There is no question that Italian cuisine is stuck in tradition and in its rituals. In many ways, this nostalgia for the past as well as the quality of its ingredients have helped Italian cuisine to travel the world over the past years.
But in Italy, many are speaking of an Italian cuisine that, like the whole of Italy, is suffering from an identity crisis. The problem, for some it seems, is that the country is too stuck in its ways. As Massimo Bottura likes to say, if traditions are put under glass they stagnate.
So it is no surprise that an interview with Arrigo Cipriani, the owner of the legendary Harry’s Bar in Venice, has created a storm in Italy. He said that Italian cuisine is today an ugly copy of French cuisine and destined to lose. “The obsession of designers, fancy restaurants without any substance,” is ruining everything according to the 83-year-old proprietor of 22 restaurants across the world.
In the interview with Il Fatto Quotidiano, Cipriani criticised two television personalities, Carlo Cracco and Gianfranco Vissani saying that he would have difficulties calling them cooks, let alone chefs. In the interview, Cipriani who epitomises the Made in Italy brand with his luxury products like pasta sold worldwide, was also highly critical of tasting menus proposed by these chefs. “Do you think that it makes sense for someone to go to a restaurant, spend many euros and have someone impose on you what you have to eat. If you are no longer at liberty, everything ends. It no longer becomes a luxury but is a completely different thing. They do it to show that they are great.”
He was also extremely critical of the Michelin Guide saying he did not know its name and for him it was the guide of ‘tyres’ or ‘la guida dei copertoni’.
Cipriani was also critical of different styles of plates used today in restaurants. “A plate should be round. And the cutlery small. It does not make sense to use the large forks that are in use today. And I am referring to the starred chefs of the French tyres guide,” he said.
Cipriani is known for his attention to detail and service so there is a reason why he is critical of the service on offer nowadays.
Asked whether he would save any of his colleagues he said he liked the ‘osterie’ in Veneto where he goes frequently. He also likes L’Assunta Madre in Rome which according to him is a good restaurant because it serves fresh fish without being fancy. “These are the places where I find my clients. It means that our model has worked,” he said.
We all know that in Italy it is very difficult to try new things. Only recently Cracco created a storm by adding garlic during a television programme to the Amatriciana sauce, which brought protests from the city’s mayor.
We have also heard Massimo Bottura speak many times about how difficult it is to touch certain things like the recipes of Italian grandmothers.
Italian cuisine today finds itself at a crossroad. While the quality of produce in this country remains exceptional, the country has in many ways remained attached to its past. While not many will appreciate the Spanish innovations brought about by Ferran Adria, there are those who believe that with nostalgia alone, Italy stands to lose on the global stage.
Is Cipriani right to criticise Italian cuisine today? It’s hard to say. What’s for sure is that a lot still needs to be done to tackle Italy’s identity crisis.