Is Al Meni the Greatest Food Show on Earth?

Imagine a brightly colored circus tent by the Italian Adriatic sea, in the shadow of the elegant Grand Hotel Rimini. A tribute to the dreamlike vision of Federico Fellini. Step inside and you’ll find not jugglers or trapeze artists but Michelin-starred chefs flying from one daring dish to the next with the greatest of ease in a big open kitchen show. As soon as the dates were official, we started daydreaming about the Grand Finale of our culinary bike journey in Italy.

Massimo Bottura and top chefs from around the world gather in Rimini — in the region of Emilia Romagna — for the Al Meni festival on the 17th and 18th of June. The Fellini-inspired 8½ Circus marquee offers a feast of flavor with gourmet street food, show cooking with the chefs and a market with local farm, craft and design products.

12 Michelin-starred chefs from the Emilia Romagna region meet 12 young international chefs in and around the circus tent in an event that celebrates the people and heritage of a truly unique area.

This is the 8½ Circus, the cradle of flavor, the beating heart of “Al Meni” — Romagna dialect for “hands”, from the title of a poem by Tonino Guerra.

Federico Fellini was a native of Rimini. He is considered the best Italian movie director of all times and 8½, his masterpiece, one of the best movies ever filmed. This video-interview with Martin Scorzese gives a nice portraits of Fellini’s work.

If you are one of the lucky participants to our Chef Bike Tour of Emilia Romagna, expect a feast of top show cooking, gourmet street food, a market of fine products and produce, workshops, tastings, and ice cream by the chefs.

A big theme this year is gelato. I believe we will taste some once-in-a-life-time gelato flavors!

Lining the seafront from the circus to the port, a genuine fine food market offers a journey to meet producers large and small. Slow Food Personal Shoppers are on hand to guide visitors as they explore the Earth Markets and the Slow Food Ark of Taste, trying and buying Emilia-Romagna’s finest fare.

These are the ingredients of Al Meni. Be ready for the world’s most talented chefs to work their magic. The event’s chef d’orchestra is Massimo Bottura, holder of the top spot on the influential World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, among his other accolades. Al Meni was devised by Massimo Bottura with the Rimini city council to celebrate Emilia-Romagna’s heritage and its leading lights.

Massimo Bottura is assembling a crack team. 12 Michelin-starred chefs from Emilia-Romagna will meet 12 of the most promising young culinary talents from around the world to put their heads together and bring original signature cuisine to a wide audience of curious and hungry foodies.

The chefs and the 8½ Circus of Flavor

Al Meni’s centrepiece will be the 8½ Circus marquee with its striking open kitchen. In the show cooking demonstrations, 12 chefs from Emilia-Romagna will pair with 12 young stars of the future from all over the culinary world to create Michelin-worthy dishes at street food prices for all to try. Inside, a blend of flavors, products, languages, lands and dishes from around the world awaits.

“Emilia-Romagna has such remarkably good raw materials”, says the ‘ringmaster of flavors’, Massimo Bottura, “that all we chefs need do to bring out their qualities is to treat them with respect. The world is watching us. And they see a region that can wait 25 years before tasting a traditional balsamic vinegar. Are we crazy? No: we still believe in dreams”.

The 8½ Circus has an ample array of quality local wines to savor in the Al Meni wine bar. This selection by the CheftoChef association features the region’s finest tipples in a characteristic panorama of the Emilia-Romagna wine landscape.

The Produce Market

A tour of the region’s varied flavors plays out along the seafront from the circus to Piazzale Boscovich, among farm producers large and small. Smallholders and vine growers, cheesemakers and craftspeople offer a unique gourmet trail where visitors can taste and buy sumptuous local products from 70 top suppliers to Michelin-starred restaurants. From Parmigiano Reggiano and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena to Culatello di Zibello and Prosciutto di Parma hams, plus fruit, piadina flatbread, creamy Squacquerone cheese, local sea fish, rice from the Ferrara plains, the finest scalogno shallots, and mushrooms from the Apennine mountains, the choices are endless.

A Slow Food personal shopper will be on hand to guide visitors among the products and producers, from the Slow Food Ark of Taste to the Earth Markets, with producers specially selected by the CheftoChef EmiliaRomagnaCuochi association.

Gourmet Street Food and the Finest Ice Cream around the 8½ Circus

The round terrace girding the circus will have a liberal sprinkling of special gourmet street food stalls, the pride and joy of CheftoChef, the association of the region’s top chefs and producers. Another outdoor attraction will be the connoisseurs’ ice-cream parlour, a sublime showcase of artisanal ice cream making where the chefs’ creative brio meets technology and the expertise of the master makers from Carpigiani Gelato University.

This article by Beppe Salerno (myself), the founder Tourissimo, an Active Travel Company, has been edited for Medium. See the original article here.

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