Archive for the ‘Final Individual Projects’ Category

Cristiano Tomei and the Tuscan Tradition – Bethanne Bartscherer

June 11th, 2014 by bbarts15

Cristiano Tomei is often described as crazy, uninhibited, and fearless. He has been likened to musical artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa, and nearly every restaurant critic makes a point of his iconic beard and long hair. In fact, Tomei’s eccentric personality is only matched by the meals he prepares. As one critic explains, “his kitchen is his playground… his food is a gastronomic ‘trip;’ you’re not exactly sure where you’ve been, but you want to go back” (Sofie Delauw, The Curious Eater). Tomei is well known for stacking simple, traditional courses upon extreme, inventive dishes that preserve the element of surprise in L’Imbuto, his restaurant. Each of Tomei’s dishes captures the taster’s full attention, and predicting the next course is nearly impossible. L’Imbuto’s location in the Lucca Center of Contemporary Art (Lu.CCA) enhances the dining experience further; the parallels between Tomei’s courses and the artwork are apparent, and Tomei’s dishes become an exhibit on their own. In this way, Cristiano Tomei is an artist, and his artwork evokes emotion in his consumers. Furthermore, when Tomei’s courses are presented together in his eleven course meal, and the food is experienced in its entirety, the chef’s larger, overarching concept is understood. Despite Tomei’s extreme style and eccentric persona, his inventive dishes all stem from his Tuscan roots. His concept, therefore, is an adaptation and innovation of tradition.

 A Chef From Versilia

Cristiano Tomei was born and raised in Viareggio, a coastal city in northern Tuscany, where seafood plays an integral role in local cuisine. This upbringing influenced Tomei’s own cooking style. During the eleven-course meal that we experienced at L’Imbuto, seafood was a dominating theme. The Tuscan culinary tradition calls for a simplicity of ingredients, and Tomei followed this belief by utilizing only a handful of spices to create complex flavors. Additionally, Tomei’s innovation and adaptation of traditional Tuscan dishes reflects his loyalty to his homeland’s culinary history. The Tuscan love and respect for food is most notable in the practice of using all parts of the animals and vegetables in food preparation. Tomei adhered to this principle in his use of conventionally overlooked ingredients and animal organs.

Tomei’s general approach and attitude towards food is similar to that of many Tuscan chefs. In a recent interview, when asked where his favorite place to shop for food is, Tomei explained that he enjoys walking into the woods to “try the herbs and experience what nature has to offer.” Additionally, he referenced a local farmer’s market in Lucca, the Forum Boarium, where he purchases high quality, locally grown food (Maddalena Fossati, Vanity Food). In this way, he echoes the larger Tuscan traditions of designing recipes and menus based on the locality and seasonality of ingredients. When asked to name a chef whom he respects, Tomei named René Redzepi, head chef at Noma (largely regarded as the world’s best restaurant) in Copenhagen (Fine Dining Lovers). Noma emphasizes the development of the Nordic cuisine and environmental sustainability for each of its recipes. In order to achieve this, the restaurant incorporates exclusively local ingredients that are selected according to the season. Perhaps Tomei admirers Redzepi for this aspect of Noma, and strives to similiarly use locally grown ingredients to highlight the Tuscan tradition. Overall, Tomei’s use of simple, few ingredients to create inventive, extreme dishes reflects innovation from his roots.

The Meal at L’Imbuto

Updated Cecina

During my own experience dining at L’Imbuto, one course in particular epitomized Tomei’s theme of creatively expanding upon tradition. Tomei prepared a sea urchin cecina, topped with shrimp. Cecina is a traditional street food in Tuscany, and is made using chickpea flour, salt, and water. The mixture is baked in a wood burning oven in a thin pan until crispy and golden brown, and is enjoyed fresh out of the oven. Traditionally, cecina is an inexpensive snack. Personally, I purchased cecina at a hole-in-the-wall in Pisa, and ate it as I strolled the evening streets. At L’Imbuto, however, the cecina was artfully presented as an elegant seafood dish. The sea urchin surprisngly enhanced the chickpea flavors of the cecina. In fact, it both innovated the traditional streetfood and adapted the dish to fit the seafood concept of the overall meal. On L’Imbuto’s website, Tomei is stated to be raised “between the hills and the sea” in Tuscany. This dish, therefore, embodies an appreciation for both aspects of Tomei’s upbringing. The sea urchin and shrimp pay homage to Viareggio, while the cecina base recalls the city of Lucca where L’Imbuto is located. The simplicity of the dish is also extremely Tuscan; by using very few, simple ingredients, Tomei achieves a creative, full-bodied course. Overall, this dish expresses Tomei’s own creativity and loyalty to his roots.

A Wild Risotto

In another course, Tomei prepared a hearty risotto with zafferano and topped with edible wildflowers and herbs. Zafferano risotto is traditionally Tuscan, from the city of Florence. This course was perhaps the least extreme, and offered a comforting break from more adventurous and unusual dishes. Most notable, however, was the risotto’s garnish of wildflowers. This refers back to Tomei’s ideal food store: the forest. Evidently, his use of unconventional herbs and flowers suggest that Tomei might actually have picked them while walking in the woods, rather than purchased them in a store. In this way, the risotto exemplifies authenticity and heritage. The flowers not only made the dish look beautiful, but also brought forth the hearty flavors of the risotto and evoked tastes of genuine tradition. In fact, flanked by exotic courses, this dish tasted more like Tomei borrowed my grandmother’s favorite recipe and prepared the dish with the Italian love of food. The wildflowers that topped Tomei’s risotto updated the traditional zaffareno meal and added his personal love for experiencing “what nature has to offer” in the forest.

Unconventional Ravioli

Of the eleven courses, two incorporated ravioli. The first was filled with a liquid blend of olive oil and parmigian cheese, and was topped with cuttlefish. This course held true for the seafood theme of the evening by incorporating the cuttlefish. However, it also utilized a traditional concept, ravioli, and unusually created a liquid filling. Perhaps this reflects the influence of Ferran Adrià, head chef at El Bulli in Barcelona, on Tomei. The documentary Cooking in Progress explores the inner workings of Adrià’s laboratory kitchen. One dish that was discussed extensively was a “disappearing ravioli,” in which the thin shell dissolves in water, revealing a liquid center. Tomei may have adapted Adrià’s technique to a more Tuscan ravioli, and instead used traditional pasta and an olive oil center. In this way, Tomei is inflenced by Adrià, who was largely recognized as one of the best chefs in the world. Despite his attempt to adapt Adrià’s technique, Tomei preserves his Tuscan identity by conforming to the Tuscan tradition and his own seafood concept. This course reveals simple ingredients (olive oil, parmigian, a simple pasta shell, and cuttlefish) without any complex flavors, yet the element of surprise derived from the liquid center is present. With minimal ingredients, Tomei achieves an appreciation for Adrià, a loyalty to Tuscan tradition, an incorporation of his seafood theme, and the element of surprise.

In Tomei’s second ravioli, he uses a potato and whiskey filling, and tops each ravioli with black caviar. This dish more closely parallels the Tuscan tradition of potato stuffed ravioli, or gnocci, yet the whiskey taste offers an unusual pairing to evoke a more extreme flavor. The caviar topping, similar to the cuttlefish, incorporates this course into the seafood theme, and adds a third flavor into the dish. In this way, both ravioli courses are constructed similary. Both ravioli shells are stuffed with two ingredients, one liquid and one solid: olive oil and parmigian, or whiskey and potato. The pasta shell is constant between the courses, yet each is topped with a different fish: cuttlefish or caviar. In this way, a parallel is established between the two courses, as a miniature theme within the overall concept. Consumers are forced to compare the two types of ravioli, since one immediately follows the other. While they visually appear very similar, and have similar texture, the surprise is generated from the sharply different tastes in the transition from olive oil to whiskey. Perhaps this is why Tomei presents the olive oil first; it acts as a milder scaffold to establish the structure of the liquid ravioli center and fish topping. This ensures that the diner focuses on the surprising taste of the whiskey and caviar, rather than pay attention to the ravioli itself or the texture of the filling. Furthrmore, unlike in traditional Tuscan ravioli and gnocci, the pasata is not topped with any kind of sauce, as if the ravioli is inside out. The sauce becomes the filling, while the traditional solid filling is left on the outside in the form of the cuttlefish and caviar.

Tomei’s “Special Salad”

The most memorable aspect of Tomei’s eleven course meal was undeniably reserved for the end, just before dessert. Waitresses asked diners to taste and guess the ingredients of the chef’s “special salad,” and after a few wrong guesses (from cartilidge to squirrel) it was revealed that Tomei prepared fried bits of cow brain to accompany the artichoke heart, green apple slices, and anchovy sauce of the dish. Initially, the cow brain evoked a visceral reaction of shock and, in some, disgust. Tomei’s goal of achieving shock and evoking emotion through food was most potently experienced during this course. It may seem as though Tomei’s urge to fry beef brain is derived from his eccentric, extreme personality, where the “kitchen is his playground” and Tomei will fearlessly (and skillfully) incorporate anything into his dishes. To some, it may appear as though the purpose of the cow brain was solely for shock value, and that it fails to connect to his larger themes. On the contrary, upon deeper analysis it is probable that Tomei’s use of cow brain is based on his own Tuscan upbringing. Rather than incorporate fish, Tomei exemplifies the Tuscan tradition of utilizing every part of the animal or vegetable in order to minimize waste. Just as celebrity butcher Dario Cecchini emphasizes his policy of “nose to tail,” Tomei elegantly prepares an unconventional part of the cow to highlight the importance of not wasting food. Andrea Falaschi, the butcher who supplies L’Imbuto with high quality meat, also abides by this philosophy. Tomei attempts to convince consumers that, if prepared well, even the most seemingly undesirable parts of the animal can be served as high quality cuisine. In this way, the brain represents far more than simply a shocking display of Tomei’s fearlessness, and echoes the Tuscan loyalty to using all ingredients available.


Cristiano Tomei’s technique and style embody his own adaptation of his Tuscan roots. By understanding his methods, it is possible to not only appreciate his extreme and creative dishes, but also to recognize the concepts that he uses to establish a consistent theme throughout the eleven courses. Furthermore, Tomei’s upbringing “between the hills and the sea” is unmistakenly evoked in several of his dishes which proves that no amount of creativity and eccentricity can completely overshadow one’s culinary roots. Consumers can trace patterns between Tomei and colleagues such as René Redzepi, Ferran Adrià, Dario Cecchini, and Andrea Falaschi, and through these threads of connections understand how Tomei is influenced by modern giants of the culinary world. As a whole, Tomei’s work reflects larger themes of his own innovative style, modern influencers, and an undeniable loyalty to his homeland.

Works Cited

“Cristiano Tomei.” Fine Dining Lovers. S. Pellegrino, Web. <>.

Delauw, Sofie. “Lucca: The Beautiful Mind of Cristiano Tomei.” The Curious Eater. 28 Mar. 2012. Web. <Lucca: The Beautiful Mind of Cristiano Tomei>.

Fossati, Maddalena. “Intervista Allo Chef Cristiano Tomei.” Vanity Food. Vanity Fair, Web. <>.

L’Imbuto Ristorante. Web. <>.

Tomei's Updated Cecina

Tomei’s Updated Cecina

Traditional Cecina from Pisa

Traditional Cecina from Pisa

Wildflower Risotto

Wildflower Risotto

Olive oil/Parmigiana filled Ravioli with Cuttlefish

Olive oil/Parmigiana filled Ravioli with Cuttlefish

Potato/Whiskey filled Ravioli with Caviar

Potato/Whiskey filled Ravioli with Caviar

Fried Cow Brain (behind green apple slices)

Fried Cow Brain (behind green apple slices)

The Key to Healthful Eating: Seeking Pleasure in Quality Ingredients- Tricia Gianfagna

June 11th, 2014 by pagian16

Current Context

As an aspiring physician, I have particular interest in the dilemma Americans face of being able to buy affordable food products that are also healthful. One example of this includes top quality olive oil, which is praised for its medicinal benefits, yet costs upwards of $40 while a more mundane bottle in your local supermarket, made with lower quality ingredients, is only $10. Imagine you are an ordinary middle-class American having a couple of close friends over to make them dinner for the night. For your appetizer you were thinking of having some bruschetta, made with fresh tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. Which oil would you buy?

After getting the experience to go to Le Fonte di Foiano, an olive oil producer in the region of Livorno, Italy, I gained insight into answering this question. Before this experience, I was very disconnected from the food on my plate and did not think much about how it was produced. Often times, for example, I would choose to have stir fry from upper Kimball for my lunch or dinner, thinking that I was choosing a very healthy option, when now I realize the highly processed dressing or oil which the vegetables are cooked in may outweigh so many of the health benefits which they originally contained.

Case Study- Le Fonte di Foiano

During our visit to Le Fonte di Foiano, we were educated about how an olive goes from being picked off a tree, then cleaned in various ways, next dehydrated and sanitized, pressed in a special device, filtered, and finally put into bottles to be sealed and shipped to consumers. Going through the specifics of this process was an extremely transformative experience in how I view myself as a consumer. The way they used sophisticated technology while still respecting the innate features of the olive made me want to become more educated about how other foods I consume are connected to the larger story of agriculture.

In addition, we had the experience of tasting some of their olive oil after learning about its production. I had expected the oil to taste bitter on its own, but I was quite surprised in that I found it to have an overwhelmingly earthy and herbal flavor. I realized that this was because the oil from Le Fonte di Foiano is of a high quality, and they really respect the natural flavors of the olive without much alteration. I then became curious about whether or not the olive oil in my family’s pantry would taste similarly because I really have no idea how it is produced.  I realized then that our challenge is to become more educated about what we are consuming in order to choose higher quality ingredients, which have more medicinal properties and could give us greater gastronomic pleasure.

Food as Medicine

Olive oil was used by the Ancient Greeks to prevent sports injuries and relieve muscle fatigue while other Mediterranean cultures used it as a lubricant to keep their skin elastic. In fact, along with wheat, vegetables, and wine, it is one of the four staples of the Mediterranean diet, and it has been demonstrated to stimulate digestion, protect against ulcers, and promote absorption of vitamin E.  Additionally, top quality extra virgin olive oil has been demonstrated to contain healthy fats that lower your total cholesterol and decrease your risk of heart disease (Zannoner, 30-31).

Today, some people believe that food in fact can be used as a way of preventive medicine to stop the onset of a disease before it even starts. A person who is pre-diabetic, for example, is encouraged to consume more greens in place of saturated fats and sugars as a way of possibly reversing an imminent diagnosis. It is clear that diet has a definite effect on the way we feel and function, so to look further at this connection could enlighten humanity about how to achieve a more balanced diet and seek out more pleasure in their life.

Food and Pleasure

Once a person becomes committed to discovering more about a food’s individual story, they can then become aware of the quality of our products and also learn how the food fits into the larger picture of the world’s agricultural scene. For me, learning about how an olive is transformed from a plump fruit on a tree to the silky liquid found on a grocery store shelf was a very enlightening experience. My encounter, in fact, has heightened my pleasure in consuming the food by being aware of its history and tradition. Similarly, Enrico, a man who tends olive trees in Radda as a hobby, finds pleasure in tending the plants because he feels connected to the earth and to the history of the region through the taking care of the trees.

Often times researching food production leads consumers to seek out higher quality products that have not been modified or made with inferior ingredients. One of the major points of the 1970s Nouvelle Cuisine Revolution was to create lighter dishes by cooking top quality foods in a simple way that brings out their unique flavor. In this way, education about food products is directly connected with health because the most wholesome and unaltered foods reap the greatest health benefits. In contrast, people who do not take the time to research where the products they buy are coming from are often purchasing lower quality ingredients, such as olive oil obtained from the second press, which may not have comparable healthful qualities.


Although buying top quality products may be more expensive, my experience at Le Fonte di Foiano makes me believe it is worth the investment because of both their greater health benefits and the added gastronomic pleasure in consuming them, based off of knowing the foods’ origin. In addition, people may seek an economic benefit later on by preventing certain diseases and their associated health care costs. If people started to research the food they consume beginning from the label, similarly to how they inquire about a college or career, they may start to choose more healthful products and consequently, have a more pleasurable and happy life. Furthermore, although people often think that foods that “taste good” must be bad for you and vice versa, top-quality ingredients prepared simply can be both healthful and delicious.

The relationship of food and medicine is a complicated and long-considered phenomenon that has the potential to profoundly impact society. The field of medicine, for example, could be affected in that many diseases could be prevented with the right dietary choices; the field of economics, in that health insurance could become more economical for people who are healthier; and the field of politics, in that candidates running for office would have to be more conscious of the health impacts of their proposals. Overall, understanding how food gets from the pasture to the plate is essential in comprehending the connection of agriculture, food, and health. Once we realize this, we then become aware of the opportunity to choose higher quality ingredients, which are the result of a shorter production chain, have greater health benefits, and thereby can result in heightened pleasure when consuming them.

Works Cited

Zannoner, Cristina. (Ed.). (2001). Journey Through Tuscany: To Discover Typical Products. Firenze: Giunti. 30-31.


Active Dining: What I Never Knew About Eating – Simon Tacvorian

June 11th, 2014 by shtacv16

When I enrolled in this course, I had never reflected on taste in any way. I was used to just eating things and tasting them as they entered my mouth. In reality, there are two notions of taste. The first is a physiological notion, and says that while taste buds may vary from person to person, we all can detect 5 tastes, which are salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. The other is a multi-modal perception. This suggests that taste is an experience that utilizes all of the senses to enhance the dining experience along with memories and certain emotional experiences. This means that you may even taste things in a food that are not actually in a food. For example, you may taste vanilla in a food that doesn’t actually have vanilla in it because there is an artificial version of vanilla that tastes just like the real thing, but you remember what vanilla tastes like so your memory influences your taste. Thus, learning how to properly taste changes the dining experience into a process where one must taste their food in the correct manner to experience the most pleasure as well as respect the preparation of the food and its origins. This is what we call active dining.


During our five visits to wine producers where we did tastings, we learned how to properly go about tasting a wine. The first step is to use your eyes. Do you have a red wine or a white wine? Is it a rosé? Just looking at it will already prepare you for the rest of the experience. The next step is to use your nose. You put the glass up to your nose and smell the wine. Many different aromas get released and you begin to get a feel for the wine. Next, you stir the wine using the glass and then smell that, because the motion of the wine could release some different aromas than just having it stationary under your nose. Finally, you put the wine in your mouth and swirl it around, after which you can choose to swallow it or spit it out. The tasting process is now over, and you would use descriptors to define what you think the wine tasted like. This may seem like quite a long process to just taste a wine, but involving as many of your senses as you can leads you to a fuller experience in tasting a wine as well as a better understanding as to what may have gone into the wine. Being in the Chianti region of Tuscany, we mostly tasted Chianti Classicos. To be a Chianti Classico, the wine needs to be made from at least eighty percent sangiovese grapes, with the remaining twenty percent being up to the producer as long as they are red grapes. The sangiovese grapes give the wine a bit of an acidity making the Chianti Classico a great wine to be drank while eating a meal, and not so great for being drank without food.


Chocolate, on the other hand, is a completely different game. When we visited de Bondt’s chocolate shop, we learned that tasting chocolate is a very slow experience, and it has a lot to do with the chocolate maker and how they created the chocolate and how they wanted it to be tasted. For example, the first chocolate we tasted with de Bondt was a layer of milk chocolate on top of a layer of dark chocolate with some salt crystals scattered throughout. Generally for tasting chocolate, you put it in your mouth and let it melt away, and this was especially emphasized with de Bondt because he wanted the different layers to be hitting different parts of the mouth at the same time, with the salt crystals being extra explosions of flavor whenever you got to them. We see this in the picture, which is a different bar of chocolate containing lemon and limette, but the concept is really the same. This was not an experience I was used to, because I, like most people that I know, usually just bite at the chocolate until it is small enough to swallow and that’s it. I always thought that chocolate tasted good, but since I wasn’t tasting the chocolate correctly, I was missing out on a lot of the experience. Tasting de Bondt’s chocolate correctly involved my nose more because I could smell the chocolate through my mouth, I used my ears to hear the crunches when I took a small bite or came across one of the salt crystals, and I used my tongue to move the piece of chocolate around my mouth. The entire experience was heightened solely by the extra usage of my senses.

Olive Oil

Finally, we went about tasting extra virgin olive oil. This was perhaps the strangest tasting we did. First, just as we did with the wine, we looked at and smelled the olive oil. We learned that the greener the oil is the better it is. To go along with the green color, it has to give off certain aromas such as that of grass or other plants. It really needs to smell green to be a good extra virgin olive oil. After looking at it and smelling it, you put some in your mouth and then inhale a bit of air on top of it. You then let it sit in your mouth, which is similar to how we taste chocolate. Letting the oil sit there with the air really brings out the flavors of the oil. Understandably, many of the flavors between the three foods are not shared, but some definitely are. For example, for many of the red wines we tasted we used the descriptors of red fruits. This is interesting because the red fruits never actually go into the wine. On the other hand, in a chocolate bar with flavoring such as raspberry chocolate bars, you get some of the same flavors of the red fruits, but they have actually gone into the chocolate bars. Similarly, wines and olive oils can both taste peppery. Ultimately, learning how to taste properly and being able to use the proper descriptors for what you eat and drink refines your palate, and in turn increases your pleasure while eating because you taste in such a way that allows you to experience everything that the food was meant to give you.

Active Dining

Learning all of this about tasting and flavors led us to the concept of active dining. Active dining involves using all of your senses during a meal to really appreciate what you are being fed. We saw this at L’Imbuto where we had had 12 courses that covered a wide range of foods. Two of the dishes are shown in the pictures, one of which is ravioli filled with whiskey and potatoes with caviar and top, and the other is fried brain with apples and artichokes. We also saw this in the documentary we watched about El Bulli, and how Ferran Adriá prepared his dishes. It took six months of preparation to come up with the dishes for the next year, and even after that, Adriá was still changing dishes up until the moment they left the kitchen. He wanted the dishes evoke several different feelings from the diners, especially in such a way that they would use all of their senses to figure out what was behind it and what they thought Adriá wanted the dish to evoke. We saw very similar approaches to dining with Massimo Bottura and René Redzepi as both of them are chefs who specialize in the movement of nouvelle cuisine, which emphasizes creativity on the chefs’ part as well as lightness and using the freshest ingredients possible, among a few other points. The main idea is that they are all transforming the dining experience to involve the diners more, and to make them work a bit harder so that they can fully experience their meal. This accentuates the idea that tasting a food is more than just putting it in your mouth and swallowing it. It is a full process that involves all your senses, and on top of this, it can be a different process for different foods, so you need to make sure you are tasting everything in the proper way otherwise you aren’t making the most of your dining experiences. On this note, properly tasting food leads to having a certain respect for the food you are eating and what has gone making it and even producing the actual ingredients. On top of this, you are respecting yourself in the sense that you are respecting your sense of pleasure by making sure you get the most pleasurable dining experience by tasting all of the components of your meal properly. This is important because it can truly become a way of life. Tasting correctly gives you the power to relate to tastes in many different ways that you would not have been able to before. For example, Valeria from Le Cinciole told us that one of the wines tasted like childhood to her despite the fact that none of us understood what that really meant.  She is able to do so because after tasting so many wines, the flavors that she comes across evoke memories from her brain that correspond to what she is tasting, making the experiences that much deeper and more pleasurable for her. Ultimately, becoming an active diner enhances the eating and drinking experiences by involving all of your senses and even your memories, fully immersing you in what you eat and drink.

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Simplicity – Joseph Tumblin

June 11th, 2014 by jmtumb16

Introduction and History

             Food is not something that people often associate with the idea of simplicity. In our American culture, we often prize complexity in our food and having many flavors combined into one dish. We need bitter and sweet; salty and savory in order to be satisfied with our dish. Even when we are served a meal with several separate items on it, we often combine them and thus combine the flavors of the food in order to create an almost chaotic experience in our mouths. This was something that I had greatly enjoyed about my culture, but since I have been in Italy, I began to appreciate the way that Italians approach food. Italian cooking is completely different from my native cooking, and in my opinion, surpasses it on many levels. After experiencing this cooking for several weeks, I wanted to understand why this was so. What is the main feature of Italian cooking that defines its character? What about it makes it so different from my native cuisine? The answer is surprising; the quality of the Italian cuisine comes from its simplicity. Having spent several weeks in Italy, it has become evident that this is true through experiencing a variety of dishes and comparing them to American counterparts. It is clear through the ingredients, preparation, and taste of the dishes that simplicity is the key to the cuisine’s success, and I will delve into these areas to show how this is true. Food is a more integrated part of Italian culture, and the people behind the meals have spent their lives dedicated to learning, understanding, and striving to stay true to the recipes that have been in their culture for centuries.

One of the main reasons why Italian cuisine is extremely simple is because when these recipes were created, it was out of necessity. Many dishes came from people who were in poverty who had to be creative with the few ingredients that they had available to them. We made several of these dishes during class with Lele and Elissa, such as cecina and spaghetti alla olive. What started out as meals of necessity turned into delicious meals that have become staples in the Italian cuisine.


The start of any meal is the ingredients, and Italian chefs use only the best. Almost everything that goes into their dishes they either grow themselves or get from another part of Italy, and this is a major point of emphasis for the chefs. They want to have the freshest ingredients possible for their creations and will not accept food that is not of high quality. An example of this is what we have seen from our cooking classes with Lele and Elisa. Particularly with the vegetarian meal that we made, we primarily used food that was picked from either their garden or from a garden of a friend. They stressed how important this was, and it was clear in the final product how it affected the quality of what we ate. You do not rely on ingredients coming in from halfway across the globe that have lost their freshness and quality, and do not represent where you come from. You grow what you can and use it in the most effective and tasty way that you can think. Additionally, there are often not many ingredients that go into Italian dishes. They prize using fewer ingredients and try to bring out the best flavors from what they have. An example of this is the burger that we had at Dario’s butchery. It was simply just his high quality ground beef with bread crumbs on the outside and was not even served on a bun. This is in contrast with a burger that I had in America which had a bun, cheese, fried macaroni and cheese balls, bacon, French fries, onion rings, and mozzarella sticks. While this may seem ridiculous (and it is to an extent), this is considered to be a better burger than many others because of the variety of toppings that it had. However, the simple burger from Dario’s was of a much higher quality and the meat alone had more flavor than any amount of toppings could have given another burger. This is the Italian idea of simplicity in terms of ingredients and it is a major component in terms of both the quality and the identity of the dish.


The next part of creating a dish is in the preparation. Instead of using extremely complex machinery and cooking equipment to combine their ingredients, the Italian chefs that I have seen use simple tools and, for example, do not even always use an automatic beater even when it will be faster. They value the process more than cutting corners or taking the faster alternative in order to make sure that everything is made properly. This is rooted in the different perception of time and doing things in a certain amount of time that is present in Italian society. They are more relaxed and understand that there will always be time to get everything done which allows them to not have to rush when they are preparing meals. They are able to minimize mistakes and, along with their fresh ingredients, improve flavors. One place where this was extremely evident was at Andrea Falaschi’s butchery, particularly in the sausage that he gave us. They did not use a ridiculous or mechanized system to prepare their meats; they simply took their time and did everything by hand. This had a profound effect on the final product, as it was of very high quality and was the best sausage that I have ever eaten. Preparation is key to Italian cuisine, and their simple and effective methods lead to high quality dishes.

Taste and Experiencing the Dish

Ingredients and preparation combine for the most important feature of the dish: the taste. Instead of going for a large mix of flavors, many Italian dishes attempt to get only one flavor from their creations. Italians believe that even if you have two flavors in one dish, then it is too much. An example of this is the steak that we had at Mangiando Mangiando. The flavor was incredible, but most of it came from just the meat, instead of coming from a complex mix of steak sauces and pre-made seasonings. The flavor of the steak was not very complex, but it was extremely deep and powerful. This is very typical of the meals that we have eaten here, and another example of where is this stressed is at our cooking lessons with Lele and Elissa. Through these lessons, we could see the culmination of using the proper ingredients and preparation to make something that tastes truly amazing, and we could appreciate the simplicity in this process.

While the actual food may be very simple, there is some complexity when it comes to the menu and how the food is presented. There are often more courses than in American meals that contain less food and aim to give a burst of flavor and texture rather than attempting to fill the eater up with just one dish. In just one sitting, one can experience a wide variety of flavors and textures, such as with the meal that we had at L’Imbuto. Everything that we had was very simply made and did not contain many ingredients, but there was always a strong and interesting flavor. Whether it was the cow brain or the risotto, none of the food was too complex, but the combination of dishes that we had helped to create a wide variety of tastes during the meal.


Through my various experiences on this trip, it was clear that simplicity is an integral part of the Italian cuisine. This philosophy along with their knowledge of the food allows them to create unique and delicious dishes that are vastly different from the dishes in the American cuisine. The ingredients, preparation and taste of the dishes in Italy are all rooted in their simplicity, and combine to create incredible meals that everyone should experience.

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