A golden thread between history, tradition and innovation
Let us take the example of olive oil, of this luminous, transparent and at the same time full-bodied golden thread which represents much more than a simple seasoning. Oil tells the story of the distant past of many Italian regions where olive oil constituted the product of the only fruit which could be cultivated in stony, semi-arid and poor regions. It was one of the few riches of regions with few other resources, and where water was scarce.
But oil is not only a cultural and alimentary heredity passed down to us from our ancestors; it is not only an ideal seasoning which represents a millenary and salutary practice of our land's cuisine. Oil is also a fundamental element of our religion: it is the protagonist of many sacraments - holy unction is a very ancient rite - and as such it carries a deep spiritual and mystical significance. But oil also tells other stories: the story of oil lamps, for instance, or that of medicine and of health, beauty and cosmetics.
Clearly, however, it is on the table that oil reaches its sublimation. Today this can be witnessed not only in the regions which produce it, but also in every part of Italy where olive oil has come to substitute or complement other types of seasoning - butter and lard for instance - and from where, crossing every border, it delivers the image of the sunny and Mediterranean tradition of our country to the world. This image is spread acknowledging the capacity of this traditional product, which every region can proudly claim as an integral part of a great variety of its recipes, of acting as the unique protagonist of continuous innovation.
A Cultural Institution of the Republic of Italy
The Accademia maintains rightly it is the standard bearer of the Civilisation of the Table, the sole institution dedicated for sixty years to fighting for the pre-eminence of gastronomic culture over the depressing commercialisation of food and all forms of alimentary ignorance, through an intense programme of cultural activities created and carried out in the noble spirit of disinterested and committed service. This long road, travelled totally alone, disregarding outside praise and distractions, has enabled the Accademia to retain intact its cultural origins, as set out by its Founders, who were well known personalities in the Italian cultural circles of their time.
In 2003, the Minister for Cultural Affairs recognised the well documented cultural merits of the Accademia by granting it the denomination, “Cultural Institution”, thus placing it amongst the largest and most important Italian cultural organisations, often laden with over a century of experience, rich in past and present glories, bearers of experience and wisdom in the culture arena.
The only Italian gastronomical association present all over the world
This is why the Accademia Italiana della Cucina was created. An academy whose institutional activity, which is financed entirely by the Accademia itself, is carried out without intentions of profit, in absolute independence of judgment and on a voluntary basis.
Because safeguarding the values of Italian cuisine - that homely cooking, sprung from the history of every little municipality where, with the products yielded by the land itself, each person has elaborated his particular recipe and interpreted in his own way the ingredients of which he disposed, thereby still contributing, however, to the weaving of the larger pattern which is the gastronomical culture of a people - is equivalent to safeguarding a broader patrimony: that of the history, culture and custom of Italy. And the issue is not only to preserve ancient traditions, but to protect and survey their evolution and divulgation among cultivated and food-loving people. Preserving this patrimony is as right and as important as preserving a work of art, a monument, or an historical document.
A social service for the new generations
For more than sixty years now, the Accademia, which is organised in territorial Delegations - up to today 220 in Italy and 67 abroad (and additionally 13 Legations), counting approximately 7.5000 associates altogether - has been working intensively for the valorisation, research and broadening of knowledge about the Italian gastronomical culture. All this in order to hand over to the new generations a cultural patrimony which, apart from being the expression of the origins of their own land, is also personal enrichment, pursuit of quality, knowledge of history, of the formation of local cuisine, of its contacts with and contaminations by other cultures, of the selection and choice of the products typical of every region, town, and village.
Discovering or rediscovering the culture of conviviality, also in one's own home, with friends; acquiring or renewing the awareness of sitting at the same table, united by the participation in what might be defined as a common celebration - almost a re-experiencing of the spiritual significance of the rite of the communion, where the act of being together also has the function of reciprocal support, of solidarity expressed in the gesture of offering - is also a way of valorising oneself, a valid educational principle not to be dispersed.
But are the new generations willing to embrace the principle that the gastronomical identity is also a cultural identity, or has a dangerous homologising process already begun? This is another objective which the Accademia Italiana della Cucina has set itself and towards which it is persistently and vividly working: that of proposing tradition to the new generations as a positive concept, as the fruit of thousands of innovations, conceived also as the capacity to renew itself, day after day, in its forms and its substances, but capable of firmly maintaining the principles of genuineness, of care and of the search for the products of our land, as well as of the wholly Italian ability of putting these together.
And tradition, as it is conceived by the Accademia, naturally likewise allows for an exchange with the cultures of other peoples. An exchange, however, which does not foster homologation, but, quite to the contrary, accentuates the leading role of Italian cuisine in the world.