Through The Static

April 6, 2008

Is the Food Still Italian if the Chef Is a Foreigner?

Filed under: Culture,Food,Race — disciplepete @ 7:13 pm

Interesting article from the NYT about how the increasing number of immigrant cooks in Italy are the focus of a debate in some quarters about whether they are a threat to Italy’s traditional cuisine:

With Italians increasingly shunning sweaty and underpaid kitchen work, it can be hard now to find a restaurant where at least one foreigner does not wash dishes, help in the kitchen or, as is often the case, cook. Egyptians have done well as pizza makers, but restaurant kitchens are now a snapshot of Italy’s relatively recent immigrant experience, with Moroccans, Tunisians, Romanians and Bangladeshis at work…

…But Italians take their food very seriously, not just as nourishment and pleasure but also as the chief component of national and regional identity. Change is not taken lightly here, especially when the questions it raises are uncomfortable: Will Italy’s food change — and if so, for the worse or, even more disconcertingly, for the better? Most Italian food is defined by its good ingredients and simple preparation, but does it become less distinct — or less Italian — if anyone can prepare it to restaurant standards? Does that come at some cost to national pride?

If he is an Egyptian cook, nothing changes — nothing,” said Francesco Sabatini, 75, co-owner of Sabatini in Trastevere, one of Rome’s oldest neighborhoods. His restaurant is considered one of the city’s most conservative, serving classic Roman dishes like oxtail, yet 7 of his 10 cooks are not Italian…

…But in a debate likely to grow in the coming years, others argue that foreign chefs can mimic Italian food but not really understand it.

“Tradition is needed to go forward with Italian youngsters, not foreigners,” said Loriana Bianchi, co-owner of La Canonica, a restaurant also in Trastevere, which hires several Bangladeshis, though she does the cooking. “It’s not racism, but culture.” (article)



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