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Focus November 2018

Restaurants that sell ‘hot air’

Leaving aside chef Nicola Dinato’s self-effacing humour, minuscule portions of the ubiquitous trendy ingredients are frequently sold for exorbitant prices.


An accomplished Michelin-starred restaurateur has cheekily admitted to including ‘hot air’ among the many excellent victuals on his menu. This is in fact a sort of ‘cloud’ made of tapioca puffed up in the oven and then fried; it is hollow inside, literally containing hot air. Similarly delicious is the Red Guide’s comment on the starred chef: “techniques and excellent raw materials vie to create results of impressive heft”.
The Espresso newspaper’s restaurant guide, awarding one chef’s hat, expresses itself similarly: “Technique and creative flair go hand in hand”, after declaring this restaurant’s cuisine a “multiverse”. The Espresso also dedicates an intense cameo to Massimo Bottura, affirming inter alia that “art is alive because it inhales our breath and exhales it back to us as a finished message. Art has the power to change our minds”. When it comes to describing top restaurants, our valiant reviewers and food critics raid the dictionary for bombastic adjectives, plunging headlong into effusive hyperbole and reckless rhetoric as if jousting in a lexical tournament. Very often, however, these exalted chefs do truly sell hot air, and at a high price. Minuscule portions of the usual trendy ingredients combined often in excessive numbers, thereby drowning out each other’s flavours, aiming to impress by outclassing one’s star-studded colleagues with one’s superior imagination while, alas, perhaps committing basic technical faux pas. The clientele is varied and some are impervious to exorbitant prices, and so we find an appetiser of crudo di fassona ham for 48 Euros, a Milanese saffron risotto for 42 Euros, tagliatelle with ragù meat sauce for 60 Euros, a portion of bass for 90 Euros, a scant steamed scampi starter for 125 Euros, spaghetti alla chitarra pasta with mullet roe for 95 Euros, and a mullet fillet for 110 Euros. These are merely some examples of real prices in renowned restaurants. These prohibitive delicacies can be enjoyed on rare special occasions or to sample the creativity of Italy’s leading restaurateurs, but they cannot constitute the load-bearing pillars of Italian cuisine. The 2019 edition of our Good Traditional Table Guide was recently presented to the press: it aims to familiarise the public with ordinary and sometimes slightly elevated, but not élite, restaurants in which to enjoy our flavoursome traditional fare. We inhabit different worlds, admittedly, but both restaurant worlds must coexist, perhaps while striving to avoid extreme hot-air affectations.

P.S. Counterorder, comrades! Following the counterorder illustrated in our September Focus, we now have another: meat is healthy! Animal proteins are beneficial and steak may be safely enjoyed, since it contains an abundance of vitamin B12. After the WHO sounded the alarm on the carcinogenic potential of red meat, a British research project from the University of Oxford has rehabilitated ‘flesh’, which aids brain and muscle development and skeletal growth. All told, you have probably figured out that we might as well eat what we please, in moderation, without going overboard but also without the holy terror of enjoying our favourite foods.

Paolo Petroni