Italy’s restaurants rack up Michelin stars

Michelin has awarded 29 more Italian restaurants its prestigious star rating, as the guidebook director praised Italy for being "one of the most dynamic gastronomic destinations in the world."

Italy's restaurants rack up Michelin stars
Italy now boasts 332 restaurants with Michelin stars. Chef photo: Shutterstock

Twenty-seven restaurants in Italy were awarded one star, while there were two new entries at the two-star level in the 2015 Michelin dining guide.

Overall Italy now boasts 332 restaurants with the mark of excellence; 285 with one star, 39 with two and eight with three stars.

Presenting the new guide in Milan on Tuesday, international director Michael Ellis praised Italy’s dining culture.

“We can’t make up the stars; Italy remains one of the most dynamic gastronomic destinations in the world,” he was quoted in Il Secolo XIX as saying.

One of the new two-starred restaurants is Tuscany’s Piccolo Principe di Viareggio, led by 34-year-old chef Giuseppe Mancino.

With “creativity, refinement, technique and excellent presentation,” he creates dishes which, according to Michelin, coexist like a “symphony orchestra”.

Tavernia Estia di Brusciano, close to Naples, was also awarded two stars thanks to the skills of chef Francesco Sposito and his father Armando.

Together they “have a great capacity for reinventing the subtle elements of the land,” the Michelin guide says.

Milan’s Lombardy region has 58 Michelin-starred restaurants, more than any other part of the country. Piedmont comes in second place with 39 restaurants, followed by the southern Campania region where 35 restaurants are Michelin-starred.

While Italy’s “dynamic” dining is winning international praise, the country’s more traditional foods have also won recognition this week.

The European Commission on Tuesday gave two food products from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region protected status. Both Salama da sugo, a type of sausage meat, and the Piadina Romagnola flour wrap were given PGI (protected geographical indication) status.

Overall Italy has 268 foodstuffs which have been awarded special status by the EU, in recognition of quality products tied to a particular area.

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OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.