From an elite conception to the world’s largest Academy
Academicians’ contribution is essential to our mission’s development.
When, in 1953, Orio Vergani chose to give life to the Italian Academy of Cuisine, his frame of reference was the Club des Cent (Club of a Hundred), an exclusive French society founded in 1912 by Louis Forest. Its members gathered every Thursday, usually at Maxim’s, and the menu was organised always by a different “Brigadier” (our Symposiarch). The dishes were assessed afterwards. They even had their own restaurant guide, only distributed among members, however. Admission was not easy. Candidates had to be nominated by two members (as in our Academy) and could then only be accepted with approval from a strict Examining Commission that weighed their human and moral qualities and knowledge of wine and food. Initially, therefore, Vergani had in mind an exclusive, elite Club. Yet the idea was too worthy and stimulating to be restricted to a group of Milanese friends, and so his creature soon ‘took him by the hand’ and grew its membership, creating numerous regional Delegations. Vergani was very pleased by this, having created something unique.
At first, the Academy’s life revolved around gatherings in various restaurants, and its rare conferences were of national scope. Then came a second phase, oriented towards culinary culture, which developed through numerous local conferences and the publication of books and restaurant guides; our magazine Civiltà della Tavola was completely overhauled and updated. In 2003, the Italian Ministry of Culture recognised the Academy as a Cultural Organ of the Italian Republic.
In our current, third phase, we face a new challenge: transcending self-reference. Our activities and efforts must move beyond a purely Academic milieu and reach the outside world and its wider audience. Our website, smart phone apps, restaurant guide, national recipe book, and newly revamped magazine are all instruments that broaden the Academy’s global reach. Even our many conferences and studies at the local level, often with contributions from Regional Study Centres, must find relevance to current issues.
History and memories are essential elements, but we must also consider our agricultural heritage, our cheeses, our sea and lake fishing, our foods’ places of origin; we must note our strong points and influence regional food systems. Our prizes (a representative example: the Dino Villani prize) are seldom used and little known.
Our Academicians must not simply be fee-paying members; before joining, they are not examined by a Commission as in the Club des Cent, yet they must feel as if they had been. Academicians must all feel that they are bearers of a mission, not mere diners (often scarcely attending) at convivial gatherings. Their contribution is crucial to the development of the Academy’s mission.
President of the Accademia