Italy’s great chefs deserve praise
Yet the Academy supports extraordinary but unsponsored culinary talents disregarded by the media.
According to the 2018 edition of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by Acqua Panna and San Pellegrino among others, the “Osteria Francescana” in Modena is once again, for the second time, the world’s best restaurant.
Massimo Bottura, justifiably radiant alongside his wife Lara Gilmore, an essential part of the great chef’s worldwide success, is a champion of change. Among the top 50, Italy boasts “Piazza Duomo” in Alba (16th), “Le Calandre” in Rubano (23th) and “Reale” in Castel di Sangro (36th). Italy has acquitted itself well.
It is not easy to secure a table at the Francescana, with few tables and bookings taken months in advance, despite the 400-Euro price tag (per head) for tasting menus with wine pairings. The man possesses considerable tact and ingenuity, and the valiant crew deserves every success and recognition. However, such definitions as ‘best in the world’ and ‘best ever in Italy’ make no more sense in the restaurant world than in other artistic fields: the best painter, sculptor or film director, the supreme actor and so forth. Nevertheless, marketing has its ways: a campaign may hit the mark, and suddenly it’s all over the news. Yet, when it comes down to it, the food is another issue entirely. To assess a restaurant, pretend you don’t know how many stars or chef’s hats it has, how famous it is. Order what takes your fancy and judge calmly and honestly. This is the only standard for Academicians to follow.
An important journalist recently declared it altogether incredible that after 65 years, the Italian Academy of Cuisine, Italy’s oldest gastronomic association, still has a role and an essential function in today’s cooking and restaurant scene. Flattering words which spur us to work ever harder and better. We must not be inveterate contrarians, but the dicta of today’s exalted kitchens are unconvincing. Let’s be frank: it’s not easy to eat well in the eminent restaurants venerated by the food guides, with their abundant swagger, absurd gimmicks, farcical combinations, haughty service and exorbitant prices.
Many young talents are suffering because the food guides disregard them, they lack the right sponsors, their earnings flat-line, they don’t get their big breaks, they have no PR staff, they’re not innovative enough. The Academy must help these promising purveyors of delicious and authentic Italian cuisine. One can, indeed must, sample the creations of the greats, but ultimately what counts is the overall quality of a restaurant. Because there is a world of which nobody speaks, namely that of mediocre restaurants, which appear and swiftly vanish, with improvised cooks trying their luck plagiarising the recipes of the gurus. But can they make an omelette or a couple of fried eggs? In many cases, no.
After 65 years, the Academy faces a formidable challenge: to protect an Italian cuisine which is real, modern, even innovative -but also tasty!
President of the Italian Academy of Cuisine