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The Warsaw Voice » Other » November 18, 2009
Italy in Poland
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Accademia Italiana Della Cucina: Safeguarding Italy's Culinary Traditions
November 18, 2009   
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When banker Francesco Calcara agreed to head the new Warsaw delegation of the Accademia Italiana Della Cucina last May, he was following in the footsteps of some of Italy's most renowned cultural luminaries.

The Accademia was founded in 1953 in Milan by a group led by journalist Orio Vergani, whose cry of "Italian cuisine is dying!" was taken up by those around him. Claiming that preserving culinary traditions was as vital to a culture as preserving a work of art or a historical document, they created a nonprofit organization whose mission was to uphold the values of the Italian table.

The founders included doctors, lawyers, businesspeople and writers, including Dino Buzzati, one of the most important figures in contemporary Italian literature.

They wanted their Accademia "to defend our gastronomic traditions and typical dishes, to respect the most genuine recipes, and to safeguard the highly difficult art of manipulating them without distorting their characteristics."

Over the past 50 years, the Accademia has expanded to include 210 regional delegations in Italy and 65 abroad, with representation in 40 countries. In 2003, the Italian Ministry of Culture conferred upon it the prestigious status of "Cultural Institution." Each branch of the organization supports local initiatives that promote Italian cuisine, particularly abroad, and work to promote awareness of the traditional values surrounding the ceremony of eating. This is a particular challenge among younger generations, as globalization and cultural homogenization threaten to wipe out older lifestyles altogether.

According to the Accademia, there is more than just food at stake. To demonstrate the link between Italian culture and cuisine, they use the example of olive oil, that indispensable ingredient in all Italian kitchens.

Originally cultivated because no other fruit tree could survive in the rocky land where it grew, olive oil has made its way into everything from oil lamps to cosmetics and, of course, the holy unction. It has become a defining element of Italian life.

The Accademia's Warsaw delegation is one of the newest. "We saw a lot of interest in the idea among the Italian community, and an even bigger interest from Poles themselves," says Calcara.

The Warsaw delegation has 25 members, both Polish and Italian, including people like food writer Tessa Capponi Borawska, and has held three dinners so far. During these dinners, local chefs are invited to present a menu appropriate to that evening's theme: the cuisine of the Calabria mountains, for example, or the food prepared by servants in the courtyards of noble houses. The food is then rated by members, and restaurants with high ratings are added to the Accademia's annual restaurant guide.

This guide, which can be consulted online, focuses on Italian restaurants, but there is also a section dedicated to restaurants around the world "where the regional or local table is presented with noteworthy genuineness and professionalism, and with a hospitality which honors Italian cuisine," according to the website. The Accademia also confers the cucina eccellente (excellent cuisine) and buona cucina (good cuisine) diplomas upon restaurants that are deemed to respect both tradition and quality. "We want to show people how Italian food should be," says Calcara. "Chefs sometimes get a bit too creative-if you tried to order a chicken pizza in Italy, for example, they would throw a chair at you. We want to educate people, but in a positive way. The objective is to promote the culture of Italian food and wine."

The Warsaw group makes a point of seeking out not only upscale restaurants, but also smaller trattoria-type places. "We want to work with smaller restaurants and help them grow," explains Calcara. They also welcome new members, but, he says, it is imperative that any applicants speak Italian and share the Accademia's passion for food and wine and a love for Italian culture.

For those interested in trying out Italian cooking and traditional methods at home, the Accademia puts out a collection of 2,000 recipes, classified by region, each carefully evaluated in terms of authenticity and respect for tradition.

Hilary Heuler

For more information about the Accademia Italiana Della Cucina, have a look at their website: www.accademiaitalianacucina.it Contact the Warsaw delegation at info@AICVarsavia.pl
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