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Tradition v. Contemporary Italian Cuisine


hathor
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I'll add yet another performing artist simile to the mix. The modern chef who uses new technique and presentation to alter and rework a traditional dish or create a new one that has the appeal of astonishment secondary to either its presentation, style, contents or whatever, is like a magician who also wows us with mastery of idea , style and technique. Thus the effect on me when I first experienced spherical "olives" at elBulli was much like watching David Copperfield disappear and instantly reappear elsewhere in the theater. The "olive" was wonderful in its own right, but its effect on me was magical and fun! It did not necessarily taste "better" than a superb conventional olive, but I enjoyed it more for what it was and what it represented. I know that Copperfield has a "trick," but the effect is still marvelous in he same way that Adria's "olive" was. Both elements required much thought and execution to perfect. One difference is that Adria unlike Copperfield, has shared his technique, so some of the underlying wonder and "magic" is gone, though its significance and my esteem is only greater for it.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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The point isn't that old recipes didn't require creativity to create. The point is that it doesn't require creativity to make them now. They can be made flawlessly by a person with zero creativity.

I disagree, but perhaps on a minor technicality. Ingredients change. Surely you can't tell me that today's and meats and poultry bear much resemblance to the meats of 100 years ago, or react the same way to cooking, and I am sure that except perhaps in some remote hamlets untouched by time, most ingredients today have changed. Even if meat has changed only slightly enough that sauteeing the piece of veal in the time called for in an old recipe results in it being horribly overcooked and dry, or undercooked and unchewable, the person with zero creativity cooks it exactly as written. (Have you never eaten something hideous that a person told you they made from some great chef's cookbook?) I think that it's a point of pride with great artists, chefs included, that they want to make something dazzling in-the-mouth, and if it means that they have to take their incredible culinary genius and make yesteryear's recipe with today's ingredients so that it sings in the mouth, rather than sitting there like a dud, that's what they do, and consider it a great use of their talent and skill - I do.

Or, they can be tweaked by a creative person, but that person's species of creativity is the species common to the performing artist. That chef is not free to create a new composition. So you effectively have, in a traditionalist culinary monoculture, no composers. You create a situation where there can be no new operas, no new symphonies -- it's all just people studying the ways to play the old ones better...

And that's fine with me. Have you ever heard the crap written by William Bolcom, Philip Glass, John Corigliano, William Hoffman and John Harbison that The Met puts on pretending that it's opera because people sing it with "operatic" voices??!! That's not opera, and trust me, I'm not the only person saying that after living with the works of Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, and such, that we very simply don't need new composers!

But that presumes that we're likening the chefs to composers. If we liken the chefs to the performing artists, then you introduce the idea of a soprano who has sung a role so many times that it begins to bore her, so during performances she changes the music and inserts her own notes and tunes. Now we really don't want that, do we?

We want singers to do what most of the great singers confess to doing - they close their eyes, and see the score (the recipe) in their minds, and ask themselves "what do I need to do here, and here, and here, to bring he composers notations to life while I interpret them?" I don't want a pedantic, lifeless rendition of a great Verdi score, and I don't want a pedantic, lifeless rendition of a classic dish.

As far as chefs who find that not only have many particular ingredients changed, but that as many new ones have appeared, and who want to use their genius to create dishes that bring those ingredients to life, drawing on whatever culinary history they may have in their bones, that's fine with me. I think that's what people like Jean-Georges, and Gabriel Kreuther are doing in French food, and I like it. I still wish that D'Argagnan was around, and I'll be sad as I may have said once or twice above, if the old classics never reappear because nobody remembers how to make them.

My experiences with modern Italian cuisine are fewer, and less happy. One was a miserable meal I had in the town next door to Modena at "San Domenico" during the "Nouvelle Cuisine" days, and one was just about two years ago when Roman Chef Salvatore Tassa came to cook in New York and I ate his food at Lupa - after the first few dishes, we canceled the remainder of his "menu" (as we learned others had done) and convinced them to serve us from the regular menu for the rest of our meal. (Taking no chances, I had gone to the kitchen and asked Mark Ladner if he'd do this for us, and he said that he would, and just then I heard some other people say the same thing to him.)

So we don't need new composers, in my book. We're wasting time and money putting on these new works one time, and then never again because nobody walks away humming the tunes, and nobody ever wants to hear these 'operas' a second time. We like the operas that are so great that every generation that's heard them since they were written has passed them along by wanting to hear them over and over again.

Will deconstructed food and molecular gastronomy stand the test of time? I don't know. But just as we have the means to pull out the score of an opera that hasn't been done in years and years off the shelf, and bring it to life, because this chain has remained unbroken, I hope that we'll always have the means to cook the classic dishes, and that nobody forgets how to make them because in the rush for chefs to satisfy the egos that get bruised by the suggestion that they cook something they didn't invent, we find that we have broken the chain and can't find the missing link to get back.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Mark, this was the same response the established art world had for the French Impressionists when they held their first ground-breaking shows. Now they are the epitome of artistic conservatism.

As for what are considered classics today in art, music and food, they were not created in a vacuum. There were plenty of other works in each of these fields that were created and did not stand the test of time or that only became accepted and appreciated later on. How many music composers or artists are appreciated more today than they were when they were alive? I am not arguing against the classics. On the same token modern approaches cannot all be lumped together and dismissed out of hand.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Mark, this was the same response the established art world had for the French Impressionists when they held their first ground-breaking shows. Now they are the epitome of artistic conservatism.

As for what are considered classics today in art, music and food, they were not created in a vacuum. There were plenty of other works in each of these fields that were created and did not stand the test of time or that only became accepted and appreciated later on. How many music composers or artists are appreciated more today than they were when they were alive? I am not arguing against the classics. On the same token modern approaches cannot all be lumped together and dismissed out of hand.

Doc, I realize that you're not arguing against the classics.

I'm just being Archie Bunker here.

It's a thankless job, but somebody's got to do it. :wink:

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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The point isn't that old recipes didn't require creativity to create. The point is that it doesn't require creativity to make them now. They can be made flawlessly by a person with zero creativity.

What is so consoling about eating the food of the original creator?

As a diner, if I have two plates of food sitting in front of me, one modern and one traditional and they both thrill me equally, then the only difference is the age of the ideas that created them. One has its origin in a new idea and the other in an old one. So what? Of all the possible criteria by which to judge food, judging by the age of the idea seems imprudent to me.

Additionally, I think it would be almost impossible to perfectly recreate any recipe. There are simply too many variables, so to some degree or another all chefs are altering or creating some aspect of every recipe.

However, I have to say that from a chef's prospective you are spot-on. There is little solace in repeating the same recipe day in and day out. I detest cooking with recipes and I use them only as a suggestion. At home I rarely make the same thing twice and my cooking is ever-changing depending on my mood, what's available and more importantly what I know (that changes too). I have never had a signature dish and I will never will and if I had to cook the same truffle soup, over and over like Paul Bocuse has for 30 years, I would probably quit cooking and follow in Vatel‘s footsteps. But, I am under absolutely no illusion that this makes my food taste better.... probably the opposite.

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I think this:

I was not able to deal with the meal that I got many years ago at "San Domenico" in Imola, next door to Modena, however.  Whatever the hell it was (ego?), it wasn't Emilian, nor was it even vaguely "Italian".

is interesting to get deeper into the concept of 'traditional Italian' or 'regional' cuisine. I ate in San Domenico a few months ago, and, contrary to you, I found it sooo unreconstructedly Emilian. This is not because people from Emilia have traditionally eaten 'egg in raviolo'. But because most of what the chef cooked, including the famous 'egg in raviolo', bore the marks of Emilian taste and tradition: the opulence in the dish, the imbalance of the flavours towards fat, the generosity of the portions. These are things that, I think, mark this restaurant as 'regional' and 'traditional' in its own way (and a raviolo as signature dish definitely marks it as Italian). Certainly it is one million miles from the 'modern', lightened versions of traditional recipes that you find in many high end Italian restaurants of 'traditional' inclination (to be concrete, the Michelin starred Malga Panna and Orso Grigio in Trentino are both perfect and easily identified regional examples).

So which is more traditional: Malga Panna that offers the eternal deer with polenta, but cooked and presented in a modern way, or San Domenico that gives you the cheffy egg in raviolo, but covered with copious butter just as granny would have done?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ciao. I have very quirky e-mail notification and lost track of this thread.

Regardless, I have an observation to share with you as I may have found a fundamental difference between traditional and 'contemporary' Italian cusine.

Traditional Italian dishes are simplistic in nature, I've been told by good, solid, knowledgeable Italians that the tongue can only process 3 flavors at a time, so you will not find the flavor layering that is a linchpin to contemporary cuisine.

Well, what say you?

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Ciao. I have very quirky e-mail notification and lost track of this thread.

Regardless, I have an observation to share with you as I may have found a fundamental difference between traditional and 'contemporary' Italian cusine.

Traditional Italian dishes are simplistic in nature, I've been told by good, solid, knowledgeable Italians that the tongue can only process 3 flavors at a time, so you will not find the flavor layering that is a linchpin to contemporary cuisine.

Well, what say you?

Very good point and an argument I have heard here in the Piemonte too. I have a wine company and attend lots of wine tastings and I do have trouble being objective when tasting multiple wines (even if I spit). Come to think of it, three is a good number.

Not to dismiss layering but there are a lot of dishes (like stews and soups) that are composed of a wide range of ingredients and are actually better when they sit for a day or two and the flavors start to blend together.

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I may have found a fundamental difference between traditional and 'contemporary' Italian cusine.

Traditional Italian dishes are simplistic in nature, I've been told by good, solid, knowledgeable Italians that the tongue can only process 3 flavors at a time, so you will not find the flavor layering that is a linchpin to contemporary cuisine.

Well, what say you?

Ciao

I quite agree that traditonal Italian dishes are generally 'simplistic', but I am not sure simplicity (simplisticness?) is the marker of 'traditional'. Let's take an up to date example right at the top. According to the Gambero Rosso guide (just come out) Pierangelini is the top Italian chef and Vissani is number two, together with Alajmo. Vissani can put eight main flavours in a dish (and is thus accused of being a 'speziere'). Pierangelini's most famous dish is 'passatina di ceci with gamberi': can't get more simplistic than that! Now would you say that Pierangelini does traditional cuisine whereas Vissani does modern? I am not so sure. And what about Marchesi? Risotto oro e zafferano is also quite 'simplistic', nevertheless it's hard -or it was hard at the time it was invented - to class it firmly as traditional, there was something clearly modern, almost pathbreaking, in that dish.

So - as ever - I don't think the distinction traditional/modern can be boiled down to a simple formula. There is a vast range between the extremes, and there is a richness of dimensions - many ways to be modern, or traditional, or both.

And let's not forget that flavour is obviously important but is not everything, notably in modern cuisine - whatever the limitations of our tongues, our noses and eyes can do a lot in the meanwhile!

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I wonder, have the rest of you heard of the "three ingredients" argument before? Is it something that is heard everywhere in Italy or is it regional or perhaps even an abstract thought.

Also, why is there an aversion (maybe you believe there isn't) to ultra modern cooking techniques in Italy?

As a chef who has cooked in the US, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, I have to say that the abundance of produce available in Italy is overwhelming and must leave the average cook here very content. When I cooked in the US, I was frequently frustrated with the variety and quality of the fresh ingredients.

Can limitless variety and superb quality ever cancel out (or perhaps reduce the desire for) creativity?

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Can limitless variety and superb quality ever cancel out (or perhaps reduce the desire for) creativity?

Wonderful question, SWISS_CHEF. My first reaction in answering it was that variety and quality of ingredients would encourage, rather than stifle, creativity. BUT (and this is a big but), at the same time, the more beautiful your fresh ingredients are, the less they need to be manipulated. A perfectly ripe tomato does not need its imperfections covered up. It does not need to be frozen/powderized/spherified/etc to impart its lovely flavor to one's taste buds. So I guess my overall reaction to your question is that there's no easy answer! :raz:

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I agree there is no easy answer. When I lived in the States I was always trying to squeeze more flavor out of the ingredients. I cooked ethnic, fusion, traditional...everything I could think of. Molecular cuisine didn't exist back then or I would have tried that too! Then I started coming to France and Italy and everything changed. Suddenly the same dishes I cooked in the US tasted totally different when cooked in Europe. The butter was different, the vegetables had so much more flavor, the only weak link was the beef but there were hundreds of other things to make up for that. The effect on my cooking was surprising. I began to use much less seasoning and my preparations became less elaborate. Shallots, white wine, mushrooms and cream made a simple sauce that tasted so good to me here and always left me wanting more in the States. In retrospect, I am sure that this influenced our decision to live in Europe.

Note: I know that it is possible to get high quality ingredients in the US but you have to search for them and they usually cost a quite a bit more. I am referring to the average grocery store quality levels. Also, bear in mind that I have not set foot in the US in seven years so things have probably changed.

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I agree there is no easy answer. When I lived in the States I was always trying to squeeze more flavor out of the ingredients. I cooked ethnic, fusion, traditional...everything I could think of. Molecular cuisine didn't exist back then or I would have tried that too! Then I started coming to France and Italy and everything changed. Suddenly the same dishes I cooked in the US tasted totally different when cooked in Europe. The butter was different, the vegetables had so much more flavor, the only weak link was the beef but there were hundreds of other things to make up for that. The effect on my cooking was surprising. I began to use much less seasoning and my preparations became less elaborate. Shallots, white wine, mushrooms and cream made a simple sauce that tasted so good to me here and always left me wanting more in the States. In retrospect, I am sure that this influenced our decision to live in Europe.

Note: I know that it is possible to get high quality ingredients in the US but you have to search for them and they usually cost a quite a bit more. I am referring to the average grocery store quality levels. Also, bear in mind that I have not set foot in the US in seven years so things have probably changed.

Actually, you've hit on something that I have been wondering about. I've experienced the same frustration when I go back to the States....where is the flavor?? I find myself fussing more, using more spices, techniques, ingredients to achieve a similar level of satisfaction.

But. I'm experiencing something similar here. Fruits that lack flavor, vegetables that are not so inspiring. I still find the meat and fish far superior on a day to day basis. Meat texture can be an issue as the local meats are quite....hard and chewy. So, I'm wondering, am I just get used to better quality and therefore become pickier? Or is the quality of fruits and vegetables not as good as before. Which is TOTALLY off topic, and I hang my head in shame.

Back on topic: excellent point about the risotto oro. That was very cutting edge in its day, and would probably still be considered cutting edge. Why? Because of the complexity of the flavors and presentation?? So maybe contemporary is relative to complexity after all.

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There are excellent ingredients available in a lot of European countries. France and Spain may not achieve quite the level of overall produce excellence as Italy, but they excel in plenty of areas, and it's no big deal to drive ingredients around Europe. Yet, in Spain and France you have thriving contemporary cuisine scenes, and you have several of the foremost practitioners of the culinary avant garde. Contemporary cuisine and molecular gastronomy don't come from the United States. They simply are not a result of bad produce. They come from Europe, where the produce is great. I think one has to look elsewhere for an explanation. It more likely derives from culture, not ingredients.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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...It more likely derives from culture, not ingredients.

Actually I have never really considered the French (on the whole) to be very dedicated to the cutting edge.

By the way FG, have you eaten at Davide Scabin's Combal.Zero in Turin. He might change your opinion about Italian chefs being traditional. http://www.combal.it if you figure out how to work the very weird web page let me know...

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I don't think it's possible to find a culinary culture on the planet that's, as a whole, dedicated to the cutting edge. That's one reason why the cutting edge poses no threat to traditional cuisine: Ferran Adria may be an international culinary celebrity, but the average Spanish cook isn't producing cuisine in the style of El Bulli, and Spain's traditional food culture is at least as vibrant as it would be without the existence of the avant garde. I think it's safe to say, however, that France is a whole heck of a lot more contemporary than Italy when it comes to restaurants. Contemporary is the norm at the high end of French dining, as it is in the more celebrated bistros. It's not just chefs like Pierre Gagnaire -- it's everyone. It's rare to find a serious French restaurant today that prepares faithful renditions of Escoffier's recipes. Whereas, based on every piece of information I have, and despite a few exceptions like Davide Scabin (I haven't been to his restaurant), "faithful renditions of old recipes" pretty much sums up the restaurant scene in Italy, and is indeed Italy's culinary selling proposition to the world right now. This is certainly not "my" position, but rather the one that has been taken by many people with better knowledge than I possess.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I don't think it's possible to find a culinary culture on the planet that's, as a whole, dedicated to the cutting edge. That's one reason why the cutting edge poses no threat to traditional cuisine: Ferran Adria may be an international culinary celebrity, but the average Spanish cook isn't producing cuisine in the style of El Bulli, and Spain's traditional food culture is at least as vibrant as it would be without the existence of the avant garde. I think it's safe to say, however, that France is a whole heck of a lot more contemporary than Italy when it comes to restaurants. Contemporary is the norm at the high end of French dining, as it is in the more celebrated bistros. It's not just chefs like Pierre Gagnaire -- it's everyone. It's rare to find a serious French restaurant today that prepares faithful renditions of Escoffier's recipes. Whereas, based on every piece of information I have, and despite a few exceptions like Davide Scabin (I haven't been to his restaurant), "faithful renditions of old recipes" pretty much sums up the restaurant scene in Italy, and is indeed Italy's culinary selling proposition to the world right now. This is certainly not "my" position, but rather the one that has been taken by many people with better knowledge than I possess.

Here some links of four restaurants within a ten miles of my home. Now, I live in the middle of nowhere, so before you dismiss all of Italy as backward, please take the time to look at these web pages and the pictures of their food.

http://www.cascinamartini.com/ English side isn't working at the moment but click on Italian, then keep clicking on Passione and Traditizioni to see the pictures.

http://www.locandamartelletti.it/ (click on: English, then: Restaurant, then: Our Cuisine)

http://www.cannondoro.it/pages/ri_st_proposte.htm

http://www.osterialecorte.it/ Old school house/clever web page designed like a report card.

I think you would have to agree that the food is modern particularly considering our rural location. I have spent a couple of years traveling around France and I have found it very hard find restaurants of the quality I find regularly in Italy.

Edited by SWISS_CHEF (log)
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Whereas, based on every piece of information I have, and despite a few exceptions like Davide Scabin (I haven't been to his restaurant), "faithful renditions of old recipes" pretty much sums up the restaurant scene in Italy, and is indeed Italy's culinary selling proposition to the world right now.

So, of what 'traditional recipe' would this (a central piece from Alajmo's tasting menu) be a 'faithful rendition' :

Fegato grasso d’oca caramellato, salsa di albicocche e curry,

polvere di grano tostato e menta (Caramelised fois gras, apricot sauce and curry, toasted corn powder and mint?).

m.

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To be clear, I have no stake in whether or not Italy has a thriving contemporary cuisine scene. What I do know is that people posting on this topic, like fortedei, are saying things like "I’m talking about the high end of Italian society in terms of financial resources, the only Italians who would even think of going to expensive cutting edge restaurants… and they don’t do it and have no interest in doing it. They might do it when they go to New York or London or Spain, but they are not frequenting those types of restaurants in Italy and never will." And now, a couple of hundred posts into the topic, some folks are saying, oh, sure, there's tons of cutting-edge cuisine in Italy -- if I walk out my door I trip over so many cutting-edge restaurants I don't know what to do with myself. If the latter is true, I think that's fantastic.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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To be clear, I have no stake in whether or not Italy has a thriving contemporary cuisine scene. What I do know is that people posting on this topic, like fortedei, are saying things like "I’m talking about the high end of Italian society in terms of financial resources, the only Italians who would even think of going to expensive cutting edge restaurants… and they don’t do it and have no interest in doing it. They might do it when they go to New York or London or Spain, but they are not frequenting those types of restaurants in Italy and never will." And now, a couple of hundred posts into the topic, some folks are saying, oh, sure, there's tons of cutting-edge cuisine in Italy -- if I walk out my door I trip over so many cutting-edge restaurants I don't know what to do with myself. If the latter is true, I think that's fantastic.

When were you last in Italy and where? On which restaurants are you basing your comments?

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To be clear, I have no stake in whether or not Italy has a thriving contemporary cuisine scene. What I do know is that people posting on this topic, like fortedei, are saying things like "I’m talking about the high end of Italian society in terms of financial resources, the only Italians who would even think of going to expensive cutting edge restaurants… and they don’t do it and have no interest in doing it. They might do it when they go to New York or London or Spain, but they are not frequenting those types of restaurants in Italy and never will." And now, a couple of hundred posts into the topic, some folks are saying, oh, sure, there's tons of cutting-edge cuisine in Italy -- if I walk out my door I trip over so many cutting-edge restaurants I don't know what to do with myself. If the latter is true, I think that's fantastic.

I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but there are not …” tons of cutting-edge cuisine in Italy -- if I walk out my door I trip over so many cutting-edge restaurants.”

There perhaps are many restaurants that say they’re cutting edge, prepare a few dishes that taste differently from what the chefs have been doing and are plated with little dots around the edges of the plate or have “ colorful slashes” on the plate squeezed from the plastic bottles. There are any number of restaurants that now have some dishes that involve foam, but a bit of foam, does not a cutting edge restaurant make. There are restaurants that serve pasta from Mason jars (in the city of Imperia, no less!!) and there are others ( in the depth of Lombardia) that should remain true to their roots, but instead serve a “carpaccio di arogosta con fonduta al Gorgonzola, a dish copied from a chef near Torino.

The fact is that quite a few restaurants want to be “cutting edge” but have no ability to do anything remotely edible. There are very very few Adrias in the world and probably none in Italy. This was the same thing that occurred, as I’ve pointed out here in detail before, with regard to nuova cucicna in the 80s and early 90s. Many Italian chefs tried to copy what some of the (great) chefs of France were doing and failed miserably. It was a brief five or seven year period and then it was gone ( a piece of kiwi on a plate, did not nuova cucina make). It was gone for two reasons.

First, these chefs had no classical training to carry it out. They had no knowledge of French technique. All they knew was what they read in Italian food magazines. Many of the chefs had rarely been out of their home provinces, let alone in France for any period of time. Even today, as far as I’m aware, aside from Marchesi, there are only two Italian chefs among the top 25 restaurants in Italy who have spent extensive periods of time in France learning technique. I mean true stages.

The second reason was that, while a few Italians (those few that go out to eat in “highly rated restaurants") found nuova cucina amusing at first, they soon grew tired of it because they didn’t want to eat that way. I can think of one very prominent place in Emilia Romagna that eventually realized what was causing a lack of local customers (you can’t count on Americans and Japanese from October through April)… and changed. I saw it happen with many of the other “top restaurants” of the time.

Yes, there are cutting edge restaurants in Italy. However, even you Fat Guy, simply wouldn’t want to have a second “cutting edge meal” in 99% of them. Trust me!

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Gosh, what a dismal picture you paint Fortedei, :sad: but it brings up a good point. We have been discussing traditional vs cutting edge in an all-or-nothing kind of way, but I think there is another level which is practiced by most of the upper end restaurants in Italy and certainly by the four examples I gave above. The chefs take the traditional food and present it in a modern way, applying modern, artistic talent to their preparations and platings. It is not really cutting-edge in the terms of molecular cuisine but it is modern in a similar way to what is going on in France.

I think some of us here think traditional Italian means red-checkered table cloths and big platters of pasta covered in ragu served by mustachioed Italian Mamas and washed down with carafes of unpalatable Chianti. This of course exists in the simple restaurants but almost all the upscale restaurants really do make an effort to be modern and creative, even if they do it with the traditional recipes and ingredients. It is a very satisfying mixture. Even if molecular cuisine is absent, you can't say that modern Italian cooking in upscale restaurants is the same as it ever was. The restaurants that I gave links to above are all doing a very nice job.

Edited by SWISS_CHEF (log)
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Gosh, what a dismal picture you paint Fortedei,  :sad: but it brings up a good point. We have been discussing traditional vs cutting edge in an all-or-nothing kind of way, but I think there is another level which is practiced by most of the upper end restaurants in Italy and certainly by the four examples I gave above. The chefs take the traditional food and present it in a modern way, applying modern, artistic talent to their preparations and platings.  It is not really cutting-edge in the terms of molecular cuisine but it is modern in a similar way to what is going on in France.

I think some of us here think traditional Italian means red-checkered table cloths and big platters of pasta covered in ragu served by mustachioed Italian Mamas and washed down with carafes of unpalatable Chianti. This of course exists in the simple restaurants but almost all the upscale restaurants really do make an effort to be modern and creative, even if they do it with the traditional recipes and ingredients. It is a very satisfying mixture. Even if molecular cuisine is absent, you can't say that modern Italian cooking in upscale restaurants is the same as it ever was. The restaurants that I gave links to above are all doing a very nice job.

On the contrary, Swiss Chef. I have never seen so many good places in Italy as there are today; particularly, but not limited to, trattorie. In my mind there are more chefs who are doing the critical things to make a ristorante or trattoria a wonderful place to have an excellent meal. These are: staying within one's sphere of competence as far as execution of dishes; having seasonal menus; serving dishes that reflect the region where the place is located; having a good wine list and good wine glasses; having a good service staff; having a non stuffy atmosphere in the dining room; true enthusiasm on the part of the owners.

There are more places in Italy today that meet these critiria than I've seen in the last 35 years.

Regards,

Fortedei

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...There are more places in Italy today that meet these critiria than I've seen in the last 35 years.

Regards,

Fortedei

I agree and I am very content with the state of Italian restaurants I have found, even though I don't have 35 years of experience.

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