Barilla Pasta World Championships 2017: The search for the world’s best pasta chef

Barilla Pasta World Championships 2017: The search for the world’s best pasta chef

by Ollie Lloyd 21 September 2017

The Barilla Pasta World Championships are on the horizon – we take a look at the UK’s entrant and delve behind the scenes of Academia Barilla’s pasta celebration.

Ollie is the founder of Great British Chefs.

Ollie is the founder of Great British Chefs.

The beauty of Italian food lies in its simplicity, and nothing symbolises this quite like pasta. Consider the simplicity of pasta itself – with the briefest of time in boiling salted water, it becomes an incredible vehicle for a huge range of dishes. Not necessarily just Italian classics like Spaghetti alla carbonara and Pasta amatriciana, but even more adventurous combinations, like Leyla Kazim’s Halloumi pasta with lemon and mint.

If you find yourself tucking into a plate of pasta anywhere in the world, there’s a pretty good chance that it has been made by Barilla – the family has been making pasta since 1877, and the Barilla name has been a hallmark for top quality pasta ever since. Not only are they the largest pasta producer in the world today, they’re also a bastion for the safeguarding of Italian food culture. In 2004, the family set up Academia Barilla – a project devoted to celebrating and promoting said culture.

A few years later in 2011, Barilla held the first ever World Pasta Championships, bringing talented young chefs together from all over the world to compete. Last year, I was lucky enough to be one of the judges and was amazed by the range of dishes that were presented by the chefs. It was clear that pasta changes as it travels and is adapted by different cuisines. While different chefs brought elements to their dishes that were unexpected (examples included curry powder and wasabi), they all treated the pasta with great respect. This year’s competition is the sixth of its kind, and takes place from the 26 to 28 September in Milan and Parma.

Twenty of the world’s brightest cheffing talents are ready and eager to show what they can do in this year’s competition, including one Aniello Da Muro – the UK’s entrant this year. Aniello was born in Naples but has worked in the UK for some years now, cooking at Hibiscus with Claude Bosi before moving to the The Arts Club in London’s Mayfair. The dish that solidified his place in the final twenty is a classic penne alla marinara – a simple, delicious dish made with tomatoes, olives and anchovies – and a speciality of Aniello’s hometown.

‘Traditional ‘al dente’ pasta is unlikely to go down well with English tastes,’ says Aniello. If we serve it at the restaurant people think it is undercooked. In order to work, most restaurant owners adapt to local tastes, which means the end product is a dish which is far removed from what we are used to eating in Italy. In any case, my approach is to apply that touch of Italian, Mediterranean style, to combine the needs of the local consumer with tradition. So far the results have been good.’

Over the first two days of the competition, the twenty hopefuls will each display their vision of the future of pasta, after which an esteemed panel of judges – including the likes of Lorenzo Cogo and Caterina Ceraudo – will choose ten to advance to the final challenge. Scores aren’t just based on the taste of their dish, but also on their understanding of the ingredients and the story they are telling. Aniello's entry is named 'Rocks and the Sea Linguine' – an homage to his hometown of Procida containing mussels, clams, red mullet in a tomato and chilli sauce. The finalists will then face a mystery box challenge, where they are charged with reinventing a classic pasta dish in their own unique style.

Joining Aniello will be nineteen other chefs from other countries including China, Japan, Israel, Sweden and Turkey, among many others. And when it comes to innovation, the entrants aren't afraid to push boundaries – Canadian Connor Gabott plans to cook bucatini in a Canadian wild boar Neapolitan ragù, while Romanian George Adrian Sisiu is keeping the details of his dish closer to his chest, simply titling it 'Bio Spaghetti Champion'.

China probably isn't the first place you think of when seeking out the world's best pasta, but Beijing-based Leon Li is looking to change that. Italian cuisine is on the rise in China – particularly amongst younger generations – and Leon's 'Tepid Rigatoni with a Scampi Ceviche' seeks to build bridges between eastern and western cuisine.

Between the rounds of cooking, Barilla holds talks and demonstrations from some of Italy’s most esteemed chefs, making the whole event a celebration of pasta and Italian cuisine. Watch this space to see how Aniello does and who takes home the crown of the World’s Best Pasta Chef 2017 – we’ll be on the ground in Milan and Parma so give us a follow on Instagram and Twitter for live updates when the competition starts!