Quick Recipes and Easy

Jamie Oliver: Cracking A Regionalized Culinary Italian Mindset

Until last week, I’d never heard of Jamie Oliver. Stumbling
and flipping through channels during the intermission of a
hockey playoff game, I landed on the foodnetwork where
British Chef Jamie Oliver (a British chef? Who knew?) was
in Italy in search of right and pure rustic regional Italian
cooking; Italy is regional on many social levels. The episode
intrigued me since I not only cook but also consider myself
a purist in the Italian kitchen. Courageous kid. I had to watch.

It’s hard for North Americans to get into an Italian mindset
when it comes to demanding refinement. We’re not a
society devoted to food. It’s more a chore in our day. We
often, in some cases, eat like depraved gluttons.

It’s in Italy where I came to observe a dietary habit that was
subtle in its near perfection. Everything from the times they
eat to how they serve and compliment their food, Italians
know what they’re doing. So subtle even world well-known chefs
who regard Italian cuisine as simplistic overlook it. Until they
pay closer attention.

I have often lamented about how I wish people would spend
a week in an Italian village. There they would learn to
appreciate that food is a serious part of the human
experience. They would also come to see why the
sophisticated culinary diet of Italy is first rate. It’s not all
about spaghetti and meatballs. In some parts of Italy rice is
consumed more. Betcha you didn’t know that, eh?

Jamie Oliver learnt what I learned the first time I went to Italy.
There are laws of food to observe. Just like there are natural
and economic laws, there are culinary laws. Not in the
haughty French manner (a society first introduced to high
cuisine by Catherine De Medici who was known as
L’Italienne in France) but in an understated Italian way.
When it comes to food, tasteful conservatism and
minimalism prevails.

In any event, you can’t just mix and match ingredients.
Fusion cuisine is all the rage and trend among chefs and
diners these days; but don’t tell that to the Italians. In fact, it’s
what frustrated Oliver during the show. He clarified that
while he wished he had been born Italian, he could not
know their utter stubbornness and lack of
open-mindedness when it comes to different interpretations
of cooking. He submitted that the British were more open to
other cuisine’s whereas the Italians were less predisposed
to try, say, Thai food.

He’s right. On the other hand, it’s simple for nations without a
national diet or cuisine to be open. Then again, while the
McDonald’s experience has been lukewarm in Italy at best, it
seems to be doing fine in France – a people with a long
established culinary heritage. Extending into other cultures,
it would be fascinating to see the results in places like
Lebanon, Japan and China. I deliberately leave out the
regional Mediterranean diet at large in the interest of time.
Suffice to acknowledge the region has often been regarded
to have a healthy lifestyle and diet plays the largest role.

I digress. For years, I wondered about Oliver’s astute
comment. Simplistically, therein lies why Italy is, well, Italy. If
they weren’t so single-minded and devoted to their art, they
would stop to be Italian. It’s a trade off of sorts. Italy is one
of the last of the Mohicans among nations (especially
among the G7) in that artisanship and craftsmanship of the
highest quality -whether in shoes, machinery or furniture
making and of course food – prevails. In economics they call
it opportunity costs. Sure, Italy could attempt to
mass-produce in their typical chaotic fashion to make more
money but that would not be honest to the rest of us. Italy
remains a land ruled by dynasties who focus on one or two
products and master its contents; just like how Charlie
Parker mastered the saxophone without ever reading a
single note; it’s in the Italian blood to make gorgeous things.

Though not the first, I’m glad Jamie Oliver educated and
brought Italian cooking to its roots. Italian know-how takes a
backseat to no one. He evidently underestimated the will of
how Italians do things. He did a fantastic job – and service –
from where I stand. I’m sure Italians would approve.

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