From Michelin-starred names and celebrity chefs to experiential cooks and local restaurateurs, Expo 2020 Dubai is a culinary hub like no other. In this series, we profile the chefs invited to be a part of the world's fair and gain a preview of the menu they’ve put together for discerning diners.
Located in the Mobility District of the Expo is Scarpetta Mercato, a restaurant that prides itself on its beautiful space “tucked away from the crowds, with an outdoor patio available upon request”, says Italian chef Paolo Dorigato.
The restaurant takes its name from the expression “fare la scarpetta”, or a meal you can savour to the last bite. Its focus is on traditional dishes from all over Italy, from simple spaghetti with tomato and basil to creamy burrata, crudi and cannoli.
“I focused on French cooking techniques for a long time, and then started applying them to Italian cuisine, while also adapting to the market I am in,” says Dorigato. “In Dubai, for example, no alcohol has been added to certain items like the tiramisu, even though we traditionally would. And burrata is popular here, so we’ve created a burrata bar for Scarpetta at the Expo.”
Bookings can be made through the Eat App, or by calling the restaurant directly.
“Pasta is at the heart of the Scarpetta menu as it represents Italian food as a cuisine and everyone loves pasta!” says Dorigato. The chef firmly believes there is such a thing as healthy pasta, one that is handmade daily from scratch and includes ingredients that are fresh and wholesome yet delicious. “That way, the dish is full of flavour and satisfies the palate.”
Elsewhere on the menu is crudi from Southern Italy and lobster burrata from Puglia in the south-east. “Crudi is similar to Japanese-style sashimi, which is very popular now. It’s a great way to adapt seasonal products to international tastes. The salmon with trapanese pesto, for example, is a classic Sicilian dish, while pickled onion on the yellowtail has a Tuscan flavour,” says Dorigato.
Of the lobster burrata, he says: “My love for seafood is strong because in the mountains where I grew up, the only fish I could get was trout. When I was young, I didn’t understand its bone structure and almost choked on the bones. I only fell in love with the vast variety of fish and seafood later as I travelled and was exposed to different types.”
For dolce, guests can sample ricotta-filled cannoli, bomboloni with jam and lemon curd, and classic tiramisu. “The culinary world of desserts opened to me only recently,” Dorigato reveals. “I was into desserts as a little kid, but I just stopped eating them completely when I turned 9, only to feel the cravings a few years ago.”
Dorigato was born in Trentino-Alto Adige in northern Italy, but has lived everywhere from Milan, Germany and Argentina to finally, the US.
He has no formal culinary education, but says “the culture in Italy surrounding food is strong, so it was always a big part of my life. In the mountains, we used to have a garden where we could grow food only for a few months out of the year, so we preserved our vegetables by making all kinds of jams, pickles and sauces.”
He reveals he got into the business quite by chance. “I originally studied economics, but I also loved to travel and used to play violin at the time to make a living. One day somebody stole my violin, and I needed to find a way to make some money. My friend’s brother was a chef, and suggested that I start working in restaurants. I did and immediately fell in love with the industry, which I found very motivating. So I started working up to 18 hours a day to learn and catch up with my peers.”
As with a lot of industry outsiders, Dorigato has collected several mentors along the way. He cites Sirio Maccioni from Le Cirque, Arrigo Cipriani from Cipriani and Marco Pierre White from The Restaurant as his top three, having worked at all of their establishments, as well as at Osteria del Circo in New York and Dolce Italian in Miami.