Flavour is the focus of my professional life: a fundamental topic around which my teaching and speaking careers also revolve.
Every week, I devote time to studying the history of gastronomy, but my focus is on flavour. It is the evolution of taste, its anthropological connotations, and the connections between trends, chance, aims, recipes, and foodways that are my particular passion.
I have been lucky enough to lecture in different universities, from business schools to biotechnology, from medicine to gastronomic science. I teach as I am, without giving up my style and everything I deeply believe in when it comes to nutrition and flavour.
In the last seven years, I have given more than a hundred presentations, from festivals to simple small town fairs, from high schools to theatres. And in all of them I received so much from the audiences, to whom I try to convey who I am, my life experience, my studies, and my search for flavour.
Lectures and presentations are based on my relationship with the audience
No audience is ever the same. Every context, every meeting, brings out different interactions. Talking directly to the people in the room shapes the presentation, establishing its tone and directing its inquiries.
I love debates and I love to change the context of my presentations: every talk always stimulates a discussion revolving around flavour and the relationship between society and food – whether it takes place at Oxford University or in the smallest Italian village.
After all, small towns represent the most authentic Italy. Our most characteristic traits, our tiniest differences, are all present there, at every level. It’s in the provinces that Italian cooking, Italian flavours, and Italian food culture have all evolved.
The history of cuisine is very ancient, but there are three main historical moments that mark the evolution of restaurants as we know them today.
It all starts with the French Revolution. The aristocracy was wiped out, heads fell under the guillotine, and many chefs once employed by the court had to reinvent themselves, bringing their cooking to the first restaurants. They offered the bourgeoisie the experience of aristocratic cuisine – opulent, intellectual, using the rarest raw ingredients and involving complex preparations.
Another key step, also linked to the bourgeoisie, was the wish to reproduce in their own homes, for their families and guests, dishes that had become status symbols. Already in the early nineteenth century, the figure of the superstar chef began to take shape. Antonin Carême was a French chef and author of one of the earliest cookbook bestsellers in history. Thanks to his artistry, he was chosen by Talleyrand, the French foreign minister, to turn the tide of the Congress of Vienna – through food. A publishing phenomenon, his and other chefs’ recipe books began to influence thousands of cooks.
Restaurants evolved again after World War II: an explosion in consumption and the revival of excess, after years of deprivation, gave birth to the idea of eating out as a luxury. Rich flavours, a proliferation of dishes, and the (often artificial) reinterpretation of local specialties were the hallmark of this approach. As a result, ‘local’ food traditions are often more recent inventions than they claim to be.
The history of flavour is fascinating and revealing: it often puts us in front of a mirror in which we can see more clearly the aspects of a country’s society, culture, and anthropology that we superficially ignore.
Teaching, as well as my presentations, allows me to extend this alternative history of flavour and society. What fascinates me most is the fluidity of food culture: an ever-changing world, rich in many-layered meanings. A world that, to a certain extent, helps us get to know ourselves better.