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Alitalia: a missed opportunity to educate worldwide consumers on Italian Cuisine - Chef Sauro Scarabotta writes to its CEO

Italy´s national airline is, for many foreign travelers going there, their first gate to Italian cuisine and wine. Too often, however, the level of Alitalia´s onboard meals is appalling, in all classes and especially on the intercontinental routes. To such extent, that Chef Sauro Scarabotta (FRICCO, SAO PAULO), an itchefs-GVCI associate, has written twice to Alitalia´s CEO complaining about the terrible experiences he´s had (see the letter below). But why hasn´t this changed? Isn't there a way to improve the situation?

The reshaping of the company that took place a couple of years ago, ignited the hope of a change which never happened. The airline still publicizes to have an important Italian Cooking School as a consultant for its menus but for sure no one from that School checks the quality of the food served aboard.

It is true that the company must save on everything in order to survive but with some creativity, some solutions could be found for sure. In the end, Alitalia should not escape its responsibilities: representing a country that is a gastronomical superpower.

* * *

Dear Mr. Sabelli,

My name is Sauro Scarabotta, I am Italian, 46 years old and I have been living in Sao Paulo, Brazil, since 1994. I often travel for both work and vacations, and until a few years ago I traveled with ALITALIA because of my spirit of nationalism and because I felt well treated. Last year, I took a couple of flights with ALITALIA, because of decisions ‘forced’ by other factors and, I have to tell you, those flights made me feel ashamed of being an Italian.

I took the flight Sao Paulo – Rome, 29th Oct and returned Rome – Sao Paulo, 10th Nov. I have since made two written complaints about the terrible quality of the food, it was uneatable!!!

Until now no one has answered me and now, I do not believe that any one will. I wish to let you know that my final destination was Hong Kong and that I flew the stretch Rome – Hong Kong with CATHAY PACIFIC, and the difference was enormous, everything was better, the cleanliness of the ‘plane, the general condition of the toilets, the quality of the materials, the table-ware and the kinds of paper (serviettes, toilet paper, etc.) from the type of seat to the distance between the rows; let me tell you that I searched for anything inferior or more or less equal to that of ALITALIA, but I did not find it!!!

I have always travelled with you in BUSINESS or as you call it ‘MAGNIFICA’, but I would call it barely ‘SUFFICIENTE’.

Let us talk about the dining services on board: the original and well laid out menu and wine card provoked high expectations by means of the language used as well as the description of the cultural and regional aspects. The text describing Friuli Venezia Giulia is almost poetic. But then comes the service, which maintains its high level of professionalism, courtesy and devotion of the staff, however, as the dishes arrive, step by step, the sparkle fails and things hit bottom with a bread of the worst of quality. But let us take things in order, starting with the antipasto: we were served a towelette, of Japanese restaurant sort, dry and with bad odour! The antipasto, consisting of four samplings, presented the dinners with; 1- a badly cut slice of Italian prosciutto DOP, of which I have serious doubts about its being Italian at all and I would be willing to bet any amount that it was not DOP because of its very low quality and its total lack of fat, 2- marinated vegetables (according to the menu) – celery, carrots and tomatoes raw and unseasoned. Let me tell anyone who may not know that marinade is a liquid formed on the base of herbs and acids or oil which ‘cooks’ meats, fish or vegetables when immersed in it, 3- ricotta quenelle with rosé gelatine which were flat (quenelle is a creamy pasta which allows the formation of an oval by being passed from one spoon to another repeatedly) and were of smoked ricotta, 4- grilled yellow polenta with Montasio DOP cheese. Well, there was plenty of polenta, but it had never seen the grill; and the Montasio, a cooked cheese, therefore yellow, was not Montasio in as far as it was creamy and white. And the pasta with San Marzano DOP tomatoes and basil gets a particularly low mark. This really bleak level was maintained by the rest of the courses on the menu and worsened by the freezing plates which chilled everything that should have been served hot – the only thing that the staff aboard could have improved. The only product truly worthy of the circumstances was the AZ olive oil, which was zealously hidden and taken to the passengers only upon request.

The positive points: well then, the timing of the service, the quality of the cutlery and of the glasses, the service of the wines and their temperature both red and white.

Mr. Sabelli, please, let us not use such fancy-sounding names as DOP, Quenelle, Montasio, Carnaroli, San Marzano and San Daniele for the purpose of marketing, because when we do, make a terrible presentation to those who already know these products, and because those who are trying this mediocrity for the first time, will certainly not buy it again because they did not like it – thus doubling the damage!!!

I am sure that the inspectors of ALMA will terminate their contract with you, because the entire page of your menu is dedicated to concepts that are light-years from the reality to be found on your plates.

I very much hope that Mr. Marchesi becomes aware of things before the damage becomes irresolvable.

If it is to our benefit that tourists come to Italy – and many come specifically for our food and wine – if they judge things by what they are served on ALITALIA have no doubt, they will be few a far between.

I do not know if I will receive an answer or if you will have the patience to read to this point, however, I attach my boarding pass as a proof of what I have just written.

Awaiting a simple answer, I thank you,
Sincerely,
Sauro Scarabotta

 
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