IN THE KITCHEN
Chef Armando Codispoti takes us behind the scenes of Beirut’s newest Italian restaurant, Gavi.
Armando Codispoti got his start in cooking at the age of three, in his hometown of Calabria, Italy. Back then he helped his grandmother prepare the seasonal tomato sauce by adding basil before it would be preserved for the winter. In the year’s since then, he’s worked in restaurants all around the world, from the Bahamas, to Bratislava, to Gordon Ramsay’s maze in London. Now, he’s bringing his take on modern Italian cuisine to Downtown Beirut. Working with KampCatering, the same owners of the Kampai chain of Japanese restaurants, Codispoti introduces us to Gavi.
Gavi’s menu is more health conscious than traditional Italian food, which is energy-rich and high in calories to fuel farmers engaged in heavy physical labor. Today’s labor, by contrast, consists mostly in sitting in front of a computer. So for us office dwellers, Codispoti offers lower-calorie, health-conscious twists on classic favorites. Take, for example, one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, blue potato gnocchi. Blue potatoes are popular in Okinawa, Japan, and often attributed to the long lives of people living there. (They’ve also been rated as a ‘top superfood’ by Dr. Oz.) As far as Chef Codispoti knows, there’s only one place on earth you can have gnocchi made from blue potatoes, and that’s right here at Gavi. The dish comes garnished with green baby garlic, which has the flavor of more common garlic but leaves less of an aftertaste. Elsewhere on the menu Codispoti revisits classical cooking techniques, for example fish baked in sea salt, or pesce al sale, which dates back to ancient Rome. Fish is one of Codispoti’s favorite things to cook, he says, because it presents so many challenges. It’s hard to get just right. Diners can also order a Bistecca Fiorentina carved right at the table, presented a selection of three salts prepared on-site. As for desserts, there’s the traditional tiramisu, and even an alcohol-free version made from oranges and pistachio that’s just 300 calories.
We met with Codispoti one recent afternoon as the lunch hour had died down, and he showed us around Gavi’s kitchen with all the pride of a new father introducing his children. (First – he handed us a hairnet. The place is crazily clean and well-organized, and exceptions are not to be made for anyone.) He shows me a special Acquarello risotto that costs $25 per kilo, flown in all the way from Italy. “What kind of crazy chef gets rice at $25 per kilo?” he asks, beaming. There’s the chocolate mousse with Valrhona brand chocolate. There’s the vegetables that are vacuumed before steaming according to the sous vide technique– taste how crunchy and flavorful they are. The eggplant is grilled on the charcoal grill — imported straight from Italy — before being marinated, for an extra rich and smoky flavor. The aromas were amazing – it took great restraint on our part to not take a lobster straight off the plate headed for the dining room.
Overall, Chef Codispoti says there’s a lot of similarities in the food cultures of his home country and Lebanon: people love to share food and to linger over a meal. But there’s one difference. People in Lebanon, used to the swift arrival of mezze plates, don’t like to wait long for their food to arrive. But Gavi ensures it’s worth your time.
Palladium Building, Minet El Hosn, Beirut. Tel. 01 999354