Italian food certification proposal burns Australian chefs

Sept. 2, 2002

SYDNEY, Australia -- Italy's Agriculture Minister Giovanni Alemanno has proposed a system of international certification to guarantee the authenticity of restaurants calling themselves Italian.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Alemanno believes the world's genuine Italian restaurants are suffering unfair competition from "low-quality imposters."

"Hundreds of Italian restaurants are created around the world every day," he told a cultural conference in Rimini. "But in most cases, the only thing Italian about them is the name or a tricolor flag on display outside."

The proposal received mixed reaction in Sydney, where Armando Percuoco's Buon Ricordo is called Sydney's Best Italian restaurant in The Good Food Guide. Percuoco believes his food is authentic as it can be, given that it's thousands of miles from Italy.

"If they want to give my restaurant a certificate on merit, that's fine," Percuoco said. "But if they won't give it unless I use more (imported Italian ingredients), then I don't give a damn, and my customers don't give a damn."

Percuoco added that Italian tourists visiting his restaurant tend to be snobbish about Italian food, asking him if he's sure his pasta is cooked "al dente."

"I don't want them in my place if they have this attitude that, if you left Italy, you can't be any good," Percuoco said.

David Cowdrill, who runs Pizza Mario in Sydney's central business district, believes he would have no trouble getting a certificate, despite the fact he's not Italian born. He has a more important accreditation: certification from the Associazione Verace Pizza (Genuine Pizza Association) in Naples.

There he did a month-long training course and an apprenticeship with one of the top Neapolitan pizzerias. The result was a certificate declaring him member No 153.

His genuine Italian pizzas, however, are regarded as somewhat austere by Australians.

"When I told them in Naples the kind of toppings we use here, they were just amazed," he said. "They don't mind if people outside Italy want to put pineapple or tandoori lamb or whatever on their pizza -- but there is no way it could ever be a genuine Naples pizza."

According to the Associazione Verace Pizza, a perfect Italian pizza should include the following: hand-kneaded dough, thin crust with soft edges, be cooked in less than three minutes directly on the base of a wood-fired, stone oven, and be topped with tomatoes, mozzarella and herbs.

It should not be baked on a metal pan, bear a thick crust or heavy toppings, especially pineapples, fried eggs, tandoori chicken, smoked salmon, sour cream or other trendy additives.

Topics: Independent Operation , Pizza Toppings

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