Meeting with Carlo Bogliotti
interview Tereza Nikolova, illustration Alessandro Calabrese
Carlo, you are the editorial direc- tor of Slow Food, but you’re also a fan of music and a cultural expert; what is the connection, in your opinion, between the world of cuisine and music?
Both are creative processes, very different from each other, which are, however, strongly influenced by the context in which they are made and the target to which they are addressed. The level of creati- vity in the kitchen can be minimal if I limit myself to cooking a tra- ditional dish or a written recipe, just like those who run a cover or follow a score, but in some cases, however, the author’s hand is evi- dent, introducing some personal experience, which is the great and collective process of creation in this tradition. In the case of very creative cuisine, starting with nothing, a cook who invents his dishes, there are analogies with the musical creative process. Am I creating for diners of a haute cuisine restaurant? I’ll take into account their expectations. Am
I creating for a bar? Just like a composer who writes for major opera houses or to the audience of CBGB in New York my composi- tion will be affected by the type of audience and the location of the performance. It’s curious that in the past two decades, the musical process that makes use of sam- pling (from the early days of hip hop to current electro music) have been a hit in the kitchen, where creativity is strongly influenced by a kind of technical sampling. We take recipes and use these old moulds in new contexts, or mix things, incorporating things from the past to give the dish new life. If you go to the Consortium restaurant in Turin for example, a place I call a simplistic modern bar, you can find food and ingredients that have their roots in the most profound and true Piedmontese tradition, but which have been recreated in some way, through innovative techniques or with new combinations.
Musical movements are born on the basis of creative urgency, are innovations in the kitchen born the same way?
If we speak about the great chefs, the ones who are coming more and more into the media spotlight, they are in many ways comparable to rock stars, because of the lucid madness that they put into their creations, they are driven by an absolute passion
for what they do (they couldn’t have become cooks if they didn’t deeply love their work, since this is one of the most strenuous jobs that there is), something repli- cated in their lives, with absurd working hours and the need for various types of support (also alluding to drugs), a creativity exploding almost suddenly while they are immersed in a continuo- us search. Maybe that’s where
the strongest creativity ferments, particularly fuelled by one or two characters, immediately creating “scenes” that make history, exact- ly like musical scenes. Just like Manchester in the ’80s and ’90s with britpop, punk in London and New York in the late 70s
and post punk New York in the early 80’s, hip hop, Californian hardcore and Seattle grunge. In recent years we’ve helped with the explosion of Ferran Adrià’s Catalan cuisine which itself is a part of Basque cooking, then the Redzepi Nordic movement, the Parisian neo-bistro from Aizpitarte, the Peruvian cuisine of Gaston Acurio and the Brazilian Alex Atala. Movements that create followers, where you can feel creative urgency, attract young forces, which in turn evolve drive change together.
Why have we felt the need to return to nature and tradition over the years?
I think on one hand awareness has increased among people that the food should be the main thing to worry about, it’s what feeds us, gives us energy, directly has an effect on health and influences a myriad of political, economic, cultural and social processes. Wanting to be aware of what you eat inevitably induces the need to educate yourself, and immediately you stumble on
the issues of sustainability, the protection of biodiversity, health and social justice at a local and international level. Eating locally, healthy and seasonally seems to be one of the ways to meet these needs, and we at Slow Food have been supporting this for decades, and it shows in our behaviour. This is where movements come from, ones that then take on the boundaries of what’s fashionable, like the huge rise of vegetarianism or veganism, or more slowly brin- ging attention to the healthiness of products. Speaking traditio- nally speaking, because our local cultural heritage is often a way to affirm our identity, in a world that allows less space to do so, it’s also a way to revive ingredients which are not standardized and approved, and prepare dishes and ancient health remedies. If you are careful about what
you eat you can’t be indifferent, food – as Brillat Savarin wrote in 1825 – is “inherent to man as he eats”, it embraces all fields of knowledge, every element of our lives and what we do every day. To be careful also means changing our behaviour and lifestyle. And as far as tradition goes, it’s not so- mething to be mounted and put in a museum display case, but in- stead something which constantly evolves as we find out more about ourselves. Our roots do not lead to an end point, something fixed, pure and unique, but instead is like the roots of trees which have a thousand streams joining somewhere underground, reve- aling exchanges and influences beyond our imagining. This, at times when borders are closing, is very instructive. Pasta with tomato sauce, for example, is the symbolic dish of Italy, (ignoring for a moment its thousand different incarnations) but if you are looking for its origin, you’ll see that the tomato comes from the Americas and was not used in Italian cuisine until the eighte- enth century, while the pasta is the result of Arab and Chinese techniques brought to us as a result of invasion and exploration. Our dishes are not really ours, but an exchange, so we understand that every dish is the child of this exchange, and this is one of the strongest creative elements that we can use to put us on track and guarantee us a better future. As opposed to close-mindedness, old allegiances and racism.
Do you think in recent years the values related to food have changed in people’s minds?
Yes, but not enough. As I said there is a bit more awareness, but we still have a long way to go. Just talking about value and price, I believe that we still give too much importance to the price of food and not to its value, that is, to what it is and what it can give us. From the observatory of Slow Food we know that over the last thirty years there have been many small silent revolutions, which we can take some credit for, but then again there’s still a lot to do and until we look at food from
a holistic and systematic point of view, considering its infinite connections with the world, we will never really be able to change and will remain at the mercy of the multi-national food compa- nies who have an almost public objective to control our food
and control our lives. For them the value of food is understood, they know it’s strategic value and moreover how to make ridiculous profits while at the same control- ling our behaviour. It’s objectively sad and kills every form of crea- tivity and everything that exists to support our well-being rather than pushing our minds and ways of thinking forward as it could.