My current read is Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl, who was the food critic for the L.A. times and the New York Times. I really enjoy this read for many reasons, one is that it was set in the 90’s…the age before food bloggers, popular online publications and before the trend of hipster boutique restaurants. It’s hard to explain and I am well aware of this hypocrisy for slamming bloggers, but I really look fondly upon newspaper journalism and carefully selected (and paid) food critics. Nowadays everyone thinks they’re a chef, a photographer, a critic just because they have a food blog.

Granted, blogs are good and have a purpose, but they also have undermined journalism in a way and undercut the industry because people with little talent and a poor ability to captivate are willing to give their work away for free (or for an “internship”) just for status. The blogosphere and twitter has become a big arbitrary popularity contest. Furthermore, I think this blogosphere culture has created a supply of cheap, search engine optimized information that crowds out talented writers like Ruth Reichl to the point that if she were to have started her career in the age of the blog, who knows if she would have had the same broadcast and reach.

I’m not trying to be the next best blogger or the most read. I just want to blurt out my million opinions about food and dining and I have no interests hiding behind my blog. I can’t say I believe the same for other bloggers who have their page loaded with advertising.

I started reading up on online food critics from back home on at least a newspaper’s website, The Seattle Times and I was reading up on one of the critic’s raving of a new Ethan Stowell restaurant that supposedly is supposed to represent Roman food and derives its style inspiration from the lovely gorgeous quarter of Trastevere. It was quite weird to read some of the comments, being that I lived in Rome (and live in Florence now), I was amused by some of the sincere ideas about food in Rome from this restaurant review by the Seattle Times. I saw a mention of his “Roman street pizza”. Give me a break! I really resent how trendy putting the word “street” onto a menu item has become. I can just imagine all the “ooooh roman STREET pizza- let’s get that!” coos from foodie hipsters and Seattleites. Serves them right to be paying a whopping $16 for a pie which here costs about 5 euros. In my opinion, the pizza in Rome kinda sucks! After reading, I began to wonder how Ethan Stowell got his idea for a posh Italian restaurant chain/empire. I am sure he spent time traveling in Italy, doing research and reading books…but did he really live and breath the air in Trastevere?

Did he understand the Romans on motorinos howling out mortacci tua! to the insanely packed disorderly traffic jams that make Rome so chaotic? Has he ever eaten trippa alla romana? I don’t even want to start with asking if he knows what lampredotto is. Perhaps he is well informed, but I doubt he even scratched the surface of Italian life. Like most well-off Americans, he doesn’t even know what Italians have to live with everyday. I doubt he gets that the restaurants in Italy that he tries to replicate abroad get taxed to their eyeballs and can’t afford to take on more staff at even poverty-level wages. Meanwhile, the well-tipped staff at any given Stowell establishment I imagine can’t even pronounce conchiglie or most other Italian food terms without a nails on the chalkboard American accent.

And I bet this highly pretentious chain of restaurants can overcharge for Italian-style food without realizing that most of the recipes were originally designed to be filling for Italians in times of austerity, not filling pockets abroad for trend savvy restauranteurs.

But just like the oversaturation of food bloggers and everyone thinking they are as worthy of readership as Ruth Reichl in her days as the New York Times food critic, the chef world has also become undercut with people like Ethan Stowell who think their superficial relationships with Italy can earn them the badge as an Italian chef.

Ciao for now;)

Sincerely yours,

a very cynical (and ironic) curious appetite…

8 Comments on Italian food and restaurant empires back home

  1. sassiitalytours
    March 22, 2013 at 9:01 pm (5 years ago)

    “The blogosphere and twitter has become a big arbitrary popularity contest.”

    EXACTLY. I knew I’d already wasted too much time on Twitter when I realized how frequently “I have more followers than you” somehow was supposed to represent a cogent argument. High school antics at their worst.

    “I really resent how trendy putting the word โ€œstreetโ€ onto a menu item has become.”

    As much as I enjoy his shows, there’s no doubt Tony B.–for all his barbs at hipsters–is really the crown prince of making this a mainstay. The “Italian” chefs he pals around with on TV have decent accents and sure they’ve paid their dues abroad, but they’re also charging $42 a plate for something that’s decidedly not presented that way in Italy. It’s always rubbed me the wrong way, but you’ve really articulated why here. Well done.

    Reply
  2. Tiana Kai (@TianaKaiMiami)
    March 23, 2013 at 10:10 am (5 years ago)

    I do love your posts! These are great points with a strong sense of bitterness. ๐Ÿ˜‰ One of my favorite restaurants in Boulder, Colorado is Pizzeria Locale…owned by the same owners of Frasca, which is the most expensive joint in town… and amazing! Locale is not as expensive and has a casual hang out feel. It has a fire burning brick oven that is filled non-stop by two pizzaioli guys who do their little pizza throwing show in front of everyone in the restaurant. For Boulder it is exciting and fun because there is no ‘street’ pizza. I have to say their menu is amazing, the wine list is great and I do love their pizza! I heard that the owners spent a lot of time in Naples and were trying to be true to how they made things and where their ingredients came from. You can understand this by just tasting the tomato sauce, eye rolling.

    However, my skin crawls too when someone butchers an italian name of a dish and acts as if they know more than the patrons. Ignorant servers, cooks and owners are all around. People get misinformed and then seem to run with the information. I have seen this in a Miami restaurant that I ate at over Thanksgiving… it was ‘Italian’. I had to pretend that I enjoyed the meal and left feeling sorry for the people of Miami to be blinded by this restaurant and I am sure many others. p.s. I’m from Miami and have a non-stop list of amazing places to eat, but this new spot was not worth the high price on the menu.

    You seem like you would be a fan of Gail Simmons, not for her fame on Top Chef, but for her passion of NY kitchens, background and her drive to be a food critic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCIGyv3CZi4 I am a fan of hers now since watching this Google interview.

    Have a great weekend and keep writing!

    Reply
    • sassiitalytours
      March 23, 2013 at 2:33 pm (5 years ago)

      We’re down in the Springs, but will definitely check out Locale next time we head up I-25. Sounds great…

      And I too can’t stand it when I pronounce it correctly when I order the bruschetta, only to have the server say “oh, you want the brooshetta?” ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
      • Tiana Kai (@TianaKaiMiami)
        March 28, 2013 at 9:28 pm (5 years ago)

        Oh, you should! I looooved living in Boulder, it was the one place I felt like my soul was alive… it was just so healthy, cool and easy living! Brasserie Ten Ten is top too also, Tangerine for breakfast, Centro for great mexican, Bitter Bar for swanky drinks. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The Kitchen Upstairs has the best kitchen and great wine list. Salt has a great menu… Amu for amazing traditional sushi. There, you are covered for a week!

      • sassiitalytours
        March 28, 2013 at 10:57 pm (5 years ago)

        Yes! All sounds like stuff that’s my speed.

  3. curiousappetite
    March 24, 2013 at 9:20 pm (5 years ago)

    Thank you for the conversation, ladies!! Now I want to visit Colorado! And never hear an American say brooshetta! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    • sassiitalytours
      March 25, 2013 at 12:41 am (5 years ago)

      Ha! We should all be so lucky. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
    • Tiana Kai (@TianaKaiMiami)
      March 28, 2013 at 9:26 pm (5 years ago)

      Boulder was ranked as top foodie town… I think it is your style, really chill place.

      Reply

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