,local food,it is surprising to learn that he doesn’t think authenticity is the most important thing. “I like giving my own twist while yet retaining the soul of a dish.” However,he’s dismissive of molecular gastronomy as something that will pass.

Chef Cotilli has always wanted to run a fine dining restaurant,and is humbly confident that he would get one Michelin star if Stella were back in London. From what we’ve seen,he just might.

First published on: 11-04-2009 at 02:37:13 am
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