Her aromatic Mediterranean cuisine has brought Cornelia Poletto to the top of her profession. The award-winning chef and cookbook author from Hamburg is famous for her warm and open manner. At Ambiente 2015 we watched her at work and in our interview we learnt a great deal about gentle cooking and what you can do in the bathroom with fresh bread dough.
When Cornelia Poletto goes into her bathroom with a bowl of dough, this is just one of her many cookery tricks. “At home I bake my own bread and I leave the dough to rise on the underfloor heating. This is at around 30° Celsius, which is just about ideal.” She is certainly full of surprises. The 43 year-old from Hamburg is frequently seen on German television. She also runs a cookery school and delicatessen with attached restaurant in Hamburg itself. She describes her culinary empire as: “Informal, uncomplicated, with lots of contact with guests.”
Don’t get too hot!
We meet Cornelia Poletto at the Ambiente stand of the Dutch company BK Cookware, which has been on the market since 1851. What she’s doing there has aroused our curiosity. The celebrity chef stands in her apron at the stove chopping a mountain of vegetables while all the time keeping her eye on her pot, which has a display on its top. We guess it’s possibly some sort of magic rapid cooker and Poletto is certainly impressed by it: “I’m always on the lookout for innovations and the latest cooking techniques. This ‘intelligent’ pot uses the ‘smart cooking’ principle, which ensures that ingredients not only retain their vitamins and minerals but also their flavour, colour and structure. It also uses less energy and water. And instead of water I sometimes use coconut milk, which gives a wonderful aroma. With this pot I can cook at low temperatures – and in the same way as in a normal pot. ”
For Cornelia Poletto the cookery revolution of the last few decades has seen a much more gentle way of heating our food. “Previously vegetables were just boiled to death. Then blanching in boiling water was all the rage. But the only thing that still had flavour was the water. Nowadays we’re much more advanced. We use state-of-the-art equipment to cook food in its own juices at low temperatures”, she explains. We love her light, effortless and unpretentious manner. She remains cool, even at the hot stove.
Once there was a box.
We wonder whether she’s heard of ‘haybox cookers’ that were in use in our great-grandmother’s day. Even the famous 1926 ‘Frankfurt kitchen’ – the forerunner of the modern fitted kitchen – had such a box for reasons of economy. “What are they?” she asks. We explain that the haybox cooker was a (normally wooden) container lined with insulating materials, into which pots with hot soup, stew etc. would be put and left for hours to cook with no additional energy input. “We can do that today much more quickly with our new technology. Who has that much time these days?” she comments. We of course agree with her.
Ice, Ice, lady!
There’s another “hot box” we need to talk about – the oven. And its ice-cold opposite – the freezer. “I love beautiful ceramics that cope easily with such extreme temperatures”, enthuses Cornelia Poletto. Doubtless this is also a reference to the oven and freezer-proof multifunctional cookware she has developed in cooperation with the ASA Selection designer brand, which is also represented at Ambiente. The product line is pure white, very simple, very avant-garde and very tough, designed for temperatures of minus 50° Celsius to over plus 250° Celsius. “Cooking in the oven, cooling in the freezer, presenting food on just the right sort of flat serving plates and enjoying it on matching dining plates – perfect. I’m a very natural sort of person. I therefore cook simply and purposefully. The robust cookware line reflects this.”
At the same time, though, she likes things to be lively: “Good food is an essential part of life”. This also explains why Cornelia Poletto left her previous classic gourmet restaurant. The sort of atmosphere of solemnity and culinary zeal, combined with silent porcelain is not her thing. “In my opinion there has to be lots of life in a restaurant. People are eating, drinking, chatting and laughing and the pots, plates and glasses should rattle and clatter normally.”