Active EUI: Culinary Club

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A fishmongers’ stock is laid out on the table of a cosy kitchen in Campo di Marte and within seconds members of the EUI’s Culinary Club are busy cleaning, scaling and skinning the seafood.

The cooks are Institute staff and researchers; food enthusiasts brought together by Tomasz Michalec, a Polish chef and partner at the EUI. “I came to Europe [after a stint in Montreal, Canada] and wanted to explore this world from the kitchen,” he says, describing his journey through Le Cordon Bleu culinary schools in London and Paris and restaurants in Brussels.

Tomasz arrived in Florence a year ago and says he launched the club as a way to meet please and share his knowledge: “We started by doing French and European cuisine; I was also learning on the side so could practice and learn from people in the club.”

After a club member has suggested a dish, Tomasz does the shopping and the group meet at least once a week at one of their homes.

This week bouillabaisse, a French fish stew, and pici alle briciole, thick pasta with seasoned breadcrumbs, are on the menu and Tomasz is teaching the group of eight the techniques.

After the mussels have been scrubbed, they are boiled and set aside while the hot water will be combined with a stock made from the discarded fish-heads and bones. At each stage Tomasz explains the method, the tools of the trade and sets someone to work on the ingredient.

The kitchen becomes a scene of organised chaos as the bouillabaisse comes together, before attention turns to pasta. The crowd is called to the table to roll out the strands of pici; a task which produces uneven and entertaining results.

As the spaghetti-like pasta boils the breadcrumbs are tossed in a frying pan with salt, pepper, garlic and chilli, and combined with the pici before being poured onto plates. A sprinkling of parley and parmesan and the group are toasting to their success; after three hours of preparation the first course is finished within minutes.

Tomasz returns to the more demanding task of the broth, pan frying the fish before adding it to the stock laced with white wine and Pastis liqueur. The bouillabaisse is served with toast covered in rouille, a French sauce created with potato puree, roasted garlic, boiled egg, olive oil and the chilli paste harissa.

The Mediterranean meal has proved a success; it is late as the chefs head home with over-full stomachs and fresh talents, ready for next week’s new cuisine.

The Culinary Club costs €20 per person per evening and meetings take place at least weekly. For more information please email Tomasz Michalec: [email protected]