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January 21, 2010

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Michelin-star chef at Va Bene

WHILE chefs who earn their restaurants' coveted Michelin stars are regularly jetting into Shanghai, few permanently set up base here.

Hailing from the rugged northern region of Italy's Valle d'Aosta, Corrado Michelazzo has taken his one-star Michelin credentials to Shanghai where he has hung out his shingle at Xintiandi stalwart Va Bene.

Michelazzo earned his Michelin star in 2004 for Hotel Bellevue's modern Italian eatery Relais-Chateaux.

Having built his reputation on pushing the boundaries of his country's typically traditional cuisine, Michelazzo's next chapter at Va Bene has been characterized by inventive sweet and salty contrasts to bring modern contemporary Italian cuisine into an Asian context.

There has been a rash of restaurants bearing the names of various Michelin heavyweights but there is only one other Michelin-starred chef based in Shanghai.

Michelazzo has called Shanghai home for the past eight months, first working at the now-defunct Milano in Pudong New Area before coming onboard at Va Bene.

Since moving to his new digs four months ago, Michelazzo has overhauled the menu that now provides an adventurous degustation menu or an a la carte option that showcases both his modern Italian creativity and a rock-solid foundation of traditional dishes.

Michelazzo learned his art in the mountainous Valle d'Aosta region, renowned for its emphasis on meat, poultry, creamy risottos and fresh fish from the Val D'Aosta River.

He says he wants to bring that same focus on premium ingredients to Va Bene.

While the best-quality imported Italian ingredients are something diners expect from one of the city's top Italian restaurants, Michelazzo has also tapped the city's Italian community to source the best local produce.

Michelazzo is working with a small Italian grower who supplies fresh, organically grown vegetables.

On our visit Michelazzo took us through a tasting of some of the dishes available on his revamped menu.

He kicked off proceedings with a stunning pan-fried scallop that was served in a vibrant yellow pool of liquid polenta and came topped with a clam jus foam.

Surrounded by a ring of clams, the liquid had been quickly blitzed to give it an aerated, light texture and the scallop was flash fried, leaving it rare and melt-in-the-mouth.

Another highlight of the tasting was the seared foie gras and banana. The foie gras was sandwiched between two pieces of cooked banana with thin slices of caramelized orange rind providing a wonderful marmalade-like sweet and tart contrast to the rich foie gras.

It was partnered with a few delicate droplets of a creamy white chocolate and cardamom sauce and was garnished with a crispy black and white sesame seed encrusted wafer.

Va Bene uses handmade pastas and his simple, elegant tagliolini was a good showcase of the pasta dishes on offer.

The delicate thin strands of pasta laced with fine chili flakes and fresh herbs were resting atop a delicate creamy Parmesan sauce. The dish's design meant that the first bite allowed the fresh pasta to shine, and then a diner could mix in sauce resting at the base of the dish, avoiding the usual glug of a creamy sauce.

As one would expect from a chef like Michelazzo who has earned his Michelin stripes, along with the pasta, the breads and chocolates are also made in-house.

He wants to retain the restaurant's clientele who are drawn by its traditional Italian cuisine highlighted by big crispy light pizzas and homemade pastas, but Michelazzo also wants to provide a bit more intrigue for adventurous foodies.

"I know local people like those sweet, salty flavors, and while we have a clientele who love traditional Italian food, I also want to show my modern, contemporary Italian style of food," he says.

For a six-course degustation menu diners can expect to pay 688 yuan (US$100); five courses is 458 yuan. The a la carte menu is broken down into a choice of 10 starters, four soups, three risottos and eight pastas.

Address: House 7, North Block, Xintiandi, 181 Taicang Rd

Tel: 6311-2211


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