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Too much research in the kitchen

Di Antonio Caneva, 5 Settembre 2003

In the Il cuoco magazine, the house organ of the Italian Chefs Federation, I read an editorial by Secretary Gian Paolo Cangi, entitled: “Tradition first: let’s save passatelli”, about his recent experience at the Rimini Fair, where some chefs were to creatively interpret a few recipes. Things got so much out of control, says Cangi, “that I witnessed an assault on good taste and on the recipes that have made Italian cooking famous all over the world”. He bitterly explains that on that occasion one of the dishes presented was passatelli with cuttlefish ink, cooked as if they had been fine macaroni.
We are going through a period of extremist trends, but I read about recipes that seem to definitely incorporate too much research. One of the finalist dishes of the important annual contest held by Riso Gallo resulted to be Risotto with lamb sauce, Sardinian Pecorino zabaione and caramel myrtle: a little bit too much, maybe. Maybe I am just being narrow-minded, considering that the dish was selected by a jury of important experts. Research is no doubt a good thing, but we should not forget that the greatest success, but in terms of critics’ response and public appreciation, is often achieved by restaurants which cultivate traditions, even though in innovative ways. The Italian restaurant that has boasted three Michelin stars for the longest time is Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio, and its specialities are described in the Michelin Guide as follows: Risotto with saffron pistils and fried artichokes; gratinated frog legs aux fines herbes. Quite simple dishes, aren’t they? Completely within local tradition: and yet the quality of their ingredients and preparation make them into something unique.
It is marketing needs, albeit unconfessed, that often provide the motive for extreme proposals; then why not seek public attention through different approaches to cooking? Biological or vegetarian cooking, for example, can be very appealing. Indeed, those who have focused on these approaches have often achieved interesting results. An example worth mentioning is the excellent Milanese vegetarian restaurant Joia, which has been awarded a Michelin star.
For the purpose of marketing, I am convinced that rather than tampering with traditional cuisine, it is preferable to do research in less frequented realms of cooking.

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