Le Stelle Italiane

Le Stelle Italiane

Italian cuisine is among the stars of the world. Once underrated for years, now Italian cuisine has literally conquered the world, and its throne is not about to shake. It is not only about the pastas, risottos or pizzas, which is loved by the masses anyway, but every single day talented new chefs come up with unexpected creative plates. On the other hand, home cooking lives in its simplest and most beautiful form. Traditional or innovative, Italian cuisine gets its strength from the quality of its produce, no doubt about that.

Once upon a time, Italian cuisine meant pasta with garlic, basil and tomato sauce. Outside of Italy, Italian cuisine was known for small family restaurants and pizzerias, decorated almost always the same way, with red and white checkerboard pattern cloths on the tables, Chianti flasks with wicker covers, the empty ones turned into candle holders thickly covered with layers and layers of a thousand nights’ drippings, a picture of Colosseum on the wall, and a gondola figurine in a corner. Then, suddenly, there was a transformation, something like a revolution, and Italian cuisine started to climb the ladder of fame, becoming a star cuisine, loved and appreciated by all around the globe. Of course, in this rise lies the importance given to the quality of artisanal materials and mastery, as well as the delicious flavor combinations of the cuisine that appeals to every palate. Italians are like devoted fans of their local products and meticulous in picking the best produce to put on their plates. More importantly, it is undeniable that there is a state policy that supports these values. Both the state and non-governmental organizations support quality products and producers, chefs and researches on culinary culture.

While Italian tables are decorated with first grade star products, Italian chefs are also decorated with stars. I’m not talking about Michelin stars here, which culminated to a whopping total of 371 starred restaurants this year, but about honorary state stars, a distinction awarded to individuals that contribute to Italian culture. “Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia,” or in other words “Order of the Star of Italy,” represents a particular honor given to individuals who have acquired special merit in the promotion of friendly relations and cooperation between Italy and other countries and the promotion of ties with Italy. The five-pointed star is the symbol of Italy, especially the symbol of the unification of Italy. The Order of the Star is awarded to Italian citizens or foreigners who contribute to Italian culture in many different fields and disciplines.

Cuisine is no exemption. The promotion of food and wine is included in the list of merits. Chefs are also honored with the Star of Italy, and now one of the new starred chefs is almost one of us. Last week, Eataly Istanbul’s executive chef, Claudio Chinali, received the “Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia” state medal at a ceremony held at the Venetian Palace of the Italian Consulate in Istanbul on September 9.

The importance given to chefs and masters in Italy is encouraging. Gualtiero Marchesi, who is considered the father of modern Italian cuisine, was the first chef to receive a state award in 1986. In the same year, he also received the Ambrogino d’Oro, the highest honor of the city of Milan. Marchesi is also the first chef in Italy to receive a three-Michelin star. Years later, in 2008, he criticized the Michelin rating system and returned his stars, but his career is full of several other gilded awards. The chef, who died of cancer in 2017, is still remembered as the big star of Italian cuisine. Among those who received the same insignia in the past years include Niko Romito, a self-thought chef from Abruzzo. Franco Pepe, a pizzaiolo, a true master of pizza, who raised pizza to a whole new level, was nominated last year. The fact that a pizza master is considered for such an important state medal proves the importance given to artisanal mastery in the kitchen.

In fact, we have a lot to learn from Italy’s dedication to protect and promote its food culture.

Chinali’s career in Italy is like a gateway to star-studded restaurants. He worked with many Michelin-starred chefs in Italy before settling in Turkey because of his Turkish wife. He has been in the kitchen of Bruno Barbieri, who has a total of seven stars, and also with other chefs such as two-starred Alfonso Caputo and one-starred Igles Corelli. When he first came to Turkey in 2010, he started to work in the best possible place in Borsa Lokanta, the star of Turkish cuisine. This way, he had the opportunity to get to know Turkish cuisine. He has an amazing knowledge of Turkish ingredients. Chinali, who has been in charge of the kitchens of Eataly Istanbul since it opened in 2013, is indeed one of the most knowledgeable chefs in Turkey about sourcing ingredients. Eataly takes care to include not only Italian products, but also products from the best manufacturers from Turkey. Of course, the star award is given for his contribution to promoting Italian tastes in Turkey, but I am personally amazed by his enthusiasm to find the best among Turkish producers as well. With his positive attitude and big smile, with his curiosity of learning and researching, with his fairness and respect to others, and with his love of Turkey, he has already been the star in the hearts of all people who have known him in Turkey. Tanti Auguri Claudio, your star is well deserved!

Fork of the Week:

There is another good news from Chinali. A new restaurant, Terrazza Italia is opening soon on the terrace with a view of the Bosphorus inside Eataly Istanbul. The restaurant will offer a new approach to Italian cuisine in Istanbul. Traditional Italian food will be interpreted with modern techniques and presented in a new level, clean and fresh. Plates will be elegant yet simple, flavors will be authentic and quality-oriented, and Chinali’s quest for quality produce will never be compromised. The emphasis will be on paying respect for the best products from Italy and Turkey, combining quality, freshness and taste in line with the Eataly philosophy.

Cork of the Week:

September is a busy time for vineyards. They are busy harvesting and hoping for the best in this year’s vintage. It is a challenge against all odds with climate change. Next month will be even more challenging. October will be a true challenge for Turkish wine. The first edition of TWC-Turkish Wine Challenge will be held in Istanbul Oct. 15-16 organized by Serhat Narsap, a Turkish global wine expert, judge and consultant based in London. There will be over 60 Turkish wineries participating, with a world class team of international judges. There will be more about the vent coming soon, so watch this column for the coming news. https://www.turkishwinechallenge.org/

Aylin Öney Tan,