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There is "ignorance" about "authentic" cuisine

Tabitha Barda, April 19th, 2011

 The term “authenticity” in relation to Italian cuisine should be used sparingly, said Italian chef Enzo Neri, formerly of Dubai Italian restaurant, Rococo, Sofitel Jumeirah Beach, and current executive chef of Al Shalal Beach Club, Palm Jumeirah.

“With companies importing our products today here to Dubai we can come close to authenticity, but from my hand I still think there is a lot of ignorance about it,” he said.

“Sometimes the Italian cuisine in the world is just what it has been represented as in the last 40 years, changed by the taste of international guests or by the fusion of other cuisines and different new techniques.”

Italian products with official seals such as DOP (translated: Protected Destination of Origin) or IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) go some way to preserving the integrity of Italian cuisine outside of Italy, said Neri, but “the ‘authenticity’ term should be used sparingly,” he said.

“Us chefs should remember that good food can exist only if you use good products and good ingredients. I've never had the arrogance to 'educate' the palate of a person, but I have always worked in the belief that it is sometimes appropriate to teach about the origins of the ingredients we use in our dishes.”

Neri is supporting a move on behalf of the Italian Industry and Commerce Office in the UAE to award Italian restaurants in the Middle East with an Ospitalita’ Italiana (translated: Italian Hospitality) seal, an official recognition given to authentic Italian restaurants in Italy and worldwide by a pool of Italian institutions and experts.

Ospitalita’ Italiana is a project by Unioncamere, the governmental institution that coordinates Italian Chambers in Italy and worldwide, and I.S.N.A.R.T., the Italian State Institute for Tourism Research.

It was initially conceived in 1997 to improve the quality of service of the touristic enterprises in Italy. Since then, over 5.400 facilities (hotels, restaurants and holiday farms) located in 18 Italian regions have gained this recognition.

Of the multitude of Italian restaurants in the Middle East, only 14 were awarded with this seal in the UAE last year.

The awards are currently open to all Italian restaurants who wish to enter themselves for the opportunity to gain this official recognition of authenticity.

“The project aims to develop and promote the traditions of Italian agricultural and food products, valorize the Italian gastronomic culture and the image of Italian restaurants abroad that respect the standard quality of the Italian hospitality,” said Evelina Farinacci, PR and marketing manager of the Italian Industry and Commerce Office in the UAE.

Chef Neri believes that such official recognition is important and will help consumers in the Middle East to appreciate the similarities and differences between Middle Eastern cuisine and what constitutes authentic Italian cuisine:

“The common ingredients in Arab cuisine are very close to those of southern Italian cuisine, take for example the region of Sicily, ruled by Arabs for 200 years,” said Neri.

“This is perhaps the most important thing we can do as representatives of Italy here in the Middle East: to share the knowledge and expertise, tradition, history and culture of our beautiful country, which around the world, is also acknowledged for the culinary arts.”