Bravo Chef Accursio!

Accursio Lotá, Executive Chef of Solare Restorante in San Diego, CA was one of two chefs representing the USA at the 6th Annual Barilla Pasta World Championship in Milan, Italy, September 27-29. There were 20 chefs from around the world competing at the three-day championship judged by a panel of Michelin-starred Italian chefs. Ultimately, Chef Accursio took the 6th Annual Champion title with this final dish, “Spaghetti alla Carbonara de Mare.”

Below, he talks about growing up in Sicily, his winning dish and the motivation that pushed him through to the win.

Tell us about growing up in Sicily and some of your earliest pasta memories.

Barilla was always in my home growing up, especially Barilla Spaghetti No. 5 and Rigatoni. I remember a Sunday pasta meal with rigatoni that my grandmother would make for us. It was a slow-cooked pork sugo that would braise for hours with fresh tomatoes. The perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. When it was finally ready, she’d serve the pasta simply with a bit of the sauce from the braise and some toasted breadcrumbs.

At Solare, you are handmaking almost all of your pasta. Do you ever use dried pasta?

Yes, after coming back from this trip I’ve been using the Academia line of pastas from Barilla. They are excellent.

What do you think was the key to your success at the Pasta World Championships?

I will answer this question in three parts:

  1. I made sure that the taste was the most important thing; presentation came next. In competitions, I think it’s easy to focus on presentation, but then your dish can fall flat.
  2. I wanted the dishes to represent me, who I am and where I am coming from 100%. When you feel confident in a dish in that way, it has a much better chance of being successful.
  3. I worked to tell the story behind my dishes; the why and the how, not just an ingredient list of what was inside.

Your “signature” dish, the seafood carbonara, was what gave you the win in the end. What was your inspiration behind this dish?

Carbonara is a most controversial Italian dish; every city has its very own recipe. I took hold of that fact, and made it my way.

I grew up by the Mediterranean Sea, where seafood was the most accessible ingredient. So, I thought, “why don’t I replace the hen egg of the carbonara with a mix of different seafood eggs to reassemble the mouthfeel and texture of the carbonara. And instead of the succulent guanciale, use a variety of seafood cooked with different techniques, and fish with a fresh green mandarin zest (another signature Sicilian ingredient).”

You talked about “mantecare” as the process for getting the texture of your sauces just right. Can you explain what it means?

Mantecare is the term for the emulsion created by the starches released by the pasta and the sauce. When you achieve the right mix at the right temperature, it clings to the pasta in the perfect way, smooth and rich in mouthfeel. The key for me is to finish the pasta in the sauce with some of the cooking water, and actually take it off the heat. At about 80°C (176°F) the temperature is just right, and you’ll get that creamy result.

For more on Chef Accursio and his championship dishes, click here.