Solving the problem of nutrition on our planet.
Milan, Italy, is a magnet for chefs this year. Over 60 American top toques are heading overseas, joining counterparts from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe to showcase their native cuisines at Expo Milano 2015, the gigantic world’s fair that is expected to draw 20 million visitors during its six month run, May 1st to October 31st. The theme of Expo, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” is designed to encourage a global dialogue on the future of our food system, given the need to feed an estimated nine billion people 2050. Over 145 participating nations and organizations have built an architectural fantasia of pavilions filled with state-of-the-art exhibits that explore culinary cultures, increase awareness of ways to achieve healthy, sustainable food, and tempt visitors to sample indigenous fare. Parades, music, and dance performances along the Decumano, Expo’s mile long center pedestrian walkway, add a festive air and a welcome respite for foot-weary fair-goers.
The USA Pavilion, helmed by International Culinary Center’s Dorothy Cann Hamilton, President, and The James Beard Foundation’s Mitchell Davis, Chief Creative Officer, along with industry and government partners and an advisory council of chefs, is a multistory structure with interactive films and videos that capture America’s culinary diversity and innovative technical expertise. A flourishing 9,250 square foot vertical farm, growing 42 varieties of vegetables, grains, and herbs, runs the length of the pavilion; the Great American Foodscape on the ground floor presents a whirlwind tour of the country’s foodways; and rooftop terrace talks engage attendees with celebrity guests ranging from pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini to NASA’s General Charles F. Bolden, highlighting how earth observation activities benefit life on the planet. Michelle Obama was on the guest list in June, accompanied by a Presidential Delegation that included chefs Mario Batali and Carla Hall.
After checking out the exhibits, visitors flock to Food Truck Nation behind the Pavilion, one of two Expo venues dedicated to American cuisine. Six custom built Fiat Ducato trucks, outfitted with Electrolux kitchens offer an array of regional street foods: hot dogs, Black Angus burgers, barbecue, and New England lobster rolls , made with ingredients imported from the States. The most popular dessert? “La classica cheesecake newyorkese con formaggio Philadelphia.” Chocolate chip cookies, brownies, apple pie, and chocolate cake are also among the favorites, all sourced from Sweet Street Desserts, based in Reading, PA.
Expo attendees and Milanese culinary aficionados seeking a more cutting edge dining experience can book dinner at the pop-up James Beard American Restaurant (JBAR) at Seven Stars Galleria, not on the fair grounds, but in the middle of Milan in the penthouse of an elegant 19th century glass domed shopping arcade, La Galleria Vittorio Emanuele 11, flanked by the city’s famous Duomo and La Scala Opera. Here, a rotating cadre of renowned guest chefs take over the kitchen for two nights, cooking five-course prix-fixe dinners, paired with fine wines, for 50 to 60 guests. Mark Ladner and Brooks Headley of Del Posto in New York kicked off the program, with follow-ups scheduled by colleagues across the nation from Florida (Norman Van Aken) to Alaska (Kirsten and Mandy Dixon), Boston’s Barbara Lynch, John Besh from New Orleans, and the California trio of Mary Sue Milliken, Traci Des Jardins, and Emily Luchetti. For her dessert, Luchetti sought out local seasonal produce topping shortcake with roasted apricots, strawberries, and mascarpone cream, made with half whipped cream and half mascarpone.
In June, Lenny Russo of Heartland in St Paul and Sean Sherman of the Sioux Chef catering in Minneapolis collaborated on an authentic Native American menu. Sherman managed to bring along some “ancient pantry” ingredients unavailable in Italy, including pemmican and corn-wildflower honey for sorbet, served with burnt maple squash, sweet bean cake, glazed seeds, and cracked corn.
Maricel Presilla, Zafra, New Jersey, channeled chocolate at a dinner that included cocoa in every course (see menu). At a local market, Presilla was able to purchase fresh green plantains, yuca, and peppers, and taught the resident chef at JBAR, Carlo Zarri, how to work with the new ingredients. “It was a very intense experience,” she admits, “but worth it because of what it meant for me...to represent the U.S. and Latin America.” The restaurant also stages Thanksgiving feasts, complete with turkey and trimmings, and every Sunday hosts a lavish brunch created by Evan Hanczor, chef/partner at Egg in Brooklyn: unlimited Mimosas, a basket of biscuits, fruit scones, and coffee cake; French toast and pancakes; a selection of savory entrees including shrimp and grits and hash; and seasonal sides.
Davis has also invited noted Italian chefs like the Michelin three star Massimo Bottura from Modena to interpret American food at JBAR, while American chefs are cooking with Italian brethren at Identita Expo, the venue at the fair for the avant guarde gastronomic group Identita Golose. Many of the participants are involved in an off-site project initiated by Bottura, the Refettorio Ambrosiano, a canteen providing dinner for the needy with food left over from Expo food outlets.
Golose representatives have calculated that some 150,000 meals are served at Expo daily, and that doesn’t take into account the roving gelato trucks, the kiosks selling individual products like handmade panettone, or the countless demonstrations and tastings available at individual pavilions The show kitchen in the Belgian Pavilion welcomes master chocolatiers like Ilsa Wilmots from Godiva, and David Deyaert of Neuhaus, who produced elaborate sculptures for an enthusiastic audience. At the chocolate studio in the Swiss Pavilion visitors can create their own chocolate bar. The Future of Food District includes an enormous, immaculate, supermarket with robots and interactive screens that disseminate information with the wave of a hand, predicting how food will be distributed and prepared in the future. The project is the vision of Carlo Ratti, Director of the SENSEable City Lab at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In addition to the pavilions of individual countries and organizations like the United Nations and Slow Food, clusters devoted to specific food groups such as spices, rice, coffee, and cocoa, document the culture and history of countries where those foods are cultivated. The Cocoa and Chocolate Cluster, conceived and operated by Eurochcolate, tells the story of cocoa, bean to bar, in six countries. A large open air theater provides a platform for talks and demos, while the adjacent Italian Chocolate Districts building houses a vast selection of chocolates from various Italian regional chocolatiers, and a dozen street stands, miniature “chocostores” sell brands like Baci Perugina, Caffarel, Domori, Lindt, and Pernigotti.
With limitless possibilities, what to see and where to eat at Expo requires some advance preparation. There is bountiful information on websites like www.expo2015.org, and usapavilion2015.net as well as on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Identitagolose.com has some interesting suggestions for where to eat in Milan and at the fair, posted in articles written by local Italian food writers. The McDonald’s at Expo is not on the list.