By Meher Castelino
Chef Simone Salvini is a 'delicious' mix of western and Indian culture. He doesn't just rustle up recipes in the kitchen but they are a creative blend of taste, food, spirituality and emotions.
Salvini was born in a family of vegetarians, comprising parents and three brothers in Florence in 1969, therefore it is little wonder he is now a top vegan chef, travelling around the world and has visited Indian cities like Amritsar, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai 10 times. But the most surprising part is that he is an ISKON follower ever since he studied in the Vaishnavi Temple in Florence and read the books of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada whom he admires. "I am a Hindu and also a Christian," he declares simply. His "Ghita Academy" derives its name from the sacred text of Hinduism’s Bhagavad-Gita.
EDUCATION AND CUISINE
Back to his early life Salvini informs, “I studied Literature and Philosophy at the University of Florence and obtained a PhD in Psychology and a major in History. I read the books on the great vegetarians of the past, starting with Pythagoras, Plato, Zarathustra and from there began a beautiful human and professional journey.”
In addition a specialisation in Ayurveda at the Florid College and the NY College in Pisa set him on the vegan path. His cooking skills were honed in the kitchens of master pasta makers, bakers and confectioners. Quite a globetrotter Salvini moved to Ireland, Dublin and Galway worked in vegetarian restaurants. From 2005 to 2011 he was the head Chef at the first and only vegetarian Michelin star restaurant in Europe called ‘Joia’ in Milan.
GALA VEGAN DINNER
A quick interview with him had to be after he had served a sumptuous 5-course repast at The Oberoi’s Vetro restaurant, where Salvini curated a special Gala dinner hosted by the Italian Consul General, Stefania Costanza and Salvatore Ianniello, Director of ENIT. As the celebrity chef of the evening, it took Salvini 24 hours to dream up the menu according to the kitchen setup and using Indian products, like rice, vegetables and spices that he loves, for the Italian recipes that were served with a stylish flare and artistic plating.
The gastronomic journey started with the simple, soft whole-wheat buns that could be dipped in aromatic olive oil and balsamic vinegar. What followed was a Russian Salad, which made many guests quite puzzled with the choice. “The name is only Russian but the recipe is Italian with vegan mayonnaise made from almond milk, olive oil and lemon juice over seasoned vegetables and sprinkled with herbs.”
This was followed by Cream of Yellow Pumpkin corn polenta decorated with caramelised popcorn. Keeping the Italian flavour intact, Salvini’s main course was whole-wheat penne soaked in fresh tomato sauce and home made almond butter. The colourful Chickpea and Hazel nut fritelles with cauliflower and broccoli that followed, were laid artistically on a smooth bed of sauce created from cabbage, coconut milk and olive oil with herb dressing that Salvini revealed was the Indian touch.
Finally the vegan dessert was a work of visual delight as vanilla and saffron cream surrounded a 70 per cent dark chocolate mini bomb and wild berries. For Salvini India is like his second home. “I feel at home in India as I love the culture, the people, the philosophy, the food and the beauty of the country.”
When he is not travelling teaching chefs around the globe he is at the Italian Association of Vegetarians and at the European Institute of Oncology. In 2010 he started classes in natural vegetarianism for the Scuola di Cucina di Alma and 2011 as executive chef at the Organic Academy Academia di Alta Cucina Naturale e Vegetariana. For Salvini the most important quality for a chef is creativity. When asked what would the ‘Simone Salvini’ Indian dish be like if he had to create it, he described, “It will definitely be a mixture of rice, olive oil and the favourite Hing or Asafoetida. I love all the Indian dishes specially the different types of vegetables which are prepared with spices.”
BEST SELLING AUTHOR
Besides cooking Salvini is quite a prolific writer and has authored three books – the best selling La Cucina Vegana in 2012, I Sweets of Health in 2013 and La Mia Life in Green in 2016. His spiritual side emerges in his signature logo, that has a Bee as a symbol, which he explains, “The Bee is a strong symbol of life. Choosing it is auspicious. The eventual disappearance of the bee will mean the extinction of the botanical species and end of mankind.”
COOKING WITH LOVE
After the hectic 5-course menu, which he created for the sit down dinner; Salvini was looking forward to visiting the ISKON temple in Mumbai the following day, before he jetted out in the night on his global trips to teach chefs the spiritual and emotional value of vegan food that not only satisfies hunger but pleasures the soul as he concludes, “In good cooking the first ingredient is always man and the love for men, nature and the planet.”