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Nicola Fabbri: “The future of the Italian dolce in the world? Tradition made modern”

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The role of dolce (not dessert) and pasticceria in Italian restaurants around the world is widely analyzed in this interview with Nicola Fabbri, the CEO of Fabbri 1905, which is a notable Italian brand, leader in the market of products and solutions for gelato, pastry, coffee and mixed drinks. Fabbri 1905 has been the sponsor of La Vita è Dolce. Mr Fabbri, a GVCI member since the beginning in 2001, thanks to his intense business travelling is above all a documented expert of the Italian restaurant scene in the world.

Q. You are probably one of those who have eaten the most Italian cooking abroad. If you had to work it out more or less, how many Italian restaurants would you say you have eaten in, and in how many countries?
R. For a long time during my professional life, I made myself not eat at Italian restaurants while I was abroad, because I wanted to become acquainted with the local cuisine and the place’s specialties. Then I met the chefs of the GVCI and everything changed. Now I’m committed to visiting as many Italian restaurants as I can in whichever country or city I find myself in, specifically to ‘feel out’ the level of our cuisine in the world. To give an exact number of the countries or of the restaurants is really difficult for me, because I’ve been traveling more than six months a year for the last 24 years. But I can say that I’ve visited all the continents from the artic circle to the Cape of Good Hope and that I’ve tried at least a thousand types of tiramisù.

Nicola Fabbri en Tuttofood
Nicola Fabbri at Tuttofood in La vita è dolce´s presentation

Q. According to your experience, how important is the carta dei dolci for an Italian restaurant abroad to achieve success as well as high quality? Where have you seen – and tried – the most interesting things and the most depressing?
R. Just recently, I happened to find in one of our restaurants the ‘carta dei dessert’ – which made me go wild because in an Italian restaurant it ought to be called the ‘carta dei dolci’. The attention to the quality and quantity of the things selected and handled for savoury foods as well as the wines can unfortunately not be perceived as being applied to dolci. I mention quantity because it is an essential element for making a quality-dining dolce enjoyable as opposed to something similar to a nightmare. What a shame; everybody knows that the diner remembers the last thing that he or she has eaten, and nevertheless, by bad luck he or she wants to taste a dolce; too often it’s submerged in poorly mixed and badly graduated custards and calories or worse, he or she is confronted with a slice of defrosted, industrial cake. I can’t distinguish country by country, sadly it’s a generalised situation.

Famous Amarena Fabbri
The Famous Amarena Fabbri

Q. Is the dolce within Italian cuisine abroad tradition or creativity?
R. In this case as in others, I’m a great fan of tradition made modern; let me explain myself: our cooking has truly ancient roots, in comparison central heating is a newborn and a few decades ago, nobody had any idea of the existence of cholesterol. Luckily and in difference to our transalpine cousins, amongst us, our habits and customs, and no less importantly, our finances have always been extremely different, thus we’ve inherited recipes that are of very high quality, not only as far as taste is concerned but also organoleptically and nutritionally as well. However, it’s necessary to make them more consistent with modern nutrition by adjusting the quantities and, at times, the cooking methods in order to make them more digestible for and enjoyable to modern consumers. For me, the perfect restaurant is the one that allows me to savour everything fully without making me get up from the table feeling overly heavy. It’s not impossible; many of my GVCI friends have taken up this path with great success.

Q. If you had the task of composing a carta dei dolci as an Italian restaurateur abroad, what would you include?
R. I love chocolate, so I wouldn’t be able to turn down a torta Barozzi – really bitter with just a touch of coffee, or a pastiera revised and presented as a soufflé – a lemon delight, nor could we ever do without gelato – summer berry sorbetto, or gelato di pistacchio di Bronte, an autumn walnut and candied fig gelato or otherwise a winter hazelnut, gianduja or zabajone gelato.

Q. Why do you think we have so few Italian pastry cooks in the world?
R. Because we don’t have the culture of the refined dolce that became so highly developed in the French and Austrian courts. It’s because of this that the world of the restaurant industry finds the art of the dolce monopolised by these two schools. The schools of cooking, the academies and the various universities of food science that have appeared in Italy in recent years have, by their own admission, dedicated little time and few resources to dolci. Who’s ever heard of Marchesi or Vissani or Paracucchi holding a class on any kind of Italian dolce whatsoever?

Q. Gelato is still booming on a worldwide scale. Patriotism aside, what should be aimed at in order to maintain its Italian leadership and identity at cultural and commercial levels?
R. In this regard, we have no rivals, we’re the number one in the world and we dictate the rules. Gelato, thanks to the individual effort of thousands of men and women who have risked their own savings to set up gelaterie in every corner of the Earth, is unanimously considered to be an Italian delicacy. We mustn’t let this national treasure escape from our hand.

Fabbri
Nicola Fabbri with itchefs´ Igor Macchia, Giovani Grasso and Elena Ruocco

Q. How?
R. The institutions don’t even know who are behind this phenomenon, the associations of category are strictly national and squabble with each other; the only entity that watches over this sector at an international level is the AIIPA the spine of the Confindustria that encloses the enterprises that operate in this market. Once again, the only way to both defend and broaden the horizons of quality artisan Italian gelato is in our hands, that is in the hands of the enterprises that produce quality semi-finished goods, of the operators who open gelaterie that are more and more attractive and modern, of the restaurateurs who don’t fall to the lures of industry-made gelato with the mask of ‘home-made’ when placed on the table. We Italians alone have produced our stature. We’ve had no institutions to help us promote our cuisine, although all too often, there have been some to ruin our image. We know how to generate success, we are trying to complete our work and make our diners fall in love with our splendid, fluffy dolci.