Italian chef Graziano Prest served tender Alpago lamb tortelli with grilled prawns and fermented pepper broth, while his colleague Fabio Pompanin prepared fresh cold veal smothered in a tuna sauce with vegetables and capers at this past weekend’s ‘Queen of Taste’ Gourmet Food Festival in Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Prest and Pompanin – who ordinarily perfect their culinary talents and delight guests at top restaurants in the 1956 Winter Olympic city – are still savoring the wonderful taste left from their experience leading the kitchen at the “Casa Italia” hospitality house during the Tokyo Olympics.
Following the lead of the numerous Italian athletes that combined to bring home a record 40 medals, including 10 gold, from Tokyo, Prest says he and his partner were able to sufficiently handle their own Olympic-sized pressure, over long hours in an Italian kitchen assembled in Japan.
“Of course we felt the pressure, because it was an important job, but me and my friend Fabio did the best job that we could do,” Prest tells Around the Rings during a short break from serving guests at the annual Cortina culinary event, now in its fifth year. “It was a great opportunity for us to show people from other countries what Italian chefs can do.
“I’m proud of this experience because when Italian chefs are in strange places, like Japan, we are proud to offer pasta dishes, tomatoes, pizza and other home dishes.”
Prest and Pompanin cooked alongside one another in Tokyo at their second Olympic Games together, having also created Italian specialties at “Casa Italia” in PyeongChang 2018.
“It was a great time of course and these Olympics will also be remembered for a long time because of all of Italy’s medals,” Pompanin says, of the Tokyo experience. “Maybe they won their medals because of my food,” he wonders, overlooking the fact that the Italian athletes were not permitted to enjoy the cuisine at “Casa Italia” until after their competitions.
Prest said he was overcome with emotion watching sprinter Lamont Marcell Jacobs win a gold medal for Italy in the men’s 100 meters.
“I cried when Jacobs won the 100 meters watching in Casa Italia because it was so unexpected,” Prest said. “My emotions were very strong – everyone in Casa Italia was so emotional.”
Prest said it was an honor to serve victory dinners to Jacobs and his teammates on Italy’s gold medal winning 4x100 meter relay team, among other Italian Olympic champions including high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi. However, Prest reveals that Jacobs and crew did not order six-course Italian dinners, worthy of Olympic champions.
“They ate simple spaghetti with tomatoes and basil,” Prest exclusively tells Around the Rings. “Because when you are in Japan you cannot find really good spaghetti like Italy, so this is what we prepared for them.”
Prest informs the sprinters stepped up their protein in their ‘Secondo Piatti’ eating “special beef with potatoes”.
Thirty-six of Italy’s more than 380 athletes in Tokyo are from Cortina’s region of Veneto. Pompanin said it was a privilege to meet Italian swimming star Federica Pellegrini, who swam at her fifth and final Olympics, particularly because they both reside from the same part of Veneto.
Asked by Around the Rings if the now retired freestyle and medley swimmer was eating lots of lasagna at “Case Italia”, Pompanin revealed: “She eats casunziei and roast beef since she is not training anymore,” referring to the tasty Dolomites ravioli specialty stuffed with beets and ricotta cheese.
While it will surely require countless hours of rigorous training, hard work in the gym, and proper diets for Italian athletes to earn their places at future Olympic Games, Prest and Pompanin inform that they have already “qualified” to work as chefs at the Italian Olympic Committee’s “Casa Italia” through Los Angeles 2028.
“The other Italian chefs are jealous about this record,” Pompanin notes.
Now less than five years until the Olympic Winter Games return to Cortina d’Ampezzo and the region of Veneto, come February 2026, the proud Cortina chefs promise Olympic visitors an exquisite, savory and unforgettable dining experience in the historic Italian Dolomites ski resort. Naturally, accompanied by the Veneto regions’ prominent wines such as Valpolicella, Amarone, Soave and Bardolino.
“Venetian Kitchen is unbelievable – you can taste Fegato Veneziana, Baccala, crab, so many dishes, typical from this area,” Prest says, noting traditional liver and fish specialties. “We are proud to offer the best local products that we can find in Cortina and throughout Veneto.
“My lamb arrives from Alpago, only 70 kilometers from Cortina - I’m proud of my lamb,” he says.
“When you try the cuisine of Cortina, you will never want to go home,” Pampanin adds with a smile. “Here, you can eat very well in pizzerias, restaurants and in the rifugios [cabins that serve food to hikers] in the mountains – it is Italian excellence.”
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