What’s the most decadent cultural experience you can think of? The West Australian Opera have launched their 2021 Cooking with Opera series which brings together the opulence of opera with luxury food. Daniele Foti-Cuzzola shares more about this highly indulgent program currently unfolding in Subiaco.
Daniele Foti-Cuzzola is a writer, creative consultant and home cook who dreamed up Cooking with Opera during the 2020 lockdown. He chats with Rosalind Appleby about his Italian heritage and the synergies between food and opera.
Rosalind Appleby: Not many people would make the connection between opera and food. What first prompted you to bring together the two together?
Daniele Foti-Cuzzola: Being of Italian background a lot of dishes that my family and I traditionally eat have deep cultural or religious connections. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of where different dishes originated from, what cultural events they are linked to and the inspiration for the names behind certain dishes. I collect a lot of recipe books and started to see that there were a lot of synergies between food and opera. I didn’t even realise until recently that a dish that I grew up eating, Pasta alla Norma, was named after Bellini’s opera.
I always love an opportunity to link food and the arts together and always had the idea of a blog series with different opera recipes. But during lockdown last year we began to look at new ways for people to engage with opera, and what turned out to be a standard blog post, evolved into Cooking with Opera as we know it.
RA: Your Italian heritage has had a strong influence on your interest in food, language and music. Why is it so important for you (and us!) to celebrate culture?
DF-C: I remember reading a quote when I was researching for my thesis about how as we get older we find comfort in the flavours of our childhood. That really struck a chord with me, it made me realise that we have so many memories associated with food and for me that’s very true, many memories were made around the table.
I started to get more involved in the kitchen and cook recipes that reminded me of loved ones that are no longer here, or I would recreate dishes that I ate or learnt to cook on certain holidays and started to get more involved in birthday, Christmas and Easter traditions.
I realised cooking is a great way to keep certain people’s memories and legacies alive; certain flavours can briefly transport you back to significant moments in time. And what’s beautiful about that is you’re creating something that can be shared and enjoyed with others and in turn you’re recreating a brand new tradition.
It’s so important to celebrate your culture and to know where you come from; but also not be stagnant about it and to learn from others and adapt your culture to new surroundings and new audiences. Cultural heritage is something to be embraced and shared.
RA: Cooking With Opera first began in 2020, featuring Perth chefs and restaurateurs showcasing the extensive impact opera has had on the cultural and culinary landscape. This month Cooking with Opera moves into Subiaco. Can you give us a glimpse into what food and musical adventures are unfolding?
DF-C: At West Australian Opera we are extremely passionate about sharing our beloved art form from beyond our home at His Majesty’s Theatre. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with Subiaco which has such a vibrant dining scene and an eclectic group of chefs and restaurateurs who all put their own creative spin on these historic opera dishes.
Like last year we once again have a series of limited edition menu items, from the Storehouse’s Australian take on the Tournedos Rossini, where they have swapped beef for kangaroo, to Whisk Creamery’s show-stopping Mozartkugel Gelato and Boucla Cafés interpretation of the Melba Toast. You can watch videos about the creation of these amazing recipes on the WA Opera website, and listen to the Cooking with Opera playlist. And of course the food can be sampled at the participating restaurants.
In addition to the menu items we also have some exciting events. Eli + Matt Patisserie are running opera themed high teas, including a selection of delicious opera inspired desserts, from the opera cake to the Donizetti cake and the Rossini macaroons.
RA: What is your current favourite opera-inspired food?
DF-C: I think everyone has done an incredible job. I really like how The Storehouse at Vibe Hotel in Subiaco have incorporated their focus on Australian produce in their dish and substituted beef for kangaroo in their Tournedos Rossini dish.
The high tea experience at Eli + Matt Patisserie is also quite special. Dave, is a really skilled pastry chef and I love how he showcased his pastry making talents on the Donizetti cake, which is essentially a plum cake but he’s really turned it into something quite special.
RA: In addition to the limited-edition menu items, there are several other events taking place in Subiaco where you will be sharing your love for Italian culture…
DF-C: Yes I am excited to be running two opera inspired Italian cooking classes at the Multicultural Language Centre, where I’ll be teaching participants to make two historical opera dishes: Pasta alla Norma and Iris which is a traditional Sicilian pastry named after Mascagni’s opera. Together with the school’s owner Liliana Aguirre we will be incorporating our passion for opera, language and Italian food all in one event. It’s going to be a fun weekend; and I’m looking forward to getting back into the kitchen and running workshops.
RA: Sometimes it can be challenging to try new things – why is it worth giving the opera a go?
DF-C: This year WAO have so many incredible productions for people to see. Whether you are a first-time opera goer or an opera lover, there really is something for everyone. If you’re looking for a classic and more traditional opera, I’d recommend The Barber of Seville and Cosi Fan Tutte. If you’d like to see something different we have the world premiere of Koolbardi wer Wardong which is performed entirely in Noongar and we have the Australian premiere of Star Navigator which was composed by Tim Finn.
Opera is not something I grew up with, but I remember seeing my first production of La Boheme at His Majesty’s Theatre, by chance back in 2013 and that production really stayed with me. The way the singers perform unamplified, the music, the set; it was unlike anything I had seen before. It broadened my horizons, and whenever I would go back to Italy I’d always aim to try and see an opera. I saw a production of Aida in the ancient amphitheatre in Taormina, Sicily. It was something I would never have thought of doing while on a summer holiday, so I’m grateful to WAO for opening my eyes to such experiences.
Pictured top: Daniele Foti-Cuzzola dreamed up the Cooking with Opera series. Photo supplied
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