by Rosario Scarpato, Director of International Day of Italian Cuisines 2011
The popularity of Dante Alighieri, Italy’s most known writer is nothing in comparison of that of Pesto Genovese. In order to describe all that happened on the recent IDIC – the International Day of Italian Cuisines – last 17th January, it’s almost obligatory to paraphrase the great Italian writer Giuseppe Prezzolini, who wrote something similar in regards to spaghetti, which in the US were certainly better known than Dante. Almost a thousand chefs in 70 countries prepared authentic Genoese pesto, the official plate of the IDIC and first and foremost of these were the associates of itchefs-gvci, the network of culinary professionals that promotes the event. This most famous raw sauce in the world –and therefore the most distorted– represented, for a day, not only Italian cuisine, but in general Italian culture, to the eyes of each and every nationality although they had never have ever heard of Dante, of Manzoni and not even of Umberto Eco. Therefore, the IDIC, together with its fourth celebration, is not just basically a promotion of cuisine and products made in Italy, but by now, also a grand cultural event.
I don’t know if he was aware of it, but it was probably Paolo Pancotti, who, by being in Hawke’s Bay, New Zeeland, first started to fashion trofie (small elongated and tapered gnocchi) and trenetteola (pasta with a square cross section), and thus gave the first impetus to a practically perfect that went around the world to finish in Los Angeles, perhaps with the personal chef, Alberto Lazzarino. The Genoese pasta that thousands of guests ate in the restaurants adhering to the IDIC on the 17th January was like –and maybe even more than– a book, a DVD, a film or website, in which can be found the history and the stories, the sensations, the cultural material, the records of the places that the dish was born in and where it’s best enjoyed; not only in Genoa and the Region of Liguria with their contribution of ingredients –basil and extravirgin Riviera Ligure DOP olive oil– but in all of Italy, with its Sicilian pine nuts, its garlic from Vessalico, in the Ligurian province of Imperia and its seasoned grana padana cheese, indispensible for making a fine pesto, and, furthermore, one that celebrates this year’s 150th anniversary of the union of the Italian nation. Genoese pesto, as also tagliatelle al ragù bolognese, spaghetti alla carbonara and risotto alla milanese, is one of those dishes that have truly united Italy, at least at the table and in the imagination of the people of the world; well at least from the Alps to Cape Lilibeo in Sicily, but then also from Stuttgart to mythical Broccolino –Brooklyn that is– to La Boca of Buenos Aires, places that the Italian immigrants took pesto to, from Tokyo to Bangkok or to Hong Kong, where today it is prepared by qualified chefs who’ve left Italy.
The Launch of the IDIC in New York
As in previous years, the IDIC 2011 was launched in New York City with a two-day premiere, 12th and 13th January, organised by the Italian Culinary Academy of Manhattan, directed by Cesare Casella, leader of itchefs-GVCI in the USA. The dense programme of events included workshops on typical Italian products and a press conference in which pesto was prepared by Andrea Della Gatta, President of the Consortium of Genoese Pesto. During the launch, there was a hook up with Genoa, where another press conference was presenting the event organised by the Region of Liguria and its agricultural assessor, Giovanni Barbagallo, with the presence of Gino Razzano, the chef of a Monte-Carlo-registered yacht, in representation of the itchefs-GVCI network. Amongst the events of the pre-premiere in the Big Apple, Paolo Monti, executive chef of the Gaia Group of Hong Kong, furnished an exquisite lunch for the launch of the Programme of Traceability and High Quality for Italian Extravirgin Olive Oil promoted by the National Consortium of Olive Farmers.
Alajmo and Bottura prepared the dinners for the Oscars of Italian Cuisine
The IDIC is also a moment for the promotion of oenogastronomic culture in general and, therefore, for the second year, the Italian Cuisine Worldwide Awards, the Oscars of Italian cuisine were granted during a gala dinner prepared by Massimiliano Alajmo, the three-Michelin-starred chef of Le Calandre di Rubano, Padua, Region of Veneto. Among those awarded for the USA, were the chefs Paul Bartolotta and Mario Batali, the restaurateurs Tony May and Dorothy Cann Hamilton, directress of the International Culinary Center of New York. Two of the Oscars awarded this year went to the restaurateurs Beppe de Vito and Roberto Galetti of Singapore. The exclusive statuettes in ceramics from Faenza, fashioned by the sculptor, Goffredo Gaeta, were delivered to them in Singapore, during a lunch prepared by Massimo Bottura, of the Osteria Francescana di Modena, Modena, Region of Emilia Romagna, at the Forlino restaurant, where the President of the GVCI, Mario Caramella, had just arrived as chef owner. Mario Caramella involved Bottura in a pleasant, symbolic preparation of Genoese pesto, the first of the IDIC 2011. And he made it while connected via Skype with Alajmo, Casella, Monti and all the other participants of the Chefs’ Night Out in New York City organised by the Italian Culinary Academy. The presence at the celebration of the IDIC 2011 of Massimiliano Alajmo and Massimo Bottura, two of the most representative contemporary Italian chefs, was especially meaningful; it’s a way to strengthen itchefs-GVCI’s worldwide commitment to defend authentic, traditional Italian cuisine while strengthening its most modern and excellent expressions in Italy.
The great Ola of Pesto and the Championship
The celebration itself was, of course, that of 17th January. During the great ola of Genoese pesto that hundreds of cooks participated in (see the map), the itchefs-GVCI associates of four cities hosted special events, particularly the playoffs of the World Pesto Championships. In fact, Itchefs-GVCI had an agreement of collaboration with the Palatifini Association of Genoa that organises the finals of the championship in the capital of Liguria every two years. It started with the Savoy chef, Giulio Vierci in Sapporo, Japan. Next was Pietro Rongoni, in his restaurant, Aromi Italiani in Moscow, Russia, where he hosted the Genoese chef, Salvatore Perrone of the Consortium of Genoese Pesto, and the jury presided by Mauro Cavallero of the Palatifini (with Alfredo Zini, national vice-president of the FIPE, as special juror). At the same time in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Francesco Carli, executive chef or the Copacabana Palace Hotel, and Elena Ruocco, chef advisor of the Sitio do Moinho, organised, in that hotel, a refined Ligurian dinner prepared by guest chef, Claudio Pasquarelli, of the Claudio di Bergeggi restaurant, preceded by the qualifications to the Pesto Championship, coordinated by Roberto Panizza, the creator of the Championship. Two days earlier, Panizza had been in New York City to preside the jury of the playoffs in the Big Apple. At the same time in Buenos Aires, Donato De Santis, the best known chef in South America (thanks to his programmes on the El Gourmet channel) made a grand and symbolic homage to Genoese pesto in La Boca, Argentina’s Little Genoa. Also in the Tango Capital playoffs for the Pesto Championship were carried out with Sara Dipaolo as president of the jury.
The reflectors on pesto haven’t yet been switched off but already we’re being asked what’s going to be the dish for the IDIC 2012. Well, what’ll it be? It’s a bit early to decide, but this widespread curiosity is one more sign of the success of this initiative.