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IMMIGRATION

Migrants get Pakistani chef amid ‘bad’ Italian food revolt

A Pakistani chef has been brought in to cater for 200 people living at a refugee centre in Emilia-Romagna, after they protested over the poor quality of the Italian food on offer.

Migrants get Pakistani chef amid 'bad' Italian food revolt
Migrants in Emilia-Romagna have been given a new Pakistani cook after they complained about the Italian food on offer. Renata F. Olivera/Flickr

The new appointment comes after protests last Wednesday, during which 30 refugees from the Coop Dimora d'Abramo refugee centre in Reggio Emilia occupied their local police headquarters complaining the food they were served was “no good” and “cooked badly”, Il Resto del Carlino reported.

In the wake of the protests, the traditional Italian trattoria which currently prepares the meals, Il Locomotore, has promised to do more to satisfy the refugees' tastes.

“We're talking with the reception centre at the moment and will bring in a new Pakistani chef, specialized in African cuisine to cook a meal for the migrants once a week,” Il Locomotore employee Paolo Masetti told Il Resto Del Carlino.

An employee at the centre declined to discuss meal offerings for refugees when contacted by The Local.

But the restaurant's decision has provoked a backlash from many who feel they are pandering to the refugees' unfair and excessive demands.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy's anti-immigration Northern League, told The Local the decision was “crazy”.

“No other European country would put up with this kind of protest from migrants,” he said on the sidelines of a press conference at Rome's foreign press association on Wednesday to promote his new autobiography.

In the wake of the controversy, regional councillor for Italy's Democratic Party, Mirko Tutino, defended the decision to get a new cook, saying it was “important to meet the needs of people fleeing war and poverty.”

“It's not about disrespect for Italian food, it's about food that isn't part of the asylum seekers' culture,” he added.

At present, a typical day's menu at the canteen includes pasta and tomato sauce, followed by chicken and artichokes. All meals come with a bread and a bottle of water.

Apart from being alien to those who come from diverse food cultures, the refugees say the food is also cooked badly.

“I like Italian food, but here it's not well cooked at all,” said Zeshan, a migrant from Pakistan who was among the protesters last week.

“Many of us have eaten Italian food before in England and Germany and it was better than this.”

The protest follows one in the Veneto region in 2014, when refugees at a centre in Belluno lamented “montonous” Italian food. 

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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