Italy in Search of Food Ambassadors


If you’ve ever gone into, say, an Olive Garden after a trip to Italy, you’ve probably been amazed at what the popular American chain calls Italian food. Sure, there are elements of Italian cooking in there – like pasta and red sauces with Italian names – but an Italiano vero e proprio would be shocked (shocked, I say!) by what the restaurant passes off as Italian food.

Italy-in-Search-of-Food-Ambassadors

And this bastardization of Italian cuisine isn’t limited to places like Olive Garden (or Romano’s Macaroni Grill or any number of other chains), or even to the United States. Italian cooking, famous for its simplicity, is therefore relatively easy to duplicate the world over – meaning it’s also pretty easy to do it badly. The Italian Academy of Cuisine (AIC) has apparently had enough of this, as they are calling for “food ambassadors” to “stem the worldwide tide of insults to [Italy’s] culinary glory.”

A new survey … has painted a nightmare scenario of pizza, spaghetti, meat and fish dishes spoiled by incompetent cooking or cavalier disregard for Italy’s traditional recipes.

Among the horrors AIC found were ‘baked fish in pesto sauce’, apparently popular in the Netherlands, and a raft of ‘pasta salads’ that have Italian tourists in fits.

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“We must train a new generation of Italian chefs to spread the traditions of genuine Italian cuisine, willing to travel and become ambassadors of our culinary arts,” AIC said.

Only half of the cooks in so-called ‘Italian’ restaurants are Italian, said the food watchdog, which has 73 branches in 40 countries.

First of all, I swear I had a lovely fish in pesto sauce in Liguria made by an Italian chef using local ingredients, so I’m not sure what the uproar about the “baked fish in pesto sauce” is all about. Maybe my fish wasn’t baked? Who knows.

Second, the article claims that when another country incorporates its own cuisine into traditional Italian dishes this is a travesty. To me, Italian cooking is all about using what’s local and what’s fresh, and if a chef in an Italian restaurant in Germany doesn’t have access to the same ingredients as his counterpart in Genova, then he should be using what’s fresh and local. Of course, he should be calling it Italian-German cuisine or something, but to decry the incorporation of other cuisines into Italian is a bit over the top to me.

Finally, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – I am hereby volunteering the husband and I to be food ambassadors. We might not be Italian, but we’re enthusiastic students, which should count for something, right?

(As an aside, I see that Nicole Martinelli has her own take on this topic at Spot-On. Worth reading.)

Photo by: The Rambling Rountrees