While many go to LACMA for artistic inspiration, the museum’s executive chef, Fernando Darin, heads to his kitchen to celebrate National Spaghetti Day on Jan. 4 by creating a work of art out of pasta.
“Spaghetti is probably one of the most comforting foods ever. You put a plate of pasta on the table and there will be smiles guaranteed,” enthuses Darin, who recently was promoted and now oversees LACMA’s Ray & Stark Bar, C+M Coffee + Milk and LACMA Cafe.
Darin, who is Brazilian and Italian, has had a love affair with spaghetti since he was a kid.
“A friend of my family would make spaghetti on Sunday evenings and, man, that was something to look for every week. She was probably my first culinary influence at a young age, when I first started understanding flavor combinations.
“She had this memorable spaghetti recipe with chicken and peas that was so simple, but she would make it with so much grace," he adds. "Everyone would stare at the table, waiting for it!”
The veteran chef has felt a personal connection with one of his favorite dishes, spaghetti alla chitarra. Known as “guitar spaghetti,” the pasta is pressed into long strands using a stringed chitarra cutter.
“I have always been interested in music. I am the only child, I was very introspective," Darin says. "The guitar was my best friend when I was growing up. So when I first heard about the chitarra, which actually makes sounds as you ‘play’ the strings, it blew my mind.
“I thought it was so cool; it’s such a rustic, old-school instrument. To make pasta by hand that has been used by Italians forever — it was love at first sight. I have been using it ever since.”
Music is everything to Darin, who played in garage bands and attended punk rock shows since he was a teenager. “I have ADD (attention deficit disorder) and playing guitar really helped me focus. Music always felt close and very strong within me, I liked the adrenaline of performing onstage.”
Darin feels that same rush when he is running his busy kitchen.
“It’s like I am conducting an orchestra, making sure all the food comes out on time and everyone is working beautifully together.”
In addition to his love of spaghetti, Darin is a humble pizzaiolo, i.e. a pizza craftsman, who has been wowing LACMA crowds since Patina first brought him on board. “While the museum always inspires me each day, I consider pizza to be a work of art, one that I will ongoingly study for the rest of my life.”
Though it’s not on the menu, in honor of National Spaghetti Day, chef Darin will make spaghetti alla chitarra for anyone who visits Ray & Stark Bar on Thursday, Jan. 4.
Chef Darin’s Recipe
For the spaghetti:
1 cup 00 flour
9 large egg yolks
1T olive oil
Mix all ingredients and let the dough rest, wrapped in plastic, for at least 1 hour before using.
Roll using electric pasta machine or by hand using a pasta rolling pin and “some good skills ... You have to really feel the vibe of it.”
For the sauce:
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup sweet vermouth
1 bay leaf
150g high-quality butter
50g heavy cream
200g cleaned black trumpet mushrooms
50g pecorino romano
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Sautée the shallot and black trumpet mushrooms.
Add the wine, vermouth and bay leaf. Reduce the liquid by half and add the cream.
Reduce 3/4 and add butter and pecorino, whisking rapidly to emulsify. Remove bay leaf.
Cook spaghetti in salted water until al dente. Drain and reserve one cup of the cooking liquid. Add cooked pasta to the sauce and fix the consistency of the sauce with the reserved pasta water. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice. Serve on a warm plate and finish with freshly grated pecorino.