Because Italy is more than a geographic expression..

Alessi S.P.A. US

Monday, October 26, 2009

Taking On Italian Culinary Sophistication And Regionalism

I originally wrote this in May, 2006. I decided to post an edited and updated version for e-Talian.

I gotta admit, Jamie Oliver has balls to go along with his culinary talent.

I discovered the British chef on the foodnetwork (a British chef? Who knew?) while he traveled Italy in search of true and pure rustic regional Italian cooking. The episode titled "Great Italian Escape" intrigued me since I not only cook but also consider myself a purist in the Italian kitchen. Like I said; brave kid. I had to watch.

It's difficult for North Americans to get into an Italian mindset when it comes to demanding refinement. We're not a society devoted to food. It's more a chore in our day. We often, in some cases, eat like depraved gluttons. Italy is where I came to observe a dietary habit that was subtle in its near perfection. Everything from the times they eat to how they serve and compliment their food, Italians know what they're doing.

Food is a cornerstone of many societies, but in Italy it's taken to another level.

So subtle is their approach, even world famous chefs who regard Italian cuisine as simplistic overlook it. Until they pay closer attention. I have often lamented about how I wish people would spend a week in an Italian village. There they would learn to appreciate that food is a serious part of the human experience. They would also come to see why the sophisticated culinary diet of Italy is first rate. It's not all about spaghetti and meatballs. In some parts of Italy rice is consumed more. Betcha you didn't know that, eh?

Getting to the heart of Italy

Jamie Oliver learnt what I learned the first time I went to Italy. There are laws of food to observe. Each region has its own approach to specific dishes and don't deviate from it. Just like there are natural and economic laws, there are culinary laws. Not in the haughty French manner (a society first introduced to high cuisine by Catherine De Medici who was known as L'Italienne in France) but in an understated Italian way.

When it comes to food, tasteful conservatism and minimalism prevails. In any event, you can't just mix and match ingredients. Fusion cuisine is all the rage and trend among chefs and diners these days; but don't tell that to the Italians.

In fact, it's what sometimes frustrated Oliver during the show. He explained that while he wished he had been born Italian, he could not understand their utter stubbornness and lack of open-mindedness when it comes to different interpretations of cooking. He submitted that the British were more open to other cuisine's whereas the Italians were less predisposed to try, say, Thai food.

He's right. On the other hand, it's easy for nations without a national diet or cuisine to be open.

For years, I wondered about Oliver's astute comment. Simplistically, therein lies why Italy is, well, Italy. If they weren't so single-minded and devoted to their art, they would cease to be Italian. It's a trade off of sorts. Italy is one of the "last of the Mohicans" among nations (especially among the G7) in that artisanship and craftsmanship of the highest quality -whether in shoes, machinery or furniture making and of course food - prevails.

In economics they call it opportunity costs. Sure, Italy could attempt to mass-produce in their typical chaotic fashion to make more money but that would not be fair to the rest of us. Italy remains a land ruled by dynasties who focus on one or two products and master its contents; just like how Charlie Parker mastered the saxophone without ever reading a single note.

It's in the Italian blood to make beautiful things. Though not the first, I'm glad Jamie Oliver educated and brought Italian cooking to its roots. Italian know-how takes a backseat to no one. He evidently underestimated the will of how Italians do things. He did a great job - and service - from where I stand. I'm sure Italians would approve.


  1. Hello, that was well written! I like Jamie also, he gives you a natural feeling watching him cook. I also cook live on tv here in the u.s. Live cooking to me is the best way to go ! Tomorrow I will be cooking Bolognese!! Thank You

  2. What’s the name of the show? Come on, plug it!

  3. Outstanding post. It is so subtle, informative and well written! I’ll recommend it to some blogs I know who have somewhat liaisons with Italy. Ciao, my compliments.

  4. I was directed here by Manofroma, who wisely understood how I could be interested in your topics. The message of this particular post is at the core of my manuscript on Italian rustic cuisine and the culture surrounding the home kitchen. The subject of Italian food is too often simplified and stereotyped into the “spaghetti & meatballs” cliché. Thank you!
    I too am fascinated by Jamie Oliver’s talent, and his homage to Italian food is impressive. The one thing I dislike about watching him cook is that nasty habit of his of constantly licking his fingers and then touching the food. Altrimenti he’s a genius.

  5. Thank you MOR and Lola for the kind words.

    Lola, my other observed the same thing! She feels he’s not clean enough. Hilarious.

  6. I saw this series and loved the part when one old woman told Jamie he was doing things all wrong! LOL
    Very good post.