JOHN PHILLIPS put his masterchef skills to the test when he became a cook at Newport's Gemelli restaurant
TWIN chefs are elevating Italian cuisine to an art form at an up-and-coming eatery at the heart of a vibrant retail park in Newport.
As I was ushered into the Gemelli restaurant I quickly swapped my suit for a sparkling white apron and hat and entered a kitchen of culinary marvels and dreams.
I had difficulty registering what I saw as I helped to put the finishing touches to a striking, three-dimensional sea food dish concocted by master chef Sergio Cinotti.
A small mist, evocative of sea fog, came out of the transparent dish holding warm scallops and bass on top, while concealing ice cubes produced a steam at its base.
I watched in awe as I held the mouth-watering dish sprinkled with multi-coloured herbs, almost like a kaleidoscope snapshot, ready to be sent into the Spytty retail park restaurant off Central Avenue.
The culinary maestro then tasked me with filling an otherworldly seafood dish, completely made out of ice, with delicacies like mussels and shrimps.
Unexpectedly, Sergio then produced a blow torch and started melting the outer edges of the frozen dish to give it a shiny finish.
I was truly taken aback by the artistry displayed by this visionary restaurateur ready to use any means necessary, be it food preparation or chemistry, to achieve perfection in the kitchen.
I quickly found out that trickery and illusion is the name of the game in the Gemelli kitchen as Sergio showed me inverted, twin starters.
One was made of a tomato wrapped in white mozzarella cheese.
The other, resembling a tomato, was in fact a rounded portion of mozzarella concealed by a thick red sauce.
The chef from Caserta, south Italy, then showed me how to make an edible black soil mixing olive oil with a paste, before placing it alongside the tomato for ornamental purposes.
I also had a go at making pasta, a staple of Italian food.
I painstakingly used a pasta machine to create thin, elongated dough strips.
I learnt how much attention is given to detail and perfection, as Sergio showed me a sous vide machine – literally “under vacuum” in French – which treats sealed food with water baths at low temperatures for hours on end to keep meat like chicken juicier and more tender.
Next to it was another unusual apparatus featuring several platforms where food items such as tomato and mushrooms are placed.
I learnt the multi-layer machine is in fact a food dehydrator, which can help to prepare favourite Italian dishes like pizzas.
I posed for a photo with Sergio’s team of talented chefs before being led into the front of the restaurant by his twin brother Pasquale, who introduced me to their dessert selection.
The Gemelli desserts are memorable, from wedding cakes to birthday treats and of course let us not forget the magnificent, six-foot chocolate Christmas tree the brothers auctioned off during last years’ festive season.
Standing around these exquisite creations, I felt a little overwhelmed, but luckily, Pasquale did not ask me to bake anything.
I put on another apron and watched with interest as the dessert expert started pouring a kind of chocolate coulis on a large plate.
I was transported back to an art class as I saw the chef create an ornate scene featuring vegetation.
He then used different coloured pastes, just like an artist, to create the illusion of vegetation.
I was then asked to replicate the work of art he had come up with before my eyes.
It was difficult - I haven’t drawn since secondary school. I tried to copy his elegant strokes with the chocolate coulis but felt my version was only a pale imitation of the original.
Pasquale then took a cheesecake from a nearby display, placed it on the plate, added an exotic fruit slice and a Gemelli biscuit before sending me and our photographer colleague Jon Bevan to wolf down these beautiful delicacies.
The twin chefs told me they studied cooking for several years at a food academy in Teano in the Caserta province.
Sergio is preparing to take part in workshops in London and told me he often exchanges ideas with counterparts from his home land.
The pair are now working on a cookery book and are to appear at Newport Food Festival this year.
The twins have brought a taste of Italy to Newport for nearly two decades after opening their first restaurant near Newport Station, in Bridge Street, in 1996.
A year ago, they took a big gamble and defied the economic gloom by opening a second Gemelli restaurant and ice cream parlour at the retail park.
The new restaurant has become a success story and was bustling with customers when we visited the chefs.
Pasquale, 42, told me: “It is an art after all. Everything you do, you can take to an artistic level.
“I love it. It takes your mind off things. It’s like when you are painting, it’s the same type of thing.
“You never know how it’s going end up. It’s like a fantasy.”