A taste of Italy

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RIGALETTOS Italian restaurant will play host to celebrity chef Antonio Carluccio at this year’s Food and Drink Festival. Just before the two-week event kicks off, reporter Natalie Geraghty spent some time in the restaurant kitchen to briefly see what life is like standing on the other side of the pass in a place fit for the godfather of grub ...

Working in a restaurant kitchen, I imagined four-letter words rolling off the head chef’s tongue, flapping young kitchen porters and the clattering of stainless steel pans.

Natalie Geraghty in the kitchen at Rigalettos at the DW Stadium: Into the oven with the pizza

Natalie Geraghty in the kitchen at Rigalettos at the DW Stadium: Into the oven with the pizza

But I could not have been more wrong in this kitchen.

I spent little more than an hour behind the scenes at Rigalettos with the kitchen staff – due to it being very busy - but it opened my eyes to what it is really like in one of Wigan’s busiest restaurants.

Dressed in chef whites (which were made for a big burly man - not somebody of my stature), I felt in the way and a bit of a nuisance but head chef Rod Clements couldn’t have been more welcoming.

Rod has been head chef at the restaurant for four months after transferring from the Reebok Stadium in Bolton.

He said: “It can get tough in this kitchen, we work so quickly when it’s very busy and it can be stressful.

“But I have a good team here at Rigalettos.

“The kitchen can sometimes be like what you see on the television, fast-paced, but most of what you see there is staged, I don’t shout and swear like that really.

“I have a young team and many of them are still learning, so they may make mistakes, it’s up to me to show them how to do things right, not shout at them.”

Trying not to be overcome with the sheer heat in the kitchen, I was handed over to pizza chef, Christopher McVey.

“The key to a good pizza base is leaving your dough to rise for 24 hours,” he said.

He then let me loose on creating my own pizza.

Easy, one might think, but attempting to get the assembled pizza onto the huge pizza shovel and into a hot pizza oven placed at shoulder height requires some skill.

Within five minutes of spreading my tomato puree and sprinkling my chorizo evenly, 30 main meals were plated up and served to the hungry customers.

Rod added: “You have to be quick with the meals, people don’t want to come and wait all night in a restaurant, if you keep them waiting they won’t come back.”

Before I outstayed my welcome, I put together a fish dish.

I pan-fried sea bass and prawns in white wine, and once cooked, stacked them artistically with slice of lemon and dill before melting garlic butter and drizzling it over the top.

Simple enough, I would agree, but trying to do that in front of a stove, so hot that I thought I’d end up with a tan, and a head chef watching your every move, I felt under pressure but remained calm.

Italian cooking is not just about pizzas and spaghetti and not every kitchen is reminiscent of Hell’s Kitchen.

I discovered that on my short trip to Rigalettos and so can you during Antonio Carluccio’s visit and the Italian cookery class during the Wigan Food and Drink Festival which starts on Thursday, March 3.