François-Régis Gaudry, born in Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon on the 19th of August 1975, is a French journalist, writer and food critic. He hosts On va deguster le dimanche on radio channel France Inter and Très Très Bon on Paris Première. In 2015 he published On va déguster, two years later it was the turn of On va déguster la France and now of On va déguster l’Italie, always published by Marabout.
Let's start with a maybe banal question: why have you written On va déguster l’Italie, after inviting us to taste France?
«If I were to look for the origins of my great passion for Italian cuisine, they would be, to begin with, the marvellous show I enjoyed in my childhood when my mother would roll out large sheets of fresh pasta with a pasta roller. The lasagne she made were such a success they were considered a legendary masterpiece by family and friends. Parmigiana di melanzane and saltimbocca alla romana were equally successful. My mother cooks the way she breathes, and Italy has always been part of my oxygen. She was raised in a family originally from Corse which, as often the case, increased the mixed marriages. I remember crowded family meals discussing lively in French, Corse and Italian, where my family from Genoa and Tuscany dared to tease the Corse family by implying they were Italians who came to a sticky end… My parents are French but they raised me with the idea that in Italy the good and the beautiful rule. Perhaps implying it's like France».
Then I recall a cousin…
«Yes, and crucial in the delicious exploration of the other side of the Alps was my cousin, Stephane Solier, whom I involved in this very ambitious project. He's a professor of Classical literature and Latin, he spent 9 years in Rome working as at the French Embassy. He welcomed me multiple times in the capital, for some food tours. Together we tasted and discovered dishes that struck me so much they became an obsession for the rest of my life: all our Roman pasta, carbonara above all, puntarelle, carciofi alla giudia. From Rome to the rest of the peninsula, Italian cuisine turned into a Grail for me, a raison d'être and a professional exploration».
Alessandra Pierini at a Paris selection of the World pesto cup
We met in Paris thanks to an event organised by an extraordinary woman from Italy. Actually, from Liguria…
«Alessandra Pierini, my spiritual guide. I remember when we first met in her shop in Paris, in 2010, it was a professional love at first sight, which turned into a real friendship. She took me almost everywhere: from the Dolomites to Sicily, via Sardinia, Liguria, Calabria… Our journey fed a radio programme on France Inter called On va déguster. So after many adventures and following On va déguster la France, from 2017, Italy stood out in its evidence. An evidence I wanted to follow as long as I kept a distance from experts, chefs, food lovers, artisans, producers, illustrators, photographers.
Three years of intense travelling in the meanders of the most fascinating kitchens in the world. The result met our expectations, a French-Italian declaration of love to Italian Cuisine and an ambitious, generous and delicious book».
Do the French like Italian cuisine?
«The French are in love with Italy in general and with its cuisine above all. Italy is a neighbouring, therefore familiar, country. But it also offers a touch of exotic, a new attraction, something extra. Writer Jean Cocteau said that Italians are like a French in good humour. With food it's the same, a familiar cuisine that makes you smile. Italy embodies the joy of eating universal and satisfying dishes: pasta, pizza, lasagne, gelato, cakes.
Caterina de' Medici
Let's not forget that the French are the second consumers of pizza globally, after the United States and before Italy».
Do you believe the French have an inclination to loving Italy?
«Yes, Italy is a country with which we have had a strong connection, in terms of history and geography. Italian immigration has always been important. France was the third destination of Italian migrants between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, after the United States and Argentina. People from Piedmont, Lombardy, Tuscany and many Neapolitans arrived in Marseille. There were many exchanges between the countries, over the centuries, think of Caterina de’ Medici, who from Tuscany became the queen of France».
And in more recent years?
«You are one of the top holiday destinations for the French. And finally, there's a strong immigration of Italian cooks and pizzaioli who arrive in Paris and in the most important cities in France. Thanks to them we have access, for instance, to the real Neapolitan pizza, and we see restaurants opening with authentic regional cuisine. On top of that, many popular and esteemed Italian chefs play a role of ambassadors of Italian cuisine, such as Giovanni Passerini, Fabrizio Ferrara, Michele Farnesi… they're among the talents who participated in the book».
It seems the French still have an arrogant attitude towards Italy, but less so…
«The French thought for many years they had the monopoly of food excellence. They developed, through their monarchic history, an elitist and luxury vision of gastronomy, and this has become a soft power, to the service of the French grandeur. They have deeply intellectualised their relationship with food and cooking has become a high standard sport, with athletes, records, prowess. The French for many years regarded Italy as the country of pasta and pizza. Today they spend lots of time in Italy and realise the territory is extraordinarily rich. The Slow Food movement contributes greatly in highlighting the diversity of the culinary and agricultural heritage. And so the French realise, especially thanks to people like Massimo Bottura, who is very popular in the gastronomic scene, that there's real fine dining in Italy too».
François-Régis Gaudry with Massimo Bottura
At last the French are more respectful of Italian cuisine.
«Overcooked pasta, pizza with gruyere and anchovies, cream in carbonara, spaghetti Bolognaise… The French have for a long time made a caricature of Italy. Now they seem much more scrupulous and careful of the real Italian taste. This is both because there's been much more attention in the French media, firstly thanks to Alessandra Pierini, who tells about the real Italian taste in her épicerie and in the press. And then because the French have recently begun to travel to regions they still didn't know 10 years ago, like Apulia or Sicily, and thus bring back the memories of tastings and recipes they want to repeat once home».
François-Régis Gaudry and Alessandra Pierini interview Andrea Bezzecchi from Acetaia San Giacomo
And how about wine?
«Even though French natural wine is well-established, a well-read French gastronomist will seek Italian natural wine as a new and very interesting land of discovery. I think of prosecco col fondo, macerated wines, volcanic areas, extreme winemaking… There's a very high demand for producers like Arianna Occhipinti, Elisabetta Foradori, Stefano Amerighi».
A completely different story.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso
Books and editorial news from the food planet
born in Milan in March 1955, at Il Giornale for 31 years dividing himself between sports and food, since 2004 he's the creator and curator of Identità Golose.
The basics of an excellent sushi