Federico is a long-term member of SFYN Scotland and co-ordinates a number of our Glasgow events, particularly at the CCA. This blog is about his personal journey researching the heritage of food in Europe and provides a backstage look at how he created our last two events in the ‘Cooking Pot’ series…
A few years ago on the Day of Sant Jordi – a festival celebrated every year on the 23rd April also known as the Day of the Book in Catalonia – I was helping a friend of mine sell books on a street in the Gracia neighbourhood of Barcelona.
On that day, most of the city’s roads were closed and all the bookshop owners had set up stalls to sell their books on the street. The interesting thing about my friend’s bookshop was that it was dedicated exclusively to culinary and food publications and, although we didn’t have much in common, I was probably his first big fan.
At the end of the day he paid me back with a book I chose amongst the many on display. I picked “El mundo en la cocina: Historia, identidad, intercambios” (The world in the kitchen: History, identity, exchange) which I greedily devoured in a single day while relaxing on the beach shortly after. This book is a compilation of essays from historians, anthropologists and sociologists from different countries and curated by the medieval historian, Massimo Montanari.
Now I have always been surrounded by recipe books and creative people who deeply understand food. But this was the first time in my life I had access to such comprehensive information about food, an insight which motivated me to further explore food from a historical and anthropological perspective. After devouring this book, many others have followed and after a few years I felt the urge to share the knowledge I had accumulated.
Thanks to the CCA and, more specifically, to Viviana Checchia and the Cooking Pot program, I got the chance to collect my thoughts and deliver two talks on behalf of Slow Food Youth Network Scotland.
In Autumn 2017, Food Literature was chosen as the theme and immediately thought about the various Italian publications I had consumed spanning a range of disciplines from botanics to poetry, accounting to art history, and over more than two millennia.
I already had the venue in mind as well,: Giovanna Eusebi’s restaurant. Having met Giovanna previously, I knew she strongly believed in the Slow Food principles and was delighted when she agreed to host the first event, entitled ‘Taste Bud Time Machine: A Culinary Journey Through Italy’s Food.’
After browsing my books, and selecting a few new ones the talk began to take shape. A special menu was created for which chronologically followed the evolution of Italian food from 400BC to present day.
At the end of each section of my talk, the chosen dishes were served in order to make the experience more immersive and sensory. The food was also chosen based on seasonal availability – both in Scotland and Italy.
With the support of my ancient texts, the talk focused mainly on the changes brought about by the Republican era diet following the conquest of new colonies, and with that the assimilation of new culinary uses and crops. After enjoying some Roman ‘pinsa’ and polenta, we explored the contrasts, tensions and convergences in the melting pot of cultures – especially between Christian and Muslim communities during the Middle Ages in Italy.
The second break brought us to a discussion on the changes produced by the discovery of the New World and eventually on the rise of the middle-class food culture.Despite the quantity of information stretching from ancient Roman times to the post-war era, I hoped to have dispelled some common myths about Italian cuisine – often reduced and simplified to pasta and pizza, or de-contextualised by the reflection of Italian culture in recipes created mostly in the United States!
On the same night as this sold-out event, we started to think about a follow-up and was inspired when Viviana told me the next Cooking Pot topic for early 2018 would be: Food Movement – It couldn’t have been more perfect!
For the second event, my intention was to enhance both my own and the audience’s awareness about the variety of food we find in groceries, supermarkets and restaurants in Europe, and how these are a result of millennia of exchanges with Asia, the Middle East and Africa first, and later with America.
I set up a new seasonal menu with Giovanna and thought about a new title. All the new ideas – and books (yes I bought a couple more!) – converged on the name Savouring the Seven Seas: A Culinary Journey Through Europe’s Food Trade History.
There was room for a few more people and, although we grew the audience, we sold out for the second time. A delegation of the MSc of Gastronomy of the Queen Margaret University of Edinburgh was also in the audience.
This event focused on where many of Europe’s crops, fruits, spices and vegetable came from originally. I took as a starting point that same book I read in Barcelona, visually linking the dishes on the menu with maps, pictures and some storytelling about their origins, the distances they covered to arrive in Europe, superstitions they had to face due to their appearance, favourable political and economic circumstances, and a society ready to welcome them.
My original intention was to cover a shorter period of history, however, the texts led me to the birth of agriculture, 8000 years before the ancient Romans appeared. This was a critical inclusion if I wanted to include cereals and many other crops. In this way, we could discuss food consumed in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Persia and ancient Greece.
As an art historian, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to pepper the presentation with images of archaeological artefacts as evidence. As a logical conclusion, the talk ended with the illustration of the crops brought to Europe from the ‘New World’.
My aim is to continue on this path, nourishing this growing interest in food in Scotland.
Eating is itself a cultural act, whether one eats in a Michelin starred restaurant, at home with friends and family, or street food from a market stall. By approaching subjects like these in a fun, informative way, we can enrich the ritual of eating, encourage people to create similar experiences in their everyday lives.
About the CCA Cooking Pot Programme
Cooking Pot is a rolling series of events, following a theme that is set every two months. The principal aim of the series is to gather people from across Glasgow in order to enhance their awareness of food through creative engaging activities, screenings and pop-up meals.
“Federico grew up in Rome in a family devoted to good food and art. He dedicated his academic career to the conservation of cultural heritage, studying both in his home city and Barcelona. Federico tries to weave his love of food, cultural issues and public engagement together, taking a multi-disciplinary approach to his work.