Katie Parla recently visited the gardens and kitchen of the American Academy in Rome and was surprised by the transformation of the food operation after the March 2007 launch of the Rome Sustainable Food Project. “The old food was a lot like airplane food crossed with an elementary school lunch.” Hmmm.
The Rome Sustainable Food Project is a joint venture between the AAR and Alice Waters, so you can imagine how far they’ve come. Foodies among you will want to read about it in the wonderful account of Katie’s visit to the American Academy in her blog: Rome Sustainable Food Project
But hang on a minute. Sometimes it’s funny how perceptions differ based on experience:
I am obsessed with restaurant kitchens and was thrilled to see one of American caliber in Italy; here things tend to be marginally functional, old fashioned, and anything but state of the art. In contrast, the RSFP kitchen is wonderfully equipped and would be the envy of any chef in Italy, and most in the States, as well.
Sure, I’ve been to the kinds of kitchens spoken about. In Perugia, there used to be a restaurant with an open kitchen with appliances you would likely find crammed into the tiny kitchen space of a 1950s American ranch house. The cook/owner/waitress/ came out from behind the rickety wooden table she chopped on to ask the Italian equivalent of “wadda ya wanna eat?”
If you said, “Well, what is there?” she’d trundle back behind the wooden table and open the ancient refrigerator, which creaked a great deal even before the dim light flickered on. After rubbing her chin a while she’d yell across the room the names of the dishes using the stuff in the frigo she could see.
On the other hand, while on an archaeological survey near the Puglian town of Presicce, we were hosted in a school for very young children (obvious because the sheets were only 3 feet long and the nights clouded with mosquitoes). While we checked the place out, we found a kitchen that could easily have rivaled the one at the American Academy. It was as big as the rest of the school, actually.
Problem is, we weren’t allowed to cook in it. The women who worked at the school (and who probably had produced many of the miniature children who populated it outside of summer) couldn’t imagine foreigners (who worked in primarily in ancient dirt) touching their precious stainless steel. I mean, you couldn’t hurt this stuff with a bulldozer, know what I’m sayin’?
I was ticked off. A kitchen like that is a dream. And I’ve worked in Italian restaurants in California that didn’t have this kinda equipment. I wanted to make a grand meal with all this stuff.
But there it sat. Unused, sadly.
And that’s how I came to think of the “normal” Italian kitchen and the care Italians take in feeding their little kids.