How Italian Food Conquered the World
In his book, “How Italian Food Conquered the World,” author John Mariani has chronicled the gastronomic history of Italian food to show how it became the world’s most popular cuisine — not a light undertaking. In doing so, he has shown both the origins of Italian food and wine within Italy, as well as the interdependency between Italy and the United States in creating the unique Italian cuisine we now recognize as the global leader, which has evolved as a combination of the best both countries have to offer.
Most die-hard, knowledgeable foodies recognize that there are two distinct Italian cuisines: that which is found in Italy and that which is found in the United States, or, at least, that was the case before the last decade. Those Italians that divided their time between Italy and the U.S. knew the marked differences between the food in Italy and the Italian food served here. However, the popular Italians foods now seen on menus around the world — foods such as Pasta Primavera and Fettuccine Alfredo — mostly originated in the U.S. and were actually a hybrid of traditional Italian recipes modified for U.S. ingredients. It was the influx of Italians who came to the U.S. and opened restaurants here that propelled Italian food to mega-stardom status. They also eventually were able to introduce traditional Italian foods and dishes to U.S. kitchens once certain ingredients became available.
What Mariani aptly reveals in “How Italian Food Conquered the World” is how Italian food overtook French cuisine in such a short period of time —less than forty years. For it was in 1971, when Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse, that people began to embrace the concept of fresh, good, local ingredients and this hastened their availability. As better ingredients were made available in the U.S., particularly also with the advent of express shipping, Italians food also finally found its masterful culinary footing. Chefs in the U.S. were able to take it up a notch and show that true Italian cuisine was more than just pizza and spaghetti. Italian cuisine was also a form of art made with exquisite ingredients, such as truffles and burrata.
Mariani recounts the rise of Sirio Maccioni, amongst others, an Italian immigrant who opened the iconic New York French restaurant Le Cirque in 1973 because, at the time, he didn’t believe that an Italian restaurant could have the same impact, or appeal, and, at that time, it couldn’t. French cuisine was what the haute crowd was eating and French restaurants were where they vied to be seen. Italian food was for lesser beings. However, “How Italian Food Conquered the World” also reveals that it was Maccioni’s wife that created Pasta Primavera, one of the few Italian dishes at Le Cirque, and the one that ironically became the most requested.
Maccioni was one of the first of a cadre of Italian restaurateurs and chefs that began to shape Italian food culture in the U.S., and beyond, and “How Italian Food Conquered the World” tells many stories about famous Italians that shaped the U.S. food industry, such as the infamous Chef Boiardi, creator of the Chef Boyardee brand, and Vincent DeDomenico, who created Rice-A-Roni. The latter individuals contributed to the increase in popularity, and ubiquity, of Italian “fast” food, such as spaghetti and pizza, in the 60s and 70s.
“How Italian Food Conquered the World” also chronicles the implementation of rigorous wine standards in Italy that have resulted in the world’s most prolific wine-producing country, and some of the world’s best wines. It was actually technological innovations developed in the California wine making industry, spearheaded by Italians, such as Gallo and Mondavi, and then adopted in Italy, that resulted in serious advances in wine making practices in Italy.
These innovations, coupled with a very determined and formidable Italian trade commissioner, Dr. Lucio Caputo, propelled Italian wine to such mega-star status, in such a short period of time, that producers of Brunello di Montalcino rose from 11 in 1960 to 220 in 2005. During this period, Italy also introduced strict D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. standards.
The availability of stellar Italian wines, as well as the ease of ordering the best ingredients straight from Italy, gave rise in the last decade to a group of Italian and Italian Americans in the food industry that have solidified the significance of Italian cuisine as the world’s best. These include chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and food purveyors, such as Dean & DeLuca and Eataly, and owner-investors, such as the Italian family behind Harry Cipriani and Harry’s Bar. “How Italian Food Conquered the World” leaves no stone unturned in providing information about the individuals and organizations that have shaped Italian food culture.
This book will, surely, if it hasn’t already, become required reading in culinary schools, as well as the quintessential primer and “who’s who” for the Italian food industry. It’s a fascinating, easy read and one additional charming element is that Mariani has included some very simple and delicious Italian recipes, such as the aforementioned Pasta Primavera, and Egg-Filled Ravioli with Truffles.
“How Italian Food Conquered the World” is a must-have book for the die-hard Italian foodie, too. It’s no great surprise to Italians, who have always opened their homes to share their cuisine with friends and family, that Italian is the number one food choice. Yet, after reading this book, you’ll have an in-depth understanding of how the cuisine has evolved and how remarkable the Italians and Italian Americans that have contributed to its rise are.