Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Italy minister’s comments about food leaves chefs simmering

As a junior minister taking your first steps in politics, it is generally thought wise to steer away from touchy subjects. Especially when your brief is culture, your country is Italy – and the subject is food.

Ilaria Borletti Buitoni does not appear to have got that memo. In an interview that provoked dismay in gastronomic circles, the junior minister for culture in Enrico Letta's new government said she judged the performance of Italian chefs "negatively", chastising them for trying too hard to be fashionable and copying the French.

"In Italy we haven't eaten well for a long time, unfortunately. We have chased after the trends, the French, moving away from our idea of cooking," Borletti Buitoni, an MP for Mario Monti's centrist party, was quoted as telling Panorama magazine.

She said some of the best food in Italy was to be had in Umbrian trattorias that were "less fashionable and the better for it".

In a country which rejoiced in 2010 when the Mediterranean diet was included on Unesco's list of "intangible cultural heritage", the junior minister's comments came as a slap in the face.

'The wrong person in the wrong job'
"I believe that this statement, made by someone who should be representing us is proof that they are the wrong person in the wrong job," wrote Raffaele Alajmo, who runs the three-Michelin-star restaurant Le Calandre with his brother Massimiliano, in an open letter to Letta.

"Culture is our country's most precious asset and Italian cooking is part of it besides being one of the chief reasons for choosing a holiday in Italy," he added. "At a historic time like the present, being represented by a person who has not the slightest idea of the extent to which Italian restaurateurs in Italy and in the world act as ambassadors for our country and our products is unacceptable."

Borletti Buitoni (58), a former businessperson who lived for years in Britain and is a former chair of the Italian equivalent of the National Trust, is married to a former heir to the Buitoni pasta empire, which is now owned by Nestlé. In 2002, she and her husband set up the respected Borletti Buitoni Trust for young musicians.

She was not asked to elaborate on her comments. Corriere della Sera's food and wine blog remarked that Borletti Buitoni was "very probably" not referring to the elite Italian chefs but to the average restaurant. "And on this point," it wrote, "there are readers of this blog … who would agree."

Such an argument would be unlikely to hold much water with Filippo La Mantia, a leading chef based in Rome. "If she comes to my restaurant," he told Panorama, "I'll ignore her." © Guardian News and Media 2013

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Coko vs S ruling: The case against a subjective test...

Acting judge Tembeka Ngcukaitobi’s acquittal of a rape suspect has raised controversy, but legal experts say the fault lay with legislators and not the court

DA’s egregious sexual harassment case finally begins

The party is accused of protecting a councillor, who’s also implicated in R1.2m graft

More top stories

Lucas Radebe: ‘My football career began behind my parents’ back’

Soccer legend Lucas ‘Rhoo’ Radebe is a busy man, but he made time in his hectic schedule to speak to Ntombizodwa Makhoba about his fondest childhood memories, how his soccer career began, and, as a father of eight, his legacy

Coko vs S ruling: The case against a subjective test...

Acting judge Tembeka Ngcukaitobi’s acquittal of a rape suspect has raised controversy, but legal experts say the fault lay with legislators and not the court

Defend journalists and media freedom in Eswatini

Journalists are censored through cruel and illegitimate detention, torture and the removal of means to disseminate information to citizens crying – and dying – for it

It’s safe to open the beaches, says UPL after chemical...

Agrochemical producer UPL said it has paid R250-million in chemical spill clean-up

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…