Salone del Gusto

About three or so weeks ago, I decided on a whim, and with the encouragement of several industry people, that going to the Salone del Gusto in Turin would be a brilliant idea. A day later, while packing my bags for my trip to Louisiana, I had some time to relax my brain. That was the first moment I realized I must be insane. I had purchased a ticket to Europe in the frenzy of the moment to spend five days in Turin, Italy. Of course, since I hadn’t been to Paris in a few years, I couldn’t go all the way to Europe without spending time in Paris with my friends. So, when I bought that ticket, I added on two weeks to spend time in my favorite city. Thankfully a friend was coming to visit me in mid-November, or I would have purchased a ticket for two months.
I went to Louisiana, and while I kept having to repeat to others my plans for the trip to Europe, I think it was more of a reason for me to realize that I had really and truly bought the ticket, and that I was really and truly going to Europe only one week after returning from Louisiana to New York. And, yes, I was/am insane.
The morning after I returned from Louisiana, I had a visitor from Seattle for the weekend. We had a wonderful weekend, he left on Sunday, I worked all day Monday and Tuesday, and left on Wednesday evening, working all day until I was to leave to the airport.
After a long, loud plane ride to Paris (layover), I was greeted by playful customs officers who welcomed me to Paris and sent me on my way to Turin. I needed that. I felt happy to be back in the city (albeit airport) that I called home and that I left behind four years ago.
Next stop Turin. Now please keep in mind that I do not speak Italian. I did not know anyone really well in Turin, nor did I even really know much about the city of Turin, aside from that the Olympics were held there. Why did I buy this ticket again? Originally, the offer was too good to refuse. An inexpensive hotel where all the chefs were staying, where we had complimentary breakfast and transportation to the expo, and where we would just have so much fun. Rule # 1: Don’t be naive. It’s unfortunate, but when it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
I arrived at the airport, found a taxi, called the hotel since none of the taxi drivers neither knew where it was nor that it even existed, and was on my way. As we drove around looking for the hotel, asking for directions, and speaking in broken English and Italian, passing by a few prostitutes, I tried to relax and believe that everything would work out. We finally arrived, and a lovely gentleman escorted me from the taxi to the desk. I will spare you the unfortunate details of why I would not stay longer than absolutely necessary in Turin, but will fill you in instead on the positive notes of this part of my trip.
After resting up a bit that evening, the next morning I would be on my way to the Salone del Gusto. A Prince indeed (indeed), the manager was so kind as to offer a very quick tour of the center of Turin en route to the Lingotto where the Salone was held. About an hour later, I was well-informed on the history of Turin, the Savoias, and Turin’s connection with Columbus, France and China. A short stop for a rich and steamy hot chocolate at Caffé Mulafsano (Piazza Castello, 15 – 10123 – tel. 011.547.990 – fax. Dating back to the 2nd half of the 19th century, it was the exclusive hangout of royal dignitaries, artists, and those in the film and theatre industries. It has also appeared in films and is often used as a backdrop for fashion shoots.
A few moments of feeling like a princess, and it was off to the Salone. Held in the former FIAT warehouse, the actual structure is immense. Now essentially for exhibits and shopping, it is located in the southeastern part of Turin. For future events there, I suggest grabbing a room at Le Meridien, which is located right next door.
If you’re a food-lover whether in the industry or not, I suggest you look into next year’s Salone del Gusto, especially if you speak Italian. I speak English, French and a bit of Spanish, so one would think that I’d understand a bit. Not really a smidgen, actually. I did try to put in a few words here and there, but I do wish I would have learned a few more before just traipsing over there like a carefree little butterfly without much of a clue. Sheesh. Funny, though, when I went to buy my first croissant in Paris this time, I ended up helping translate for an Italian couple who wanted cheese in their bread. Guess I ended up picking up more than I thought.
Ahhhh the Salone. Congratulations on this year’s 10th anniversary. I’m sure the Salone peeps are quite proud. As well they should be. It was beautiful, food- and fun-filled, and a tribute to the world’s amazingly diverse and delicious flavors. Meats, cheeses, wines, chocolates, beers, breads, etc. were highlighted creating an amazingly and gloriously intense marketplace. I managed to briefly check out Terra Madre – a meeting of food communities organized by the Ministry of Agricultureal Food and Forestry Policies, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Cooperation for Development, the Region of Piedmont, the City of Turin, Slow Food, Coldiretti Piemonte, and Fondazione CRT – and listen in on a discussion regarding the food regions of the United States. It is amazing to see the intense passion of food and its future in our world from the many people I’ve met or listened to in the past couple of months. With everyone collaborating, one would think that a major culinary revolution was peaking. Keep your eyes open for this one.
Here are a few of my food highlights from the Salone

Wine – Barbera d’Asti Superiore Croutin ’99 (Franco e Mario Scrimaglio – Nizza Monferrato of Piedmont)
Wine – Hermitage Les Miaux ’01(Maison Ferraton & Père Fils – Tain L’Hermitage – France)
Meat – Prosciutto from San Daniele
Chocolate – Domori
Beer – Le Baladin
Birrificio Italiano
Gelati and Sorbetti – La Via Lattea (Beer sorbetti, Carrot sorbetti, Bufalo Mozzarella gelati)

Though I decided to cut my stay in Turin short, I must thank Renato from Hotel Giglio and Roberto Santi of Rai TV for contributing to my enjoyment of Turin. Your warmth and history lessons will not be forgotten.
Saturday evening, my last in Turin before heading to Paris, was spent at a magical spot in Rivoli. A friend and I made reservations for dinner at Combal.Zero, to experience Chef Davide Scabin’s culinary playground. A nice ride from Turin, we arrived at Castello Di Rivoli, the former Savoy castle, now a museum.
Talk about feeling like a princess. If only I’d known to wear my glass slippers.
I must say in advance that this was the absolute highlight of my stay in Turin. It had been a long two-day journey, and now I could let my self be transported to another universe. That’s exactly what Combal.Zero is, if you play your cards right. A beautiful glassed-in room off the main grounds, with a view of the surrounding castle. Elegant and tasteful with a soft interior. Attentive and professional staff. Glamorously modern dishes with traditional flavors. All of this without being pretentious, stuffy or unwelcoming. Playful, offering a different view into what is on your plate as well as who you are, what you have become, how you see life, and what sensations you expect to experience not only during this meal, but as an adult human in general. Ever thought you could get all of that out of one meal? Take a trip to Rivoli.
The menu is made up of appetizers, fixed-price tasting menus, and a la carte dishes ranging from ‘normal’ to ‘huh?’. Our menu consisted of 15, that’s right fifteen, small courses. We didn’t think we could do it either, but we did. And even after snacking all day at the Salone, we felt content… happy… alive. (As opposed to bloated and sleepy.) Here are a handful:

1. Green Bean Soup in a tall plastic cylinder corked with a closed styrofoam cup containing croutons and cheese. Lift out the cup, pour the contents into the cylinder, and enjoy.
2. Ham Book. Signature book-ended book-like plastic container holding two rows of prosciutto and one row of melon gelée.
3. Two Watermelon squares topped with Bottarga. Close your eyes and think of the sea. You are there.
4. The piece de résistance: Cyber Egg. Egg Yolk enveloped in Caviar bubbled in plastic wrap, served with a side of Vodka and a scalpel. Take the scalpel and slit the two layers of plastic wrap. Pop the interior of the bubble into your mouth and take a shot of Vodka. Wow!
5. Guinea Hen with Carpaccio of Pineapple sprinkled with Saffron. Served with an Italian Mojito prepared with Basil, Red Pepper and Pine Nuts.
6. The ‘Piola’ Kit: Six tiny jars filled with: Fresh Cheese with Pesto; Peppers with Anchovy Sauce; Cotechino (pork sausage), Mashed Potatoes, and Black Truffles; Agnolotto (stuffed pasta) with Consommé; Boiled Beef; and Panna Cotta. Don’t forget the vile of red wine, and the deck of playing cards.
7. Balloon arrives trailing a pouch of Smarties and a bubble of Campari. Again, pop the contents of the bubble into your mouth. Watch out for this one. Without the slits, the pop seems more powerful. I apparently am an amateur when it comes to this one. Ouch.

Taste. Pleasure. Emotion. Experience. Remembrance. Combal.Zero exudes these and so much more. Thank you Chef Scabin for one of the most memorable ‘meals’ of my life.

Though I wish it could have started off a bit better, I’m glad I had the Turin experience, and it ended in the best way possible. I guess it just gives me a good reason to go back again and see what happens next time.

Next stop… Paris… Stay tuned.

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