An internal shot at the life of an Italian chef abroad:
In my restaurant yesterday evening, a distinguished South African, alter dining alone, called me to his table, because he was very unhappy about not having found, on the menu of an Italian restaurant, pasta alla MONTANARA! A little tired at that time and astonished by this new Italian sauce, I asked him for a description, and the gentleman, who naturally had travelled extensively and knew Italian cuisine well, told me, very annoyed because he had to give the recipe to me, a chef, that it consisted of mushrooms, porcini, obviously, because Portobellos are out of season, raw ham, cream, corn, Gorgonzola, vodka, lots of pepper, mint and lemons! Surprised by this grab-bag, I responded politely that the next time he came to eat, I would have fresh porcini mushrooms, which after the rains here are about to appear, and I would attempt to prepare him a more traditional pasta ai funghi (mushroom pasta). I should never have said that, because he stood up and said that if I didn’t know what Montonara was, I couldn’t possibly be a true Italian and so he would never come back! So, colleagues, if you don’t want to loose guests, the recipe is above!
After the FIFA World Cup, which gave the whole world a view of South Africa, there has been a steady flow of foreigners, with kids and wives to this country, pretty much all of whom, share the same motivation; a better quality of life, a favourable climate, an emerging country, the world crisis, etc., etc., and all of whom are pretty much convinced that this is the new El Dorado and therefore as far as work is concerned, it will simply be easier! I’ve seen the opening of the most varied activities imaginable; from tanning centres (as if there were a lack of sun here), consultancies of all types, the importation of the most useless of objects, gyms (as if there weren’t enough already), laundromats (which abound), canine and feline beauty centres, winter clothing shops and so on and so on, the stranger, the better, always with the presumption of being able to do it better than the locals!
The Italians, who complain that “my tile (or designer clothing) business flopped” in some other country, open a restaurant, a bar, a pizza shop or an ice-cream shop because “my wife cooks like a goddess,” “nobody makes pasta like my mother-in-law” or “the ice-cream that my friend from Rome makes is the best in the world,” and the like.
They start off with menus and furnishings that are, let’s say, a bit embarrassing, and recipes and dishes never seen or heard of, with the excuse that “these people don’t understand anything,” which was true some years ago, but today, thanks to Italy’s flourishing eonogastronomic tourist industry, television programmes, books, magazines and the Internet simply doesn’t work any more. These days, the clientele, world wide, is prepared and well informed and, above anything else, very hard to please. These newly-arrived have underestimated the long work hours, the difficulty of managing local personnel, be it in the dining room or in the kitchen, as well as the professionalism needed to continue even in the case of having to close after a year – if not after six months – naturally, of cursing successful colleagues, of accumulating debts and strewing personnel out to the street and earning a bad reputation in the serious, local Italian community. Most of them disappear not to be seen again; those who stay say that the location was mistaken or that their guests hadn’t understood their cuisine.
I say that, although I’m sorry about their lost money and time, let these off-base Italian restaurateurs disappear along with their Caesar salads, Alfredo, linguinii and scalopinii served on tables with squared tablecloth which should no be seen any more!