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Does Italy lack culinary relevance?


Fat Guy
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How does the word "gourmet" get caught up in the definition? A gourmet has a love and appreciation of all things gustatory regardless of the extent of the leading edge of whatever food a gourmet is eating. I wouldn't mind Steve's definition if it didn't apply so much to food that is mucking up so many of my meals.

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I think we lack sufficient reporting from the front to go much further with this. No doubt, there is plenty of serious contemporary cooking going on in Italy. The operative questions now might be, where is it being done and what is being done? Maybe Robert Brown will have some information for us at the end of the year. Maybe others could correspond with Italian contacts who could enlighten us. To come to conclusions without sufficient research would be wrong.

Regardless of what is being done inside the country, I think the reasons for Italy's limited reach in "modern gastrnomy" as defined have already been adequately enumerated.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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When you cut to the chase, their entire purpose seems to be to deny others the use of the word "better" because they want what they like to eat to be considered "the best."

Classic projection. That is exactly what YOU do all the time. You are the ONLY person here hung up on what is best because you live in a world where everything has to be either better or worse than everything else.

Nobody here makes any claim to be eating the best food but you. No-one is claiming that "cassoulet" or "pasta" is better or worse than any other food.

Speaking for myself I couldn't give a monkey's hoot whether what I eat is considered by you or anyone else to be the best or not. That is a neurosis possessed entirely by you as far as I can see.

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Nobody here makes any claim to be eating the best food but you. No-one is claiming that "cassoulet" or "pasta" is better or worse than any other food.

Speaking for myself I couldn't give a monkey's hoot whether what I eat is considered by you or anyone else to be the best or not. That is a neurosis possessed entirely by you as far as I can see.

This has been enlightening, boring, funny and pedantic discussion. There is no answer. I sense a class war approaching. Let's just eat the dead horse and move on.

:hmmm:

Kitchen Kutie

"I've had jutht about enough outta you!"--Daffy Duck

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Speaking for myself I couldn't give a monkey's hoot whether what I eat is considered by you or anyone else to be the best or not. That is a neurosis possessed entirely by you as far as I can see. ]

Tony - Well if that is the case, why do you bother participating in threads like these in the first place? As far as I can see, you have not eaten at a single restauarant in either France or Italy that would qualify as being meaningful to this conversation. And if you have, it seems not to have been in a long while. Yet you want to argue every inference of every word of the original question when you really don't know what we are talking about. And to make it worse, when I point it out to you, you have to make remarks about my person.

Here is a link to a list of the Top restaurants of 2000 according to Gambero Rosso. After you have eaten in any of them, come back and we can have an inteligent discussion as to why none of those chefs/restaurants seem to have any impact on the international food scene. Until then, I don't think you know what the hell you are talking about and I think your opinion on this topic is useless.

Gambero Rosso

Given that most gourmets would cite Italy as one of the top food destinations on Earth -- there are even many who prefer dining in Italy to dining in France -- why is it that Italy hardly seems relevant to the world of modern gastronomy?

Robert - That is the original question. It's pretty simple when it comes down to it. Restaurants that practice "modern gastronomy" do not seem to be relying on Italian technique. It has nothing to do with good food or bad food. Just the food that those who practice modern gastronomy are interested in, i.e., find relevant.

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Steve, apparently I missed your definition of "gourmet" and I'm too lazy to find it. I got the impression that you defined it in terms of modern gastrnomy, but I'm not sure.

I have to admit that I have been to only seven of the restaurants in the Gambero Rosso link you posted, and two of them were a very long time ago. Next summer I plan to visit the ones in Lombardia and Emilio-Romagno. So I'm not really qualified to say what the more innovative Italian chefs are doing and how it stacks up to their colleagues in other countries. My hunch is, however, that they are trying things out that one might find very interesting and novel. Like you, though, my next trip will be for wine and truffles and probably no top Gambero Ross restaurants other than Guido.

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Given that most gourmets would cite Italy as one of the top food destinations on Earth -- there are even many who prefer dining in Italy to dining in France -- why is it that Italy hardly seems relevant to the world of modern gastronomy?

Robert - That is the original question. It's pretty simple when it comes down to it. Restaurants that practice "modern gastronomy" do not seem to be relying on Italian technique. It has nothing to do with good food or bad food. Just the food that those who practice modern gastronomy are interested in, i.e., find relevant.

I know, Steve. I quoted the first part myself, and I think I represented the rest accurately.

What I am suggesting at this point is that we lack sufficient information to say with authority what's going on in modern Italian cuisine and whether and to what degree it is influenced or influential.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Robert S. - Well if something exciting is going on nobody must know about it because they sure ain't talking about it. As Robert B. mentioned in an earlier post, there was a time when modern Italian cuisine was hot. Probably between 1985 and 1992 there was much talk and much interest about a number of different restaurants. But for the last 10 years, nada. But Schonfeld, you're an Italophile. Why don't you visit a bunch f those babies and tell us hop they are?

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Yet you want to argue every inference of every word of the original question when you really don't know what we are talking about.

That "we". Who are "they" exactly?

You mean "you". Why do you assume a majority position when the majority of people on the thread have disagreed with you?

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But for the last 10 years, nada. But Schonfeld, you're an Italophile. Why don't you visit a bunch f those babies and tell us hop they are?

Nada, given the criteria stipulated, the likely reasons for which have been posited quite a few times already in this discussion.

One thing you're absolutely right about, Steve, it's been way too long since Mazal and I have eaten our way through an Italian itinerary. We were talking about this on our recent trip out west, over lunch at Bistro Jeanty, I think it was.

But even if we did go back, I'm afraid - no, I know - you'd be disappointed in much of what I'd have to say. Last time, one of the greatest meals we had in my recollection was a plastic basket lined with wax paper and filled with perfectly fried baby calamari (calamaretti) that were alive minutes before. They were so good, we had dinner twice.

The minimum number of ingredients of the highest quality, combined as simply as possible. Say it with me: the minimum...

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Why do you assume a majority position when the majority of people on the thread have disagreed with you?

A majority of the people don't know what we are talking about because they haven't eaten in any of the restaurants in question. Just tell me, have you eaten in any Italian restaurants that would be relevant to this discussion? And if so, which one have you eaten in? How about highly rated French restaurants of the Pierre Gagnaire/Arpege type. Have you eaten in any of them? Can you do a comparison for us of those two types of restaurants?

The minimum number of ingredients of the highest quality, combined as simply as possible. Say it with me: the minimum...

Robert - That's a religion not a meal. I'm with you on the philosophy. It's just that isn't the only way to eat.

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A majority of the people don't know what we are talking about because they haven't eaten in any of the restaurants in question.

Your notion that people have to have eaten in certain restaurants in order to participate in certain general discussions about say "Italian Food" is laughable.

If having eaten in certain restaurants is a qualification for participating in such discussions on these boards then there wouldnt be much of a site here at all.

Also the fact that you insist repeatedly in addressing the issue,and many others,in terms of what goes on in certain restaurants shows just how limited your grasp and perception of the issues are.

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Steve the horse is dead. Stop flogging it. By your definition of "relevant" you are right. The discussion had moved beyond that and we were trying to come to a consensus about which way Italian cuisine IS relevant.

As an addendum,I said that a page ago. Do you see those three little words Steve-"you are right". Some of us wanted to develop the concept of "relevance" beyond your definition to discuss other ways in which Italian cuisine could be relevant, that's all. You couldn't seem to grasp this. I don't know why as you don't strike me as an unintelligent guy.

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If having eaten in certain restaurants is a qualification for participating in such discussions on these boards then there wouldnt be much of a site here at all.

It has nothing to do with the site, it only has to do with this question. Those restaurants are at the center of what this question is about. If you haven't eaten at any of them, how can you argue with the opinion of those who have?

Some of us wanted to develop the concept of "relevance" beyond your definition to discuss other ways in which Italian cuisine could be relevant, that's all.

This is nonsense. It's the equivelant of saying, "let's forget the original question, and ask our own question about how it could be relevant." HELLOOOOOO. If the issue really boils down to, why are the Michelin starred restaurants in Italy not very influential on the international dining scene (and you have at least a half a dozen educated and experience responses that agree with that in this thread,) you can't change the parameters because you want the answer to come out differently.

That's really what your griping is all about. You like Italian food and you want it to fair better then it has in this thread. You don't really care what is relevant to the question, you only care what is relevant to you. And it gets worse because despite all of your protestation you can't even come up with any examples of relevancy as it relates to modern gastronomy. Why don't you just do that? Instead of torturing the definitions of words like "relevant" and phrases like "modern gastronomy," go give some examples. But I suspect the reason you haven't don't so already is because you don't have any.

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In an effort to be faithful to the FG's original question, I would answer yes and no. (It's almost impossible for a lover of things Italian not to be sarcastic on this subject.)

Yes, it is relevant because it provides a monumental, inspirational, yet simple tradition upon which to draw. The Alice Waters "revolution", and any "ingredients-based" cuisine (see the FG's review of Citarella in his newletter, for example, or recent comments about Ducasse's insistence on the best raw materials), are based on what the Italians would call living their everyday lives.

No, because the regional nature of Italian cooking tends to keep things local, even insular. No, because Italy is generally not an affluent country and dining out is more a local, casual experience, with much less emphasis on internationally competitive alta cucina. And no because the Italians are not, to be polite about it, motivated in meaningful ways to absorb elements of French culture, including restaurant and cooking style.

I've said before that the fact that there isn't much new (I'm sure there are some things new; others would know this better than I) in Italian cuisine doesn't really concern them very much. If anyone is really interested in why, I would recommend as a starter "The Italians" by Luigi Barzini.

THERE was the answer to the question. Yes and no. With reasons given. Yes I like Italian food. Doesn't everybody? No ,generally it doesn't reach the heights of French 3 star cuisine.

Some of us were arguing that it was "about" something else and trying to ascertain what that was. That was the way the thread developed. It is interesting to think about what Italian cuisine is all about. Constantly repeating that its not as good at 3 star level as French cuisine does not take us further in understanding in which ways and to which markets it is a vibrant and "relevant" cuisine.

But I'm beginning to wonder whether there are people who find the answer to a question "yes and no" difficult to cope with.

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Constantly repeating that its not as good at 3 star level as French cuisine does not take us further in understanding in which ways and to which markets it is a vibrant and "relevant" cuisine.

Nobody has said anything of the sort. You are the one who has equated relevant with better. That doesn't have to be the case and a number of us have said so. We've explained what relevant means ten times already and you are still arguing that we have said it is the equivelant of better. It keeps coming back to the same issue. Since you have no evidence to argue your position based on facts (as they relate to this question as asked,) you keep trying to change the context of the question so the answer can come out the way you want it to come out. And when that is pointed out to you your response is a number of personal insults directed against me. Do you really need to do that? Wouldn't it be easier to say, no Steve you're wrong, here are a few examples of how Italian cuisine is relevant to modern gastronomy. Not Robert S.'s examples, your examples. Because I am certain that in no way do you understand how Italian cuisine has impacted on the restaurants he mentions, or whether the examples he mentions would qualify as modern gastronomy. So let's hear it. If you are such an expert on this topic that you need to characterize my position as "neurotic," or imply that I have difficulty coping, bare all and tell us what you know.

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Robert S. - I have a question for you. Why is it that you believe that the best ingredients need the simplest preparation? Why do you believe that the Italian way is better just because there is less intervention? It's as if you are saying that lightly frying recently netted calamari tastes better because the preparation is simple. Well if it's a matter of ingredients, why can't a complex preparation using the same ingredients deliver the same flavor but improve the texture and presentation at the same time, and maybe even intensify the flavor as well? You can take the same exact calamari and improve the batter over your basically Napolese batter by doing everything from changing the type of flour you use (like rice flour, chickpea flour etc.) or add a complex spicing regimen to the batter, or you can make a series of sauces to go with it that come from terroir that is just as complex as where the calamari comes from. Why isn't that "better" then just plain fried calamari? And even if it isn't, what makes you say simple is better? While I agree about how wonderful the Italian terroi is, the French tradition of terroir is just as strong as the Italian tradition. The entire haute cuisine movement was based on that terroir as a starting point and doing everything from intensifying those flavors to improving the texture and appearance. Granted today food distribution in France has been commercialized to a far greater extent then it has been in Italy, so there has been greater diminution there. But philosophically, I don't see the big difference at the terroir level if you are eating the best stuff each country has to offer.

Tony - We are all interested in your knowledge of how Italian cuisine is currently influencing modern gastronomy. If you had something germane to add to the thread I am sure it would spark lots of discussion. Or maybe you don't and that's why you needed to make the conversation personal?

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Well now Steve what you're doing is this. YOU (not the "we" you keep claiming-I only hear you-others please speak up and agree with him because he's claiming to speak for you)-YOU have decided that in order to be able to say anything meaningful on the topic,one has to have eaten in 3 star restaurants in Italy.

I have not eaten in three star restaurants in Italy. Therefore for you my opinion on the topic is "useless".

I contributed my main points to the topic a couple of pages back. Maybe it irked you that Robert Brown thought the points I made were "succinctly and brilliantly put" because you immdiately decided that my definition of "relevance" was the "wrong" one-ie the one that didn't suit you and since then you've been banging on ad nauseam about how it's ME that is obsessed with changing the definition. Jesus.

Since in the last few posts you are claiming to speak for others,it seems odd that they're remaining resolutely silent. Or maybe they've just got bored and gone away.

Either way I'm done here unless others are prepared to contribute,

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Well how about two star restaurants? One star restaurants? How about starred restaurants on France? What experience do you have in any of these restaurants where your opinion would be informed to the point that it would give rise to you making personal comments about me and my opinion? Did you ever consider that I'm right and that the reason you don't know that it is because you haven't eaten in any of these places?

Your comments a few pages back were in relation to why Italian cuisine *isn't* relevant. Now you have been arguing that it might be depending on how we define relevant. Which one is it? Relevant or nor relevant?

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OK, I'll join in. But I'm entirely bored by the way this "conversation" has been going for a while, so what I'll do instead is to talk about the original question :smile:

The question was "Is Italian cuisine relevant to modern gastronomy" and my answer is a resounding yes. The areas of relevance are as follows.

1) By common consent, Italian cuisine is very popular among people who take a keen, and often expert, interest in gastronomy. Ergo Italian cuisine is relevant. There is something about the cuisine which is important, since otherwise it would not attract such a following. Any cuisine which is important is relevant.

2) Following on from that, it's interesting to note that many culinary experts on this thread seem to be struggling to define why it is relevant, and that in itself is important. It indicates either that there are subtleties and nuances to Italian cuisine that do not lend themselves to analysis, or else that the intellectual methodology of those experts is not up to the job. It may even be that the experts' analytical principles, by which they define relevance, are faulty. The mere existence of this intellectual problem suggests that Italian cuisine is relevant.

3) Italian cuisine is relevant to modern gastronomy because it provides the historical foundation of many ingredients and techniques which are fundamental to gastronomy. Pasta, olive oil, plum tomatoes, parmesan cheese, salami, antipasti, espresso coffee. These are all important elements of modern gastronomy, both in the particular and general, and they continue to be widely used. So Italian cuisine is relevant. It matters not that the French also use olive oil, or that the Germans also make sausages. It is the Italians who have made these items gastronomically important.

4) By general consent, Italian cuisine is simpler than some others. Simplicity is an important feature of modern gastronomy, and the maintenance of this tradition of simplicity is an important benchmark against which other cuisines can continually re-calibrate themselves. So Italian cuisine is relevant.

5) Italian cuisine broadly occupies the middle to high levels of the gastronomic marketplace. People entering at the lower end of that marketplace will be introduced to gastronomy thru Italian cuisine, and over time and by self-education, move towards and then into the higher reaches of haute cuisine. Given the scope of popularity of Italian cuisine, it therefore provides a vital bridge to introduce people to haute cuisine. It is therefore important to, and relevant to, modern gastronomy.

Right, those are my reasons. None of them is an absolute, and each of them is a form of (in my view valid and reasonable) generalisation. But then the very terms "Italian cusine" and "relevance" are themselves generalisations.

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Why is it that you believe that the best ingredients need the simplest preparation? Why do you believe that the Italian way is better just because there is less intervention?

Steve, I'm pleased with your question because it shows that you are, at a minimum, thinking about things.

Here's my answer: I do not believe that the best ingredients need the simplest preparation, nor do I believe that the Italian way is better.These are my personal preferences. It is a way of eating that can be a way of life (not a religion).

In the same way that I also enjoy French furniture and decorative arts (well commented upon by Robert Brown a few pages ago), I enjoy French haute cuisine. But I wouldn't want to live with them, or it, for any extended period of time.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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French haute cuisine and a little anecdote.

Few years ago I was in Cannes with an English friend( who did not speak a word of french),we went for lunch in a famous 5 star hotel and he ordered a marvellous sounding dish : Pâte sautee avec lard fumé , jaunes d'oeuf et fromage de Parme râpé....... well, you should have seen his face when he got his dish of spaghetti carbonara...

Cheers

Dom :biggrin:

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