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Cooking on TV

“Never eat where you sleep, never have coffee where you eat”. This was the mantra of the few gourmets in the 50s and 60s in Italy.

By Gianfranco Gatta

Italian catering has been evolving with the growth of national well-being. From the post-war period up to the mid-1970s, people ate much better at home than in the vast majority of restaurants scattered throughout the area.

A mainly poor cuisine, based on peasant origins, interpreted by grandmothers and mothers in an admirable, tasty and sometimes unforgettable way.

Those who traveled, for refreshment, followed the rule of stopping where they encountered many trucks parked: “because truck drivers like to eat well”.

And it is precisely by following this rule that “Il Motta” was born on April 29, 1961, at the Cantagallo exit on the A1 motorway. It is not only a huge Autogrill, with 6500/7000 customers a day, who could enjoy the open kitchen with the "sfogline" while preparing the tortellini by hand, but it quickly became a social phenomenon complete with a parish, where on Sundays the locals went to mass and then had lunch at the Motta. Italian well-being had just begun.

But the Italian catering continued to be lacking. With three exceptions (with a separate addition which is the “Locanda Cipriani” in Venice since 1934, but this is a whole other story) known by locals and a few refined connoisseurs; we are talking about exceptions that over time became reference points of great international cuisine: Ferrer at Agip in Spotorno and then in Torre del Mare, Peppino and Mirella Cantarelli in Samboseto (Busseto) and just a little later in time, Angelo Paracucchi in Sarzana.


As regards fish, Paracucchi himself raised the bar of refinement both in presentations and in the kitchen, maintaining quality at very high levels, so much so that he subsequently opened a restaurant in Paris.

Peppino Cantarelli, refined and cultured owner of a butchery shop with an adjoining elegant veranda / restaurant, the locals knew him and frequented him by the Agnelli and Pirellis to whom he supplied the cellars; his wife Mirella prepared a rice Savarin and an orange duck that were worth a 500 km trip to go and taste them.

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Two fine restaurants in a deserted restaurant. Gualtiero Marchesi was still far to come.

Ferrer Manuelli is a phenomenon apart. It was the purest expression of Ligurian cuisine, poor, made of extraordinary local products (salted anchovies, pesto and wines such as Pigato and Sciacchetrà) and cooked in the most genuine way possible.

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On fish, the rigor was in force in the kitchen: only the catch of the day, without the tricks of chilli pepper to cover the stale old fish; try to imagine a simple sea bass caught just six hours earlier, perfectly cooked in the oven and presented with a drizzle of Ligurian extra virgin olive oil from Taggiasca olives: Poetry! Then, on cod and stockfish he was a Grand Master.

The singer of these three phenomena was a fine writer lent to food and wine: Luigi Veronelli who, together with the gruff sympathy of Ave Ninchi, presented the first cooking program on television, in the 1960s: “A Tavola alle 7”.

In the Italy of the bell towers, two famous people cooked the same product, let's say sardines, in the typical manner of their home region. For Veronelli the task of poetry of wine, for his part.

The television taught young families to cook, while the first kitchen pantries began to appear at the newsstands and the three volumes of Italian cuisine were bought in the bookstore: "Il Cucchiaio d'Argento" by various authors by Giovanna Camozzi, Il Cucchiaio d’Argento”, “Il Talismano della felicità”, by Ada Boni and for the most demanding “L'Artusi”, by Pellegrino Artusi.

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From the mid-70s onwards, Italian catering evolved to reach the highest levels in the world today.

“Italian Cuisine” becomes an international “Brand” like Ferrari and Made in Italy, finding a unique tourist key in the world: “Enogastronomic Tours”. With many greetings to the French!

The television programs of the TG, “TGLuna”, begin to dedicate space to local products and regional cuisines.

In the 1980s, television programs hosted chefs in the studio to present a recipe, “Più Sani e Più Belli”, by Rosanna Lambertucci.

On TeleMontercarlo, today LA7, Wilma de Angelis presents her kitchen at noon.

“Cordialmente”, hosted by Enza Sampò on RAI2, presents every Friday a regional recipe made by cooks, then half-known, who today are almost all in the international limelight. This program was responsible for the rediscovery of Acqua Cotta, an extraordinary Maremma soup.

On the same network, at the beginning of the 90s, Bruno Modugno's “Giorno di Festa”, a program dedicated to village festivals scattered throughout the territory, ends the episode with a table laden with local dishes and products. As well as “Linea Verde” on Rai1 and “Sereno Variabile”, by Osvaldo Bevilacqua with his Guinness Book of Records, again on Rai 2.

On Italia1, “Cotto e Mangiato” by Benedetta Parodi is affirmed with great success, which passed to LA7 for a few seasons and presents a kitchen for families, with an imprint and why not: even with the use of frozen products. Twenty years later, those episodes fill the current LA7d morning schedule.

The “bubble” of the “Nouvelle Cucine” bursts which, although questionable in substance, brings further elegance to the mise en place and the presentation of the dishes at the table.

On TVs all over the world cooking programs are created which become exportable formats; in Italy it seems there is no longer any author capable of inventing a program, with the exception of RaiSat's “Gambero Rosso” channel.

A very successful Format, just for lunch time is “La Prova del Cuoco”, Rai1, hosted by Antonella Clerici. It presents recipes to repeat at home along with a competition between professional chefs.

But the real phenomenon is “Masterchef”, on Sky, which brings the kitchen to prime time. A tough competition, between non-professionals who aspire to become one.

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Now the kitchen has imposed itself on TV, with the birth of many enjoyable programs but which are all based on the challenge, without teaching how to do “Cooking”. These programs “close”, economically speaking, on the coverage of sponsors, because it is good to remember that food and wine related activities are worth 25% of the Italian GDP, according to Reputation Review data.