A fish to vie for

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Girotonno is a four-day celebration of the bluefin tuna that provides the San Pietrans with their livelihood. Australia was well represented at Girotonno, reports Meera Freeman of The Age.

5 June 2007: MELBOURNE’S Teague Ezard is just back from a whirlwind trip to Carloforte on the Sardinian of San Pietro, where he competed for Australia at the fifth Girotonno – a four-day celebration of the bluefin tuna that provides the islanders with their livelihood.

He hit the ground running, competing on the first day of the third World Tuna Cuisine Competition and won a special juror’s prize for his savoury panna cotta flavoured with wasabi and bonito flakes with tuna sashimi in a mirin and sesame broth. Enzo Vizzari, chairman of the jury and editor of the l’Espresso restaurant guides, praised the dish for its originality and technical excellence – “a fine example of fusion as opposed to confusion cuisine”.

“I was thrilled to receive this prize, which made the very long journey for a very short stay even more worthwhile,” Ezard says. “I really enjoyed the camaraderie between the competing chefs and was impressed by the sense of community and extraordinary hospitality of the locals that was equal to their wonderful cuisine.”

This year, eight countries competed in the competition. The outright winner was a Peruvian team of three young chefs who presented a trio of tuna dishes a la Creole, combining European and Japanese methods with ancestral Incan ingredients such as corn, different types of chilli and potato – a sweet ceviche, a causa anticuchera (yellow potato cylinder topped with a grilled skewer of tuna) and marinated fried pieces of the fish on a bed of corn and sun-dried pepper paste. The Danish entry was a sliced smoked and seared tuna stack with horseradish and rhubarb sauces, pearls of caraway eau de vie, sea grass and a crisp wheat-grain wafer.

The island of San Pietro was settled in 1736 by 300 families of Genoese coral gatherers and fishermen living on the Tunisian island of Tabarka and seeking refuge from the ravages of overpopulation, depletion of their local coral beds and attacks by the marauding Barbary pirates who roamed the Mediterranean coasts during that period.Â

It lies on the migratory route of the bluefin tuna and the ritual mattanza, or tuna kill, is still practised using methods handed down from rais to rais (head fisherman) since the Middle Ages. It is home to one of the last fully operating tonnare, complex systems of fixed nets that trap the tuna. The nets are hoisted by hand and the tuna speared and loaded onto small boats, from where they are transported to the nearby tuna processing plant. Bloody and cruel as this method may seem, it is a selective process and far less wasteful and harmful to the environment than trawling.

The four-day festival, May 17-20, brought tens of thousands of visitors to the island. Local restaurants offered special menus featuring every imaginable part of the noble fish – tuna prosciutto and sausages, tuna sperm, salted and preserved heart, bottarga (dried roe), as well as the various cuts of the tuna flesh.

Four of the guest chefs, including Ezard, held masterclasses at the new Theatre of Taste presided over by Italy’s renowned world food and music expert, Vittorio Castellani. There were tastings of Sardinia’s excellent wines and stalls set up along the waterfront promenade provided samplings of local produce, smallgoods and cheeses.

Cookery teacher Meera Freeman was a member of the 14-person Girotonno jury headed by Enzo Vizzari.

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