It has always been striking that the great names of French cuisine were the same both inside and out of the country, while the standard bearers of Italian cucina abroad were practically unknown at home. For example: Marcella Hazan, the writer whose Italian cookbook became a kitchen classic in the United States, was never published in Italy. Lidia Bastianich was an illustrious unknown in her homeland before she partnered with Oscar Farinetti and became the American pillar of Eataly, but she was one of the first, in the 1980s, to turn her back on Italo-American cooking (hardly recognizable as Italian anymore by modern standards) and propose up-to-date cucina italiana in her restaurants, books and television shows.
The list of those unsung in Italy but famous abroad is a long one: Piero Selvaggio is synonymous with Italian dining among Los Angeles’ big spenders; Sirio Maccioni, Mario Batali, Cesare Casella, Laura Maioglio, all little known in Italy, figure large on the New York City restaurant scene; Giada De Laurentii is the author of best-selling Italian cookbooks in the United States. Antonio Carluccio, Giorgio Locatelli and Claudio Pulze are well-known restaurateurs in London. Armando Percuoco, the Don Alfonso of Sydney and founder of CIRA (Council of Italian Restaurants in Australia) is a visionary chef who, in 1994, planted an olive grove in the Australian countryside. “Planting an olive is an exercise in patience,” he pointed out ruefully.
Exporting trattorias instead of haute cuisine cost Italy twenty years of culinary colonization. The first to see an opportunity were the Florentines (Enoteca Pinchiorri and Cibreo in Tokyo), followed by a migration to London: Dolada (from Pieve d’Alpago to Mayfair), Osteria dell’Arancio (from Grottammare to Chelsea), Heinz Beck (from Rome to Hyde Park). Most recently, the Sacco brothers, from Lake Mergozzo in Piedmont, opened the River Club in Beijing where they serve the classics, such as trout hamburger, from their Piccolo Lago restaurant. Massimiliano Alajmo cloned his Calandrino in Tokyo.
Now a younger set are exporting winning ideas. Tarallucci e Vino brought their pizza by the slice to New York and have won prizes for the city’s best soup (le scrippelle ‘mbusse abruzzesi – delicate crepes drenched in chicken broth). Dego (Degustazione + Osteria), in London, offers an instructive choice of small Italian labels, salumi, cheeses, and a careful, simple menu aimed at spotlighting the wines. Among other European outposts, low cost but significant, the pizza and buffalo mozzarella crowd (Piola, Rossopomodoro, Fratelli La Bufala, Obikà) have chosen Istanbul: a window on the east and a rare European instance of a growing GDP.