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The birth of the 3rd way to Italian cuisine – “La bella cucina” of chefs working abroad

When was jazz born? Textbooks will answer, in 1895. Where? New Orleans, you will find in them. Correct. However, we know that that year and that city were just a place and a time in which some music trends from other places and times merged at a single point. What has this to do with Arezzo Medoliva 2008, where a “band” of itchefs-gvci went last May “to play” their olive oil based Italian cuisine?
Let's put it in this way: Medoliva 2008 may well be remembered as a time and a place in which Italian Cuisine arrived at one of its turning points. After Medoliva we can talk of the Third Way to Italian Cuisine, the way represented by Italian chefs working outside Italy. Arezzo was an ideal historical merging point.

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There were not only our 8 chefs coming from 5 continents, including, for the first time, a non-Italian born one (Mark Ladner); with them arrived the history of the last ten or more years of Italian Cuisine abroad. It was as if an entire new generation of Italian chefs, now truly working on a worldwide scale, were materialised in the faces present and the experiences offered at the fair.
A Third Way? And what then are the other two? Well, up to now, true, living Italian cuisine, its evolution and its representation, have been exclusively represented by chefs, cooks and restaurants based in Italy. And broadly speaking, in Italy, Italian cuisine can be split in two main categories: the traditional and the creative. On one hand you have the kind of cuisine performed by Anna Dente (Osteria di San Cesario), Lucio Sforza (L'Asino D'Oro, Orvieto), Giuliana Saragoni (Locanda al Gambero Rosso, San Pietro in Bagno) and the many cooks, mothers and chefs, who cook in the traditional way. On the other, you have Heinz Back, Paolo Lo Priore, Ciccio Sultano, Massimiliano Alajmo and those chefs (think also of the chefs who participate in the annual Identità Golose Congress) who make creative Alta Cucina Italiana d'Autore, though without loosing sight of tradition. We are generalizing of course, proposing a simplified way of describing a complex situation because, as close or as far as it way be from these two poles, there is, in the middle, a vast array of positions. Obviously excluded from this are the tourist restaurants of Florence, Venice, Rome and the other tourist cities as well as the infamously bad pizzerias and the Autogrill restaurants, where the food may even be good but it's just “something to eat”.

The style of the Third way

With the arising of the new generation of Italian Chefs abroad, something unprecedented has happened. We are talking about chefs trained and with solid experience gained in Italy before going abroad, chefs who left Italy not as emigrants. We are talking about exactly the kind of people who belong to the GVCI. For years now, since the GVCI was born, we have been saying that thanks to these chefs, the world is now more than ever the virtual 21st Italian Culinary Region, to be added to the 20 geographic regions of Italy. This has been the first important and long overdue step towards the full recognition of the fundamental role played by Italian chefs abroad and their “friends”, i.e. those culinary professionals, everywhere in the world, committed to the promotion of quality Italian cuisine.

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At Medoliva 2008 a further relevant step forward in that direction was made; thanks to the chefs belonging to itchefs-gvci, in a public international event, it was demonstrated that the style of cuisine of the Italian chef abroad has a common, finally visible, thread. Briefly stated, such a style has these broad characteristics:
-it is firmly based on tradition, (as in Cesare Casella's Chicken alla Cacciatore),
-it includes high quality Italian ingredients,
-it is carried out with exceptional skills (as in Francesco Carli's olive oil millefoglie and olive oil gelato),
-it has a light, refreshing approach (as in Mario Caramella's Raw tuna, couscous salad, extra virgin olive oil, orange, capers, marjoram)
-it is simply yet elegantly and colourfully presented (as in Francesco Greco Marinated yellowtail in fruity extra virgin olive oil, green apple mousse and Sante De Santis Swordfish carpaccio with red turnips and thyme)
- it is carried in a context of meticulous, professional and efficient organization (thanks also to the brilliant coordination of Elena Ruocco).

La “bella cucina” abroad

This style of Italian cuisine is heavily influenced by the fact that these chefs work abroad. The contemporary Chefs of quality Italian Cuisine outside Italy, particularly those working in medium to high level establishments (five-star hotel complexes or the like), deal with a cosmopolitan clientele, used to consuming the best of ethnic cuisines and/or quality productions of creative chefs. Think of chefs working in major European, Asian or North American cities, where the gastronomic offer is huge in terms of quality and quantity. The only way for them to face the increasingly tough competition is to produce well and creatively presented, refined dishes (as our globetrotter friend Roberto Bava calls “la bella cucina”). At the same time, they must not cut the tie with tradition. Paradoxically a creative Italian chef in Italy can put lemongrass in his dishes, an Italian chef abroad cannot, no matter if he works in Bangkok or Hong Kong, because it would confuse his clients who go to the Italian Restaurants to smell basil and rosemary. It's not by chance that in Arezzo, Mark Ladner, the non-Italian born chef of Italian cuisine of our delegation, presented, yes, a very unusual contemporary dish, Vegan Broth, but imbued it with all the flavours of our tradition: pasta cooking liquid, rosemary, honey and olive oil.

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In this sense, Italian Chefs abroad cook traditionally but they can rarely present a risotto alla milanese or a coda alla vaccinara as roughly as they do in simple Italian trattorias. For these reasons the new generation of Italian chefs abroad, those of course committed to quality and authenticity, really represent a Third Way to Italian Cuisine, a way that enriches the Italian gastronomic heritage and becomes a kind of novelty to try (and to learn) even for Italians in Italy, as happened at Medoliva. That’s why itchefs-gvci participates in events such as Medoliva, the idea is to cross-pollinate with chefs and the public in Italy, to bring their experience from the huge market represented by the Italian Cuisine consumers abroad.

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PROUD TO BE AT MEDOLIVA 2008

There is reason to be proud of the Third Way turning point that happened at Medoliva in Arezzo. Firstly, because it was in the context of a celebration of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which is the irreplaceable distinguishing ingredient of every modern culinary professional working for the promotion of Italy’s oenogastronomy. Then, more than anything else, Medoliva proved to be a highly successful event, the well-oiled organization of which matched the highest of international standards.
During the fair, Mario Caramella and Rosario Scarpato, on behalf of itchefs-GVCI, praised the efforts and the efficiency of Medoliva organisers, thanking particularly, Zelinda Ceccarelli and Maria D'Errico, the fair managers.
Elena Ruocco, itchefs-gvci event manager, brilliantly coordinated our team of chefs. The talented Roberto Bendinelli (now a GVCI member) supervised the Medoliva kitchen activities. Last but not least, our chefs shared the stage of Medoliva – Cooking with Olive Oil with young chefs of Central Italy competing for the title of Best Emerging Chef, organised by Luigi Cremona, an old time friend of itchefs-gvci.
An authentic star of the event was Simone Fracassi, one of the most competent “butchers” in the Province of Arezzo. Simone makes some of the best Italian handcrafted prosciutto from the Casentino valley. He has a shop (Antica Macelleria Fracassi) in Castel Focognano (Arezzo) that well deserve a visit.