Italian culinary story through epochs of time

The equivocal nature of history has thrown open questions about the ‘authenticity paradox’ that beckons us to broaden our understanding of the word

Published: 10th February 2018 10:30 PM  |   Last Updated: 11th February 2018 07:46 AM   |  A+A-

reen Asparagus Risotto

NEW DELHI: Wrists should be on the table, but never your elbows. The line came rushing as Chef Roberto Gatto ladled out a portion of Green Asparagus Risotto from the rondeau into our flat plates. ‘Italian’s consider etiquettes sacrosanct’ a Romansomelliar had once told us. We could tell by chef Gatto’s demeanour that he was one such man. Nevertheless, we positioned our savage spoons to devourer the creamy rice dish.

Chef Roberto Gatto

It was a recipe he showed off proudly that afternoon at San Gimignano at The Imperial, where he along with Executive Chef Attilio Di Fabrizio from Belmond Villa San Michele, Florence, presented an Italian masterclass. “It’s very real and that’s what makes it delightful,” he says. At a time when authenticity is laced with ambiguity, one wonders what  the word implies. One thing is clear: etiquettes are important to cultures just like authenticity is important to cuisines.

People like Gatto, the Executive Chef at Belmond’s Hotel Cipriani in Venice, implores the importance of originality. Respect for convention and regard for tradition is universally valued and he feels no differently. “It’s a way to preserve history,” he says.

The equivocal nature of history has thrown open questions about the originality paradox in a way that beckons us to broaden our understanding of the word. Whether it is mustard and horseradish being served under the garb of wasabi, or mozzarella instead of buffalo cheese added to a pizza, authenticity is becoming fast elusive. It’s quite the same with recipes.

They become what each generation justifies them to be. With every kitchen they reach, they marinate themselves in the cultural, societal, geographic and economic milieu of that place. In the process, sometimes seizing to be what they begin as. “We don’t cook the way our grandmothers cooked,” says Gatto. “It was all about simplicity, freshness and eating locally, as opposed to exotic ingredients, fancy equipments and elaborate processes.” he says.

Fiesole style potato dumplings with fresh
tomato and basil

That the very nature of cuisine is mailable makes the authenticity debate complex. Economic and social influences on its trajectory are inevitable. Italian food shows this clearly in the way it has evolved from the pre-Roman era to present day. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the municipalities of Italy began to establish their individual food identity.

The Columbian Exchange in the 15 century facilitated import of spices, wine and ingredients among other things, from the New World to the Old. Along with food, human beings began to cross the boarders too. As they migrated, they infused their traditions to Italian cuisine. The cuisine had now become a shared heritage. “Italy has 20 regions. From the early Middle ages, Italy consisted of separate republics, each with different culinary customs. These practices, passed down every generation contributed to the diversity of Italian cuisine,” says Gatto.

The history of Italian cuisine continued to change shape with economic influences. The post World War II period introduced modernised methods of farming and new technology. Inter-city movement became common. “Southerners travelled to the north, introducing pizza to them and those from the north introduced risotto and polenta to the south,” he says.  Even though Gatto has tried to evaluate the meaning of authenticity, it’s been a challenge given its subjectivity. But he has understood is that there is no need for a cuisine to be authentic to be good.

None of the nouveau  cuisines of are remotely authentic but they are delicious. Recipes like Risotto Agli Asparagi and Fiesole style potato dumplings with tomato and basil are difficult to realize, only because they are simple to make, he says. “What you get in the field is what you see in the plate, without changing the taste and shape. That’s authenticity,” he says. Signature dishes are on offer at San Gimignano at The Imperial New Delhi till February 11. In October, chefs from The Imperial will go to Italy to promote Indian cuisine in an exchange between them and Belmond Hotels.

Down the years...

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the municipalities of Italy established their individual food identity.
The Columbian Exchange of the 15th century further promoted the cuisine’s evolution. The post World War II period introduced modernised methods of farming and new technology, which changed Italy’s culinary landscape dramatically

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