Italian restaurants are going regional

When I talk about Italian food and its origin, I find very difficult to define it, as Italian cuisine itself doesn’t exist. The proper definition is Italian Regional cuisine. 

The differences in Italian cooking show through in the distinctions between the North and the South. Each region still carries their own traditions in cooking that reflects deep history and culture.

The culinary history of Italy established a reputation more than 2,000 years ago, which includes an illustrious movement during the Roman Empire. The spread of Italian food diversity began after the fall of the Roman Empire when individual city states began to uphold separate identities and traditions. Each region began to display its own unique way of cooking.

Over the years, Italian cuisine has greatly evolved in part because of a wealth of outside influences that have added to its characteristic flavour and appeal. In the beginning, ancient Greek cookery became an integrated part of Italian cuisine. North African and Arab influences also affected cuisine in Sicily and within the rest of Italy.

The country didn’t unite until the 19th Century, by which time every region had developed a distinct culinary identity, and there are further variations within each region.

All over the world, Italian food has been spoiled over the years by unqualified Italian people and often by people even without a white jacket. Restaurants, pizzerias, ice-cream parlours and cafes are widespread and very popular but have nothing which is “Made in Italy”, even though they refer to the name, the symbols and the gastronomic offerings of Italy.

We, Italian chefs, have been penalised by this phenomenon, as consumers are getting confused if it is authentic Italian or not. After many years of debates, conferences and forums, we came out with few points to act to solve the problems: educate young chefs to the base of Italian cuisine and promote regional cuisine in the new restaurant openings. 

For years, Italian restaurants across the world and in London as well churned out a range of tired variations on the same handful of dishes. More recently, however, the British capital has woken up to the fact that even the notion of a single unified Italian cuisine is a concept that many Italians reject. Across the boot-shaped peninsula there are at least 20 distinct styles of regional cookery, if not many more.

As a member of the International Hospitality Council and president of the Federation of Italian Chefs in UK, ambassador of the Italian cuisine together with my colleagues chefs, we have the duty of teaching and spreading the culture of Italian food, starting with using organic and authentic ingredients, through cooking techniques and the history of them. This is why after having opened several restaurants, I decided to promote the regional Italian cuisine and my last venue (Tasting Sicily Enzo’s Kitchen) is an example of authentic Italian regional cuisine from Sicily; that is not only the land where I was born, but it is also a tribute to the Mediterranean Sea through the extraordinary richness of Sicilian cuisine. It is a clear reflection of the cultural layers that have occurred over thousands of years of history of the island. This amazing combination of flavours and colours gave birth to one of the most balanced cuisines in the world: the Mediterranean diet, included by UNESCO in the list of intangible cultural heritage.

By Enzo Oliveri, Sicilian chef and chef patron at Enzo’s Kitchen in Piccadilly, London

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