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No more kebabs: Florence forces shops to sell local food

All new restaurants and food shops in Florence's historic centre will need to ensure at least 70 percent of their produce is local.

No more kebabs: Florence forces shops to sell local food
Authorities in Florence want new shops and restaurants to make sure 70 percent of their produce is local. Photo: Jeremy Brooks

An agreement signed by the city council last week will force new businesses to sell local, traditional foods chosen from a list of produce drawn up by the region of Tuscany.

The city's historical centre is a Unesco World Heritage site which is visited by millions of tourists each year.

However, the city's Democratic Party mayor Dario Nardiella says the city is losing its character due to the growing number of kebab shops and mini-markets selling low quality foreign products to tourists.

“This measure comes at a difficult time for the city,” Nardiella told La Repubblica.

“Deregulation by previous governments has removed controls on what food products can be sold, which has led to a distortion of the centre's food culture.”

Nardella said the huge number of shops and restaurants profiting from the tourist trade could damage the traditional feel of the centre unless regulations were introduced.

“One restaurant opens every week in the historic centre. Mass-produced foods are replacing our traditional trattorias and historic food shops: we have to put an end to it.”

The long list of local produce the council wants shops to sell includes some of the most iconic items in Italian cuisine, such as Chianti wine and pecorino cheeses.

It also includes lesser-known but highly-prized regional varieties like the pearly white Sorana bean or Garfagnana spelt.

“The ruling is retroactive for all shops, but not restaurants, in the historic centre too,” Stefania Crivaro, a spokesperson for the city council, told The Local.  

“They now have three years to ensure that 70 percent of their produce is locally sourced.”

Crivaro said the decision was not a ruling against ethnic foods and shops would be allowed to sell less than 70 percent local produce in some circumstances.

“A five-man commission working to ensure the city's food culture and feel of the historic centre will grant approval to businesses that don't want to sell local produce on a case-by-case basis.”

While the initiative has won praise in some quarters, Oscar Farinetti, founder of global Italian supermarket chain, Eataly, said new rules could prove too restrictive and damage business.

“It's sensible for regions to protect their biodiversity but 70 percent might be a bit too high,” La Repubblica reported him as saying.

But the scheme could be rolled out in other historic cities soon.

“We've been getting lots of calls from councils up and down the country who are curious about the idea and are hoping to introduce something similar to their historic centres,” Crivaro added.

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FOOD & DRINK

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.

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