The Italian Almanac


Italian Culinary Glory

Italy is calling for 'food ambassadors' to stem the worldwide tide of insults to its culinary glory. A new survey by the Italian Academy of Cuisine (AIC) has painted a nightmare scenario of pizza, spaghetti, meat and fish dishes spoiled by incompetent cooking or cavalier disregard for Italy's traditional recipes.

Among the horrors AIC found were "baked fish in pesto sauce', apparently popular in the Netherlands, and a raft of 'pasta salads' that have Italian tourists in fits. "We must train a new generation of Italian chefs to spread the traditions of genuine Italian cuisine, willing to travel and become ambassadors of our culinary arts,"AIC said.

Only half of the cooks in so-called 'Italian' restaurants are Italian, said the food watchdog, which has 73 branches in 40 countries. For some reason, the majority of them come from Australia and Mexico. Many are enthusiastic about Italian cooking, of course - but less than a tenth of them have had any training in how to make real Italian dishes.

The result is a patchwork of "tainted, watered-down or souped-up dishes" in countries where self-styled Italian restaurants have taken off. As well as the usual culprits like the United States, Canada and Australia, a host of offenders have been found in Ireland, Finland and Portugal.

France, ever proud of its own cuisine, has no qualms about "Frenchifying" Italian dishes, while German restaurants "go mad on needless herb and spice additions, piling on garlic, balsamic vinegar, rocket and peppers." The result is "a hybrid of Italian and local cuisines, mongrelised dishes that are an offense to Italian tradition".

But foreigners aren't just cooking up outlandish recipes for flagship dishes like spaghetti with clams, lasagne, ossobuco and saltimbocca. They also serve up cappuccino to wash down first and second courses - an "abomination" AIC is determined to wipe out. "We need a wave of envoys with one mission in mind - to show the world what it's been missing".