"As an architectural photographer who has lived and worked on every continent, I would like to compliment Velia de Angelis on her style of cooking. I might also mention that I had a French mother who took the French cuisine very seriously – so from an early age, I was exposed to exceptionally well prepared food.
Velia has the supreme talent of taking simple ingredients and turning them into magical dishes. One of her creations I enjoyed immensely was based on eggplant, rice, red onions and cherry tomatoes. Her hand with eggplant is especially impressive – since it is a vegetable I usually find soaked in oil as it is dipped in egg and flour and sautéed, and therefore, it becomes greasy and heavy. In addition, many chefs seem to like to marry a heavy dose of tomato paste with the eggplant as well – so then it becomes oily and gooey – not a pleasant combination.
Using the small sweet cherry tomatoes and a fresh herb gives a taste of freshness as well as color to the dish.
On another evening I ordered her soup – she actually puts together many unusual combinations. One I had lately had zuccini, green beans, red sweet onions and soya noodles. Velia does not use a broth for the foundation (as it is many times not homemade and is therefore very salty and with preservatives) – only water and then a touch of olive oil and herbs on the top along with roasted vegetables and a lot of them. The end result is the most delicious puree one could ever imagine. My wife and I can make an entire meal with this soup, an organic salad and some of her unbelievably delicious breads – made with the finest quality yeast and olive oil and unusual ingredients – one of our favorites is anchovies, another is ricotta cheese, another the sweet as honey, cherry tomatoes.
I would say that “all is grist that comes to Velia’s mill”. She has a way of choosing what looks best to her discerning eyes from the fresh food markets every day and creating new tastes as she is inspired. Basically she is a well trained classicist – but she puts a new patina on her dishes.
She creates dishes like a painter paints – by color, by design, by texture - and by her imagination which seems to be always present.
Since tasting some of Velia's latest vegetarian dishes, I have asked myself the question - what qualities make for becoming a superior chef?
I have concluded that a fine chef needs a number of different talents and most of them involve the senses.
It is helpful to have the eye of a painter, the precision of sculpter, the sense of touch of a fine pianist, the sense of smell of a perfume creator, the palette of a wine taster, the curious mind of an inventor and the judgment of a wise person to know which flavors enhance one another.
Deep culinary roots in one country or region of a country give the strong foundation needed to begin the process. The best chefs are analagous to composers - they take a theme and develop it into their own variations. They create new music (dishes) - their cooking is evolutionary. This keeps a menu from remaining static. If a chef is too stuck in a routine, the dishes begin to lack a certain sparkle.
Velia has created a new menu around the theme of printemps - spring. She seeks to use the ingredients of the season and integrate them in new ways. Early spring asparagus is infused into a pasta sauce, pale yellow zuccini flowers with their emerald leaves are stuffed with ricotta cheese and spring herbs, thin light as air slices of eggplant roasted to a golden hue are served as a carpaccio, small baby potatoes are roasted to perfection, drizzled in olive oil and infused into a light summer tinted vegetarian herbal soup, early garden lettuce varieties with their fresh earthy flavors are meshed with fennel and fresh herbs and when the season is right, summer fruits such as slivers of succulent strawberries. The dessert varieties for spring unfold like flowers as each month another colorful succulent fruit comes into season. Fruit tarts based on homemade yogurt with chocolate shavings give the palette another fresh taste.
The pleasure of the eye proceeds the pleasure on the palette - and Velia's surprising combinations are original, fun, light and delicious.
Carol and Alexander Georges
Carol and Alexander Georges