Identity Crisis

Fusione Italiano comes to London

Identità Golose is a gastronomic conference which brings together some of Italy’s most prestigious chefs to demonstrate to each other the dishes on which their reputations depend. (The artisanal cooks from the legendary trattoria and hosteria celebrated by Slow Food are conspicuous by their absence.) This year the Big Toques travelled to London, their first annual meeting outside Italy’s borders. Over two days, sixteen chefs held forth on stage at Vinopolis: fourteen from Italy, one from Copenhagen, one from Sao Paulo and two from London. (Their names and details are on the Identità website:


These sixteen chefs had among them garnered a grand total of 26 Michelin stars. Not surprisingly, in demo after demo the neo-Michelin ethos was exemplified by certain constantly recurring techniques. Foremost among these was sous-vide, God’s gift to the assembly-line kitchen. Born in 1988 in an R&D lab at Nestlé in Switzerland, this began as a method of mass production cooking for precooked vacuum-packed meats sold refrigerated in supermarkets. Under the proper conditions, it extended the shelf life to 45 days. Michel Guerard was consulting chef to Nestlé at the time, and he began to use the technique at Eugenie Les Bains for his “lite” cuisine minceur. The rest is history.


Several chefs fervently berated fusion cooking and molecular gastronomy and then proceeded to practice them. Highly concentrated infusions were displayed which, we were told, cost a thousand quid a litre. There were thin crisp wafers consisting of dehydrated stock. Dish after dish was a punning recreation of some culinary cliché with totally different ingredients – a succession of up-market vegeburgers.


Launching into the penultimate demo, Angela Hartnett, Gordon Ramsey’s protégé at Murano,  remarked that she didn’t make much use of sous-vide. As she began to sauté her caramelised sweetbreads, the hall filled with the rich odour of the maillard effect – the first time in two days that meat and hot metal had come into direct contact. This dish, she told us, was a favourite of Michael Winner’s. I forgave him all those terrible TV ads.


At the end of the day, the other occupant of the men’s loo was a burly English chef. “Angela was the only one who cooked,” he snorted. “The rest were just assembling.” He paused to zip up his fly. “Those Italians – they talk too much.”


©2009 John Whiting