It’s rare that one can experience genuine artistry first hand, but with Chef Mauro Ferrari’s new menu at the Hyatt Regency’s Focaccia Restaurant in Chennai, you can indulge all your senses in a thorough understanding of that word. Chef Mauro personifies the key ingredients of artistry: creativity, flair, virtuosity, finesse, inspiration, and a passion that presents itself in the aromas, hues, textures, and flavors of his dishes. And with the open kitchen at Focaccia, you can even share in the sounds—the hiss and crackle and chatter and sizzle—of the preparation of your food.
Sarah and I had enjoyed Il Grande Pranzo Saturday brunch at Focaccia on a few occasions, but we hadn’t managed an evening dinner to sample the regular menu, which Chef had assured us was a completely different experience since the dishes are more unique and of course prepared to order. With the arrival of the new dinner menu, we knew it was time to correct our omission.
Chef greeted us with a hearty “Caio” and asked if we were ready. Once we had taken a first sip of a delightful new Prosecco made here in India, we assured him we were, indeed. Then began a sequence of carefully orchestrated dishes, starting with carpaccio di branzino, aranciata, cipolotto, mandorle tostate—seabass carpaccio with orange, spring onion, and toasted almond flakes. Sarah had watched Chef delicately slicing the raw seabass and it was perfectly done, oh so creamy and sweet, slightly “cooked” (denatured) by the light acid of the oranges, with the almond flakes creating the perfect foil of nutty flavor and light crunch. Excellent balance and a fabulous start reflecting Chef Mauro’s delicate touch and his focus on simplicity and subtlety.
Next, we were served the tortino di porri e capesante, apesante scottate, cappuccino ai gamberi, a tart of Atlantic salmon and leeks, with a pan-fried scallop, and shrimps cappuccino. Oh my, where to begin? The scallop was the creamiest, most subtly flavored we have eaten, prepared so gently with barely any challenge to the teeth, while the shrimp cappuccino, rather like a sophisticated and multilayered shrimp toast, complimented the scallop as both were united with a tiny dollop of a perfectly whipped zabaione.
How follow that? Try a millefoglie di parmegiano, flan di zucchini al tartufo, crema di carote e formaggio di capra—an airy flan of zucchini and truffle set off against a perfect wash of creamy carrot-infused goat cheese sauced with the texture of silk and just the perfect whisper of tang from the cheese, all accompanied by the crispy parmesan pastries. Again, a trio of surprising yet complimentary—and quietly remarkable—flavors and textures.
“Marvelous!” Sarah told Chef. “How do you do it?”
“It’s simple. Easy,” he responded. “Well, for me, since I’ve known and loved all these perfect ingredients of my home since I decided to become a chef at age ten.”
Of course, as with any artistic production, there needs to be an easing of the dramatic progression, a relaxing of the forward motion, so as not to overwhelm, and Chef Mauro, with his deft touch, knew just when to ease back a bit. Time to cue up a simple, creamy, burrata with a finely diced panzanella salad led by the aromatic scent of fresh basil. Chef sources the cheese from a farm near Bangalore and feels it is as good as it gets. With its velvety mouthfeel and rich, yet quiet flavor, we agreed.
Having taken a bit of a respite, and with our four appetizers savored and noted, it was time to move on to the pasta. Would Chef Mauro be able to outshine his appetizers?
Since we had never heard of casoncelli, Sarah and I were immediately fascinated as we watched Chef tenderly plate the pasta verdi all’aragosta, fonduta di porri. Looking like bow tie pasta, yet plumped and filled, like ravioli, with a sweet morsel of lobster, casoncelli may have become our new favorite pasta. Of course, the leek parmesan fondue artistically drizzled over the casoncelli, rounded out the dish, and created another new taste and texture experience for us.
Of course, no visit to Focaccia would be complete without Chef’s famous risotto. This time, he regaled us with a new approach, the risotto ai funghi e fonduta al tartufo—mushroom risotto with a white truffle cheese fondue. As usual, Chef Mauro’s touch with this often-cantankerous dish was spot on, stirred to the perfect hint of al dente, and showcasing the dark, smoky flavor of the mushrooms. And while the white truffle fondue tasted exquisite, we both found that we might have reached our decadence limit and felt it may have overpowered the simplicity of the risotto. No doubt we’ll try this one again without first indulging in five other opulent dishes first.
Now, though, with the preliminaries of apps and pastas out of the way, it was time for the serious dishes and Chef proved up to the task. First, lombo d’agnello, patate affumicate, salsa alla mente, a perfectly delicate lamb tenderloin with smoked potatoes and mint sauce. Sarah swooned over the tiny potatoes, with their crispy skin harboring just an echo of smokiness—she usually dislikes smoke flavor and can sniff out fake, bottled smoke a kilometer away—yielding to a creamy, nutty, interior. Who knew taters could taste like this. Oh, and yes, the lamb was succulent and melt-in-your-mouth, nicely set off by the mint sauce that didn’t overpower as is often the case. Another win for Chef.
And finally—well, before dessert—chef delighted us with a branzino avvolto nelle zucchini, zabaione al Pomodoro, verdure saltate, seabass wrapped in zucchini slices so thin we could have read the menu through them, accompanied by fresh asparagus and carrots, with a tomato sabayon to complete the dish. The zucchini served as perfect foil to lighten the rich, buttery natural flavor of the seabass, ending our progress through Chef’s culinary work of art on a high note.
But wait, Chef insisted, there’s more! At least two desserts we had to try, didn’t we? Sure, tell us about them, I agreed, while Sarah shook her head. As Chef walked us through his descriptions, he had me at the combination of soft hot chocolate with a lemon curd core in his tortino caldo al cioccolato cuore al limone, and who can resist our favorite tiramisu that we always love at the Saturday Il Grande Pranzo.
“No, no, not the same,” Chef Mauro chided Sarah’s demurral. “This is the fully genuine tiramisu cake, so you must try it.” Sarah was still unsure so I stepped up and offered to eat it she didn’t have room. My noble sacrifice proved worth it as the iconic Italian dessert was fluffier and yet more intense in its flavors of espresso and liqueur than the creamier brunch version. Well played, Chef!
Turning to my own serving of the tortino, I figured I knew every possible combination of chocolate dessert flavors, but I had to admit the foil of the molten chocolate center and the nugget of lemon curd it so caressingly surrounded, brought me a unique sensory experience with the tartness of the lemon tugging against the dark cocoa flavor. Wow!
Basta! Abbiamo finito! Enough!
All in all, a delightful evening for all our senses, as Sarah and I watched Chef Mauro carefully plating each of our dishes—highlighted by colorful edible flowers—and then enjoyed hearing so much of his history and passion for his native Milan and beloved Tuscany, while savoring the evident love he pours into all his creations. Mille grazie, Chef!
Simplicity, subtlety, and passion. Don’t miss Chef Mauro’s new menu and his love for his native Italian cuisine at Focaccia!
Focaccia is a fine dine Italian restaurant in an elegant setting and an open kitchen, so you can see your food being prepared for you right before your eyes. Table reservations are recommended Friday to Sundays.
HYATT REGENCY CHENNAI
365 Anna Salai, Teynampet, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600018, India
Tel: +91 44 61001234
Mob: +91 9176633310