Is Italian Cuisine a Victim of its Own Success? Export Typical Italian Products, Prodotti Tipici Italiani

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Is Italian Cuisine a Victim of its Own Success?

Categories: Food and Wines Articles - Wednesday, 23 December 2009

 

The event was promising and  gluttonous. Our taste buds were satisfied by the delicacies offered  by DS26 and Il Gattopardo, two top restaurants in New York. But we will  have to wait for the rest of the season for the promises to be fulfilled  as this was only a preview.
What are we talking about? Genuinely Italian,  the long-awaited marriage between Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò and Gruppo  Ristoratori Italiani (GRI). So we can therefore say that we attended  a wedding feast dedicated to Italian flavor. It was inevitable that  this meeting with prominent promoters of Italian culture in America  would happen sooner or later, and indeed we wonder why it took so long! 
 
GRI was founded three decades  ago with the mission to promote Italian gastronomic culture in New York  and the rest of the United States through the joint effort of Italian  restaurateurs to overcome competitiveness and to contribute to a common  cause: to initiate a dialogue with American consumers and teach them  to appreciate authentic, traditional Italian cuisine. It was as necessary  then as it is now to draw an audience, knowing that if clients were  satisfied with their experiences at an Italian restaurant, they would  probably decide to try another, helping to foster interest in Italian  cuisine and to expand the market for everyone. Today there are as many  as 800 members of the Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani, mostly located in  New York. 
 
What really is Italian food?  What are the magical ingredients, the techniques, and the secrets that  make it so special? These are the questions that have always stimulated  the “gastronomic imagination” of Americans and which Casa Italiana  and GRI want to answer. And the most common and decisive response is  that “the secret is in the raw materials.” Tony May, owner of San  Domenico and DS26 restaurants, and founder of the GRI, along with Gianfranco  Sorrentino, president of GRI and owner of the restaurant, Il Gattopardo,  cannot help but repeat it over the course of the presentation.
The quality of ingredients  makes a difference, and it is true that raw materials outside of Italy  are expensive because labor costs and quality are valuable. But it is  equally true that they are essential elements on which the success of  a recipe depends. 
 
In a friendly and warm atmosphere  away from a cold New York December, the evening’s guests, members,  and supporters of both associations along with journalists were able  to discover through a glass of wine and a sampling of excellent food  the qualities that connect the events’ participants: a commitment  to promote and preserve the distinctive character of Italy.
How? Through education. The  primary mission of GRI is to invest in the education of the public and  stakeholders. “We must teach young people in the field the importance  of products, to make them understand the difference between each product  and between originals and imitations.” Tony May added that it was  this education that comes from the attention to detail and the development  of culinary arts.
 
The preparation of young professionals  in the field, Gianfranco Sorrentino tells us, also involves a trip offered  each year to seven young students from culinary institutes, which enables  them to enjoy full immersion in the food and wine of an Italian region.  This is because young people today are not only the chefs of tomorrow,  but also future journalists, writers, and consumers.
 
GRI works to promote its activities  through many members and associates and through many events taking place  in the United States during the year. The most important is indisputably  Vino e Cucina, an event which brings together 600 participants, including  restaurateurs and corporate caterers who sample typical products which  are then awarded prizes of excellence.  
 
What about the project that  connects GRI and Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò?
Casa Italiana’s director,  Stefano Albertini, tells us more about it. Even the name of this project  is an entire program in itself: “Italian Cuisine: A Victim of its  Own Success?”
The project will consist of  a series of events, lectures, presentations, and a final seminar devoted  to the debate on the culture of Italian food and wine which will bring  participants into the real world of cooking in the bel Paese in America  today.
 
Specifically, the theme of  interpreting Italian cooking in America that prompted the most questions  from audience members in this auditorium. How and why does Italian-American  cuisine deviate from the original? The answer comes from the past. The  first Italians who arrived in the New World did not have access to the  essential raw materials to continue their food traditions. Only today,  thanks to a widespread and extensive distribution network, can we afford  to be loyal and more uncompromising.
 
But even in Italy today cuisine  has changed. To begin with, cooking is no longer done with animal fats  but rather with vegetable oils. The cooking time of food has been significantly  reduced and there is more of a demand for a light and healthy diet.
At the same time, Americans  have started to buy and acquire typical Italian products and learn to  prepare them, even though this is still an ongoing process that is slow  and involved. 
 
On one final note, there was  a bit of controversy to conclude the debate on innovation. In ranking  the best Italian restaurants in America, there are very few authentic  Italian restaurants on the list. According to Tony May, this is perhaps  due to geographical distance and so American chefs have a lot more freedom  to experiment than their colleagues abroad. Americans chefs study and  work for longer periods of time in Italy and once they return home they  apply the knowledge gained without fear of innovation. 
 
In short, we need to follow  the next season of events to see if the marriage works out and whether  we can truly say...and they lived happily ever after.
Translation by Giulia Prestia

Source: i-Italy

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