Italy is a country full of surprises. For foodies and gourmets, it is a paradise where fantastic produce is celebrated by people who love eating and drinking everyday fresh and vibrant local food and wine. Italian foodies are not only interested in flavours, but also in the provenance of the products and the story behind them. Most Italians eat very well daily at home, and they have high expectations when they eat in restaurants. For an Italian chef, the Italian guests are their greatest challenge – but once a chef has managed to please them, he will find it easier to gain other awards!
Italian food critics are some of the most specialised connoisseurs in the world, knowledgeable about culinary history and techniques, with fine palates, and mostly great cooks themselves. Journalists such as Stefano Bonilli, Paolo Marchi and Davide Paolini are not only food writers, but also gastronomic institutions in the country, recognising new trends, while also acknowledging tradition. The younger generation of gastro-journalists is equally interested in traditional cuisine and the avant-garde, and many of them are masters of social networking. An example is Carlo Spinelli, of the magazine Italia Squisita – a journalist and food anthropologist who is also a ‘serial twitter’ and blogger.
Carlo Spinelli from Italia Squisita - 'Serial Twitter'
These food writers travel from north to south, are confident about the traditions of all regions, and spend most of their time with chefs and producers to understand their work in depth. They celebrate good food, independent of style, and are obsessed about the fabulous Italian produce (would you blame them?)
There are many differences in the regional cuisines in Italy, from the variety of products available, and also the way of living. Gastronomic events have become very popular among foodies over the last few years, from big chef events such as Identita Golose in Milan, to small pasta and other local competitions.
Massimo Bottura and Paolo Marchi at Identita Golose
In the South, in a small place called Vico Equense, there is a unique annual event, or to be more precise – a party! Gennaro Esposito, chef patron of Torre del Saracino , invites his friends to celebrate great food, wine and friendship every year, calling the event, Festa a Vico.
The open air extravaganza, can only be described as a Woodstock for foodies.
Famous Italian chefs, including Massimo Bottura, Andrea Berton, Moreno Cedroni, Mauro Uliassi, Antonino Cannavacciuolo, and Ernesto Iaccarino, cook their food for the guests ‘al fresco’, and have time to chat about their work and lives, as if they were visiting a friend at home!
Fabio Pisani and Stefania Moroni from Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia, Paolo Parisi, Matias Perdomo of Al Pont de Ferr, Matteo Torretta, and many other talented chefs prepared exciting dishes during the two main events.
Legends of traditional Italian cuisine, pizza masters, and avant-garde experimental chefs all have the same mission: to feed the hungry visitors, and to have a good time too!
This is a party where masters also meet young chefs. The masters help the young chefs by giving advice regarding their dishes, and sharing their common passion for the profession.
Festa a Vico literally began as a small party organised by chef Gennaro Esposito and his partner Victoria, but in the last eight years it has grown every year. The underlying idea for this gathering, however, remains the same: it is a party for friends of Gennaro & Victoria!
Gennaro Esposito became famous in the last few years with his restaurant Torre del Saracino. His popularity in the country is not only related to his competence as chef, but also to his character. Esposito is man full of passion, who cooks with great culinary skills, deeply in love with his terroir and with his people. The restaurant is located in Vico Equense at the Amalfi Coast with a stunning view, and peaceful atmosphere. There is no sense of hurry, when you visit Gennaro’s & Victoria’s place.
The chef has access to certain products because of his privileged geographic position! He simply goes to the seashore when he sees the fisherman arriving with his boat. He selects the best fish on the spot – a dream for any chef!
With the help of his father, Alberto, he keeps a huge organic garden where most of the vegetables, herbs and fruits, used in his kitchen, are grown.
Alberto Esposito and his secret garden
Torre del Saracino is a top address for food lovers, with exquisite cuisine staging the best ingredients you can find in Italy. Gennaro’s restaurant offers a contemporary approach to regional cuisine, with special attention to the ‘extra-local’ produce. It is comfort-creative food at its best!
At Festa a Vico, Eleonora Cozzella, the chairperson from S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants in Italy, spoke about this unique feast, and the work of Gennaro Esposito as follows:
Eleonora Cozzella and Gennaro Esposito
How would you describe Festa a Vico?
Festa a Vico is a gathering of friends who wish to meet in a relaxed atmosphere to exchange ideas, and to share great food. Every chef brings a piece of his own territory. They want to share the season and the products, and to cook some of their specialities for their friends. This is not an event or a congress. It is a real party, where friends participate. There are no talks, no lectures, but a lot of buzz with people who mostly know each other. Someone told me once that Festa a Vico is the best example of organised chaos. This is also part of the magic. A lot of organisation is involved, but you still feel that you are part of a big family party. You see the most awarded Italian chefs cooking ‘al fresco’ with improvised tables and stoves, and having a crazy good time – cooking, drinking, eating, and having fun. It is a giant Potluck dinner party!
There are famous chefs and young chefs sharing the same spot. What is the idea behind this?
Master chefs also visit Vico to support the young chefs, and to try their food. They help by giving them advice, and by sharing their own experiences. At Festa a Vico there is no competition between chefs: it is a place where chefs have a great time together, in a spirit of friendship and an open heart.
Would it be possible to have an experience like this in any other place in the world?
(Laugh) Probably not! It is a Naples experience, where you can find the whole of Italy represented with all its flavours and contrasts. The location is stunning! There is a scent of lemon and jasmine in the air, there is the sound of the sea, and many beautiful places to visit. There is a further important part of the event –visits to local restaurants and producers. You come here to relax and enjoy the good weather and the magical landscape!
Luciana Bianchi is an Italian–Brazilian journalist, book author and trained chef with a background in Molecular Science. A frequent traveller and food researcher with more than 20 years experience in the field, she has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants, cooked for celebrities, interviewed most of the best international chefs, and has published work in 12 countries. Luciana is a member of the Guild of Food Writers UK, a writer of the Identità Golose Food Guide, and one of the authors of APICIUS. www.twitter.com/lucianabianchi | www.instagram.com/lucianabianchi