|Annamaria Forgione at the new Fire and Ice
When she was eight, Annamaria Forgione lived with her aunt in a tiny village near Venice called Vicenza. “Aunt Laura kept a busy kitchen. She would cook an Italian dish called Baccala Alla Vicentina, which was cod fish cooked for 36 hours with milk and olive oil. She would put it on the stove early morning and stay awake through the night and because she would often doze off, it was my duty to keep watch. So I would take a flat spoon and dip it in to check if the sauce was not sticking to the base of the pan, without stirring, as that would break the fish,” says the chef-cum-restaurateur of Fire and Ice.
Now at 61, Anna, as she is called by family and friends, displays the qualities imbibed during childhood — often getting up to check if the chefs at her newly-opened restaurant at 209 Sarat Bose Road (next to Marco Polo) have cooked the prawns “just right” or if the spaghetti is al dente that is to say, “firm with each bite”.
While most her age would call it a day, Anna has only begun to expand her pizzeria, with her third outlet (the first opened in Kathmandu in 1995 and the second in Calcutta on Russel Street in 2005) opening doors on Saturday. But why pick Calcutta over Kathmandu? “My heart belongs to Calcutta,” she says, “It’s been eight years here and the people are warm and emotional just like us Italians.”
Look around the 58-seater piccolo, which means ‘small’ in Italian, and you will see her stamp on little things. Like a black-and-white photograph of Sophia Loren, the gorgeous Italian actress who hails from Napoli, the same city as Anna. Or, the open bar that’s still waiting for a liquor licence but serves up fragrant Iced Teas and flavoured Mojitos. Or a table for four in the portico outside because Italians love their cigars!
Turn to the menu and you’ll spot the familiar best-sellers. Funghi Pizza topped with tomato, fresh mushrooms and mozzarella that still arrives every afternoon from a factory in Sonarpur. “The cheese is the secret really, because everybody else uses processed cheese, which not only tastes unnatural but is also fatty,” she says.
In the non-veg section, the Fire of Bengal, “the Italian version of luchi and mangsho”, is as fiery as her grey eyes! The menu has been kept to one page, with only two new vegetarian items, the Pizza Alle Verdure Miste, topped with broccoli, asparagus, bell peppers, onions and olives, and Margherita Bianca, which has the three colours of the Italian flag, white bechamel sauce and mozzarella, red tomato and green broccoli.
Why not more? “Because ingredients are hard to come by in Calcutta,” explains the restaurateur. Like fresh rosemary sprigs she went around town looking for to place on each table but found none. Or the reason why the salami for the Pepperoni Pizza is couriered in from Kathmandu.
For dessert, there’s Tiramisu, Lemon Meringue Pie and Ice Cream, and Crepes with Nutella. For the soul, there’s music by the Venetian violinist Vivaldi, because in Italy “life is meaningless without a good plate of a little something and some music”.
Open from 11am to 10.30pm, a two-course meal for two would cost around Rs 900 (plus taxes).