words by Carol King
A report published by the food watchdog Accademia Italiana della Cucina (Italian Academy of Cuisine, AIC) shows more than 60% of classic Italian dishes are “liberally reinvented” by restaurants abroad – often to their detriment.
The AIC sent 74 delegates to taste and photograph Italian dishes such as lasagna and pizza across five continents. The results showed that much of the food prepared was “substandard”. The AIC attributes the “betrayal” of traditional recipes to the fact that, in many cases, the cooks were not Italian.
Pizza is the dish most emulated, followed by tiramisù, lasagne alla bolognese, scaloppine di vitello and pasta al ragù. The AIC said ‘barbarisation’ of dishes was widespread. Nevertheless, the academy said the fusion between traditional and local flavours often gives rise to a form of hybrid cuisine and dishes, which is successful despite having moved a long way from Italian tradition. The AIC praised dishes such as pesci al forno col pesto (oven-baked fish with pesto) found in Holland.
The AIC aims to promote Italian food and cooking techniques. In 2007, it called for ‘food ambassadors’ to safeguard Italy’s culinary heritage. The AIC recognised one such ambassador by awarding its prestigious Orio Vergani Prize to the Gruppo Virtuale Cuochi Italiani (Virtual Group of Italian Cooks in Milan, GVCI) for having contributed to the diffusion, promotion and defence of traditional Italian cuisine around the world.
In 2007, the GVCI launched the World Day of Italian Cuisine. Held on 17 January, the annual event celebrates a regional Italian dish that is widely imitated worldwide. In 2013, the group will honour tiramisù with events around the globe.
GVCI was set up in 2000 and it is active in 70 countries. The group is dedicated to the protection of authentic Italian cuisine made with top-quality ingredients in strict observance with the dictates of tradition, and promoting Italian gastronomy abroad. Its 2,000 members include chefs, journalists, and food and beverage buyers.
GVCI president Mario Caramella accepted the award saying: “To defend our traditional recipes from culinary fakes, first it’s necessary to educate cooks, above all foreign ones, on the use of some basic ingredients of our cuisine... extra virgin olive oil, fresh herbs, pane con la crosta, pasta al dente and risotto al dente.”