Friday, February 05, 2010

Italian-American Food at VINO2010

Italian-American food, why don't it get no respect? was the topic of one of the workshops taking place into the frame of VINO2010 week. A glamorous panel, most of it of Italian origin, tried hard to tackle the issue. Amongst them, Tony May, a legendary, New York based restaurateur with SD26; Di Palo, the Italian deli store and the young Torrisi Italian Specialties owners. Tony May was bold: what makes Italian food is the product, he said, and as such it has to be imported from Italy and has to be expensive. Italian restaurateur, Piero Selvaggio disagreed, saying that Italian food shouldn't be expensive: fresh pasta, olive oil and tomato sauce don't cost a lot and make a decent, pasta dish. He also admitted that the most famous Italian-American food is Caesar Salad (made with an Italian twist I assume). The Torrisi owners (chefs Carbone and Torrisi) have a different approach to the Italian cooking: their quasi Italian eatery does not import anything from Italy but their philosophy is very much Italian: cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients from the country (USA in this case), is practically the definition of that country’s multi regional cuisine. Their questionable - for Italian foodies and experts - approach gained the respect of Di Palo who wished them all the best for their uncertain and rather challenging food future. Food Arts magazine editor in-chief, Michael Batterberry had an extreme, intellectual take on the whole cooking issue and well-known, food journalist David Rosengarteh did an excellent job as the panel's moderator.

On the way out, I asked an Italian food journalist and good friend what his opinion was. He said that there can't be Italian food without an Italian chef in the kitchen. How Italian the food is when the chef is from Mexico or Ecuador?

I am not an expert on the topic but I have always thought that food looses its national features when it emigrates abroad. What happens with the American-Italian cuisine, applies to all cuisines in the USA. Think tacos in an American restaurant: a plate with two or three, filled with ground meat or chicken and tons of melted cheddar cheese on top, is a fully satisfied entrée. In Mexico, a tiny filled taco is just food for the lunch break.