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Pasta perfect: yet again another extraordinary money making idea has landed on the Business Unusual desk. This time with the ingenious Italian chef, Mario Farinato.

Here's one man who is single-handedly responsible for getting Geneva's foodies to pay for the privilege of cooking their own lunch, and all in a good cause.

Italian chef, Mario Farinato, who runs the kitchens at Dialogai, Geneva's voluntary association for education about HIV and AIDS, hit upon the idea at the start of the year when he reopened the centre's restaurant Pourpre.

In the heart of the Paquis district, the restaurant is warm and welcoming. Its passionate oriental decor contrasts against the sleek metallic colours of the open-plan kitchen at its centre.

But the restaurant is more than just place for the Genevois to feed their faces.

Pourpre also lies at the heart of Dialogai's programme to encourage people from the local community to come in and learn as much as possible about HIV/AIDS, in an effort to reduce stigmas associated with the condition and encourage dialogue.

Coming from a long line of Italian chefs, Farinato has an absolute passion for making the best fresh pasta in the north of the Italian border.

"My passion for fresh pasta comes from being Italian and also my from my father who was a famous chef and invented the Vecchia Cerro--an Alfredo sauce made with a meat sauce base," says Farinato. "I also want people to know the real cuisine not this overcooked, watery, weak version we find so often outside of Italy," he says.

Fusion Feasts and More

But Mario wasn't satisfied with simply serving up those Italian standards and decided to mix Italian and other cuisines from around the world.

"Fried ravioli is wonderful, but I wanted to mix it with something a little Chinese; so I take fresh ravioli dough, very finely prepared with mineral water so its lighter, and then they're filled with Chinese fried noodles and mixed up with parmesan."

All very interesting but this chef wanted to do more than just cook up these fusion feasts.

"I thought why stop at serving up the food, I can also teach those interested how to cook it," he says enthusiastically.

The Pourpre Pasta School came to life when some friends asked Farinato how to make fresh pasta and really authentic Italian food. And it wasn't long before clients were also begging to find out how to prepare something similar for themselves at home.

The Cafe Pourpre isn't like an ordinary cooking school; students here will find themselves diving into the life of a real restaurant kitchen, learning as they work the intricacies of fresh pasta making and the subtle flavours that go into the sauces.

"My students learn how to mix together fresh ingredients to obtain a good authentic Italian flavour for the pasta," he notes.

A Bite of Freshness

In the kitchen classroom, students soon learn about the benefits of eating fresh pasta as opposed to the dry variety.

"It's lighter and then when you prepare the sauce you need less ingredients because the flavour is ms much in the pasta as in the sauce," enthuses Farinato. "It's also healthier--the famous Mediterranean diet is based on pasta, and people live long and healthy lives in the South of Italy."

Traditional pasta dough is made from flour, but the students in Mario Farinato's kitchen were getting to grips with rice-based pasta, originally brought over to Europe by Marco Polo.

"I mainly teach students about egg-based pasta recipes, but I also like to show them the potato-based dough, which is the basis for gnocchi," says Farinato. "Gnocchi is my favourite as I love potatoes--I must be half Irish!" laughs the Chef.

Students, who come from a wide cross-section of Geneva society, spend around three hours cooking and learning the basics of pasta making. And what's more they get to eat their own creations at the end of it.

"How to make the pasta thin enough is often a problem when students start out. It's usually too thick and just makes a big mess," he reveals. "But normally at the end of the three hours of kitchen time they'll have prepared something well worth eating."

Certainly, the eager pasta-making pupils seem energised by the experience of working in the restaurant, while discovering more about not only the history of the product but also the varieties of pasta they can produce.

Prospective students only need to call a day ahead to book their training in the art of pasta-making Farinato style.

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Title Annotation:Business Unusual
Author:O'Brien, Tom
Publication:Swiss News
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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