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Fat Guy

Does Italy lack culinary relevance?

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Francesco - Thanks for some fantastic posts. Your knowledge of the history and tradition of fine dining in Italy is most welcome and a huge addition to this site. But if I can cull a single thing from your last post, unlike aspiring chefs from the U.S., Britain, Germany etc., what you have basically said is that Italians weren't interested in attending cooking schools in France. Why is that? Where is their sense of curiosity? Or where is their desire to leave the old traditions behind, which is certainly one of the things that is driving young people from the countries I mentioned to go to France to study cooking. I should add to this that in my experience, Italy, while having ethnic restaurants, seems to have fewer of them in the major cities then other countries have.
Unfortunately, that fact doesn't match some people's preconceptions of "what makes a cuisine great" so they try to undermine the fact.

Italy doesn't hold that much interest for them. It is books from France, Spain and Australia that hold the most interest with British and American books right behind them.

Steve - again, isn't this a case that cooking at this level is French rooted, so you get books which create Native cuisines using French models (be it, Australian, Spainish or Thai).

From this position, to get High class Italian cuisine you have to put it through the French tradition meat grinder.

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It's not a matter of preconceptions. Go to either Books for Cooks or Kitchen Arts and Letters and ask them what types of books garner the most interest. You will see that with professionals and people who are interested in the latest trends of food, Italy doesn't hold that much interest for them. It is books from France, Spain and Australia that hold the most interest with British and American books right behind them.

Steve, I don't know if that's true or not (I have no figures from booksellers) but allowing that it is true, then my question is "Why is that relevant?". You are suggesting that bookbuyers' volume of purchase is related to the importance of a cuisine. But if you accept FatGuy's posit and accept that bookbuyers don't buy books on Italian cuisine, then it becomes a matter of observable fact that bookbuying practice is not related to importance of cuisine.

N'est ce pas ?

I'm not stipulating one way or the other at this stage, I'm simply puzzled and posing a few questions. Really !

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Macrosan - Fat Guy and I have a silent way of communicating these things to each other. . :wink:.

Adam - But that goes to my point that young Italian chefs didn't go to France to train. So isn't the answer to the original question is that Italy isolated itself from contemporary culinary thinking? There is a different way to spin that as well. One could say that Italian cuisine, while simple, is a complete cuisine. And that the attitude could easily be, if it isn't broken don't fix it.

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It's not a matter of disallowing pasta, it's a matter of it being injected into every meal as it's own course. And what do you mean that the Japanese use starch. Are you speaking of the rice in sushi? Real connoisseurs of Japanese food only eat sashimi. The rice is for tourists.

OK, two significant disagreements here- one, it ignores the significant piece of Japanese cuisine geared towards noodles- Soba, Udon, ramen, etc. and twwo, the thought that real connoisseurs of Japanese food only eat sashimi is absurd.

I'll weigh in on the other stuff in another posts.

Cheers,

Charles

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One could say that Italian cuisine, while simple, is a complete cuisine. And that the attitude could easily be, if it isn't broken don't fix it.

Or/and that it is a parallel cuisine that looses it's 'focus' once you alter it to suit a foreign model.

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Adam - It is known as trolling for pedants. :wink: It's so fuuny that in typical eGullet style, the comment I made about sushi now includes my having said something negative about soba and udon.

Well that's why Moroccan, Chinese, Turkish and many other great cuisines of the world seem to be standing still. I still think that what drives modern cuisine is extra money in the economy at the upper middle classe level. No bourgoise, no inventive cuisine.

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French haute cuisine developed out of peasant cooking -- any protestations to the contrary simply overlook historical fact. The question is why the same evolution did not take place in Italy.

Some regional cuisines in France rewarded the gentrification and perfection of technique. From those traditional regional traditions sprang modern haute cuisine (ok -- 100 years does not a spring make, but you get my point).

But for most Italian cuisines, the reverse is true. Most Italian dishes are prepared today the same way they have been prepared for generations. The has been no need to evolve technique, so traditional dishes stay, well, traditionally made.

And that is a good thing. Look at all the tears shed in France over losing their traditional grounding. I think most of France would trade Passard and Gagnaire for a few more traditional bistros.

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French haute cuisine developed out of peasant cooking -- any protestations to the contrary simply overlook historical fact.  The question is why the same evolution did not take place in Italy.

OK- before this goes any further, how about showing evidence about this historical facts of "developed from peasant cuisine". You and Ron can't both be correct :wink: , so look up the topic in "General Topics" on "Peasant Cuisine?" and see how you go.

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Hey Balic don't make this thread go down that road. Mogsob's point about peasant cuisine really has nothing to with how Italian cuisine evolved. If the French could get over peasant cuisine, the Italians should have been able to as well :wink:.

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No, I think that cooking in Italy is not 'art' as it would be in a Michelin in France.  The priority is very fresh ingredients and lots of hearty food cooked well.

Once again you pervert the sense of the Michelin by implying that a "Michelin" restaurant is sort of haute cuisine establishment. Michelin neither owns nor operates restaurants. It lists restaurant and to an extent rates and recommends them to travlelers. There are 14 three star restaurants and about five and a half pages to the listing of all starred restaurants, the preponderance being one star. The list of restaurants offering good food at less than 28 euros in Paris and 21 euros in the provinces, is as long as the list of starred restaurants. Not on the list of good restaurants at bargain prices is another group of restaurants offering a three course meal for lss than 14 euros. Trust me, there is very little "art" in a 14 euro meal. Your reference points are phony. You over generalize. I don't know if you do so out of naivety or contempt for the readers, but there's plenty of chance to learn and little chance of pulling the wool over too many eyes here.

Why hasn't the Italian public developed their palates in the same way that the French, British, Spanish, Germans and others have? Is it because their cuisine is so delicious? Or is it because there is some other lack of social or economic progress? The food in Italy is very good. But not good enough to warrant the type of isolationism you have described.

Can you really find a common basis that would include the French, British, Spanish and German palates and exclude the Italian palate? I would think it would be easier to exclude the German palate, if you eliminated the british palate. I mean to say that I think the Italian palate is certainly closer to the Spanish one than the German palate is to the French and maybe the Spanish and Italian palates are closer to the French then is the German.

Do the British have a palate? :biggrin:


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I made about sushi now includes my having said something negative about soba and udon.

didn't say you said anyting negative- just that you ignored them.

As for the rest of the discussion, Italians don't deify chefs as France, the US, etc. does- makes it tough for a cuisine to be driven by a chef/personality, which is invariably how it happens in the rest of the world of "great" cuisines. You think of Ducasse or Verge taking a food to a different level and that has to start in the country itself- and it doesn't happen in Italy.

As an example, the most famous chef in Italy today is probably Heinz Beck at the Hilton in Rome- a German.

Cheers,

Charles

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To answer: Why is it that Italy hardly seems relevant to the world of modern gastronomy?

Because modern gastronomy is Francocentric.

And in the eGullet spirit of circular arguments, isn't that because the Italians dropped the ball?

Of course that argument is circular. The better question might be "why is Italian food so much more influenced by French cooking than French food is by Italian cooking?" Then you could sit back and watch the fur fly.

:biggrin:

Of course there's been cross pollenation between the two at all levels over a great length of time. My guess is that no other cuisine has interacted with the French to as great an extent. I don't just mean in Nice as Alsatian cuisine has been influenced by food from across the Rhine and the food in the Roussillon and Basque region has been influenced by cooking from the other side of the Pyrenees. Risotto and ravioli have become French dishes.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Bux - My point was that the people in the countries I mentioned have developed a taste for French food. But the Italians don't see to have developed a taste for it the same way. Witness Fancesco's tale of Ca Leivi and the locals calling it "French" when he thinks it's the perfect Ligurian restaurant.

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You actually have made a great point about the unification of Italy. It was in what year, 1874? That means a unified, singly codified Italian cuisine is only 130 years old. That gives the French quite a head start. But the point about the Church should not be discarded as their desire to be the real center of power in Italy has prevented a singular and civil seat of power from emerging.

It was 1861 actually that the regions unified. What's very telling here is the close relationship Italy's political structure had on the development, or lack thereof, of their culinary sophistication. While Nationlism is running rampant throughout Europe and countries like France and England (pressed by war to form their respective cohesive identities) have already established themselves as entities. From what I understand until the unification happened in 1861, the only identities Italians could latch onto were those of their respective regional states. Given this relative lack of National perspective, it's no wonder Italian cuisine hadn't (and hasn't) reached an apotheosis.

Since then, one has to honestly question what role immigration to the U.S. and the subsequent watering down of Italian cuisine has had in preventing an Italian culinary identity from developing to the level of modern gastronomy. If anything, even in the best American restaurants, the trend has always been to focus solely on the subtle regional differences.

At any rate, I'm working on an Italian cookbook right now and I'm finding this thread immeasurable helpful. In the cookbook, I'm forced to choose from recipes that don't have much regional identity, but I'm researching as many as I can so as to give the closest representation of their origins.


"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut." -Ernest Hemingway

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How come the Japanese in non-touristic Japan don't call raw fish restaurants "sashimi bars"?

Robert, do you think that's accurate? As far as I know, a sushi bar serves sushi. On the coast that's going to be predominantly raw fish on sushi rice, but inland it's likely to be omelet, marinated mushrooms, and other vegetables on sushi rice--or at least it was before modern tranportation and refrigeratrion. Sashimi--raw fish in it's primest form--was not something I saw generally eaten in sushi bars. More often it was served as a course in a ryokan dinner or a more formal restaurant.

As for rice, it occupies a central place in the hearts and diets of the Japanese. With the exception of shushi and cheap dishes, it is eaten in homes and formal settings alike at the end of the meal along with tea and pickles, from what I've been told and seen. Thus, as in Italy, it may be seen as separate course in a more formal meal. However the Japanese often eat informally and then break all their own formal rules (from a western viewpoint, it can be seen as a dichotomy) and eat sushi or donburi. The latter is a dish of food over rice, much like the cheap workman's meals in Chinatown. There is little to be learned about Japan by visiting most Japanese restaurants in the west because the Japanese can be so adaptable.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Once again you pervert the sense of the Michelin by implying that a "Michelin" restaurant is sort of haute cuisine establishment.

Bux,

I'm afraid I have a sneaking suspicion that you read what you want to read and then make your own assumptions accordingly.

I repeat (and please read this) - I do not use Michelin in Italy as I have found that I prefer Italian restaurants in Italy and Michelin do lean towards French cuisine. It's a personal preference.

I personally feel it should be used sparingly and as a guideline. It is not the Bible IMHO but it's an easy way out for those not wishing to 'take a chance'.

I certainly have used Michelin quite a bit in France (but not exclusively) as I have found that you will rarely have a bad meal using it. I have also found it is very helpful in Spain but, again, not exclusively.

Does that clear this up once and for all?

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Hopleaf - good luck with the book. I look forward to reading about up-dates. Are you concentrating on a region (North/South/Islands etc) or being more broad? A difficult task as from my limited experience some people in Chianti consider people in Volterra as "strangers" and there cooking equaly strange. So making choices about the most 'correct' recipe is going to be hard.

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Does it not also have something to do with Italy's failure to export its cuisine effectively? I mean, Italian is the most popular cuisine in the United States according to every statistical measure I've seen, yet Italian food in the United States -- minus a few atypical joints like Babbo -- is quite bad. Why is that, and whose fault is it?


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 couldn't really resist adding my 2 cents worth to this discussion.

...

This isn't just an Italian feeling and some foreigners fall into this sort of frame of mind as well: when Peterpumkino says that anything which is not of a trattoria-type is not Italian, he says something that indeed many Italians agree with, although I believe it to be wrong. When high end restaurants are blamed by locals and sometimes by visitors that they are not enough trattoria-like, how can you expect a large number of them to flourish? The Passards, Gagnaires, Veyrats, Bras can only be produced in a context where high end cuisine is patronized by the locals as well as the tourists because this generates the large number of high end restaurants necessary to build a school, to make people want to become a creative chef. Unless, of course, you get a very special case like Ferran Adria who is able singlehandedly to inspire a new generation of chefs in his native land. Persoannyl I wish this wasn't true because I really do eblieve the cuisine to have the same potential as French cuisine, but I feel sometimes both Italians and non-Italians see it as "ethnic".

...

Shut my mouth, well just for a minute. That was an excellent addition to this thread, although "addition" seems to belie it's heavy weight.

I think what you say about Adria's domination of Catalonia is also true, although at this point his inspiration is paying off and there are several other chefs with haute cuisine restaurants that are doing quite well. I'm not at all sure the Basque region doesn't deserve even more credit. They have their own stars and rising stars. Nevertheless, both regions have long been known for their interest in food and their restaurants. They are also both adjacent to France and share a culture with the region of France they abut. Today, Spain dominates the food of Catalongne and the Pays Basque. That's interesting, but a subject for another thread in another board.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Amazing how those starving contadini managed to develop a delicious cuisine while those silly French peasants left it all to the toffs. Well I've aways said that the case of French peasant cuisine was overstated. Must have been their lack of fierce pride.

You 've got to learn how to use smilies, or stop eating out with Plotnicki.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Francesco, are you basically saying that there's some sort of deep Italian cultural rejection of "fanciness" that prevents the development of however you'd say haute cuisine in Italian?


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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Hopleaf - good luck with the book. I look forward to reading about up-dates. Are you concentrating on a region (North/South/Islands etc) or being more broad? A difficult task as from my limited experience some people in Chianti consider people in Volterra as "strangers" and there cooking equaly strange. So making choices about the most 'correct' recipe is going to be hard.

It is proving difficult, Adam. Could be worse, could have a job cleaning pit toilets! :biggrin:

I'm breaking the book up into North and South and then within will be highlighting several regions in each part. As for Islands, I'm including Sardinia with the North and Sicily with the South. It's odd, in my research I've found that, despite being an island, seafood plays a very limited role in Sardinia's cuisine. If anything freshwater fish seem to be more prevalent than any fruits de mer. Conversely, Sicily is rich in seafood offerings.


"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut." -Ernest Hemingway

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