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Sunday, 6 October, 2002, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
Italian restaurants put to the test
Plate of tagliatelle
Up to scratch? Only the best will get the stamp of approval
The Italian Government is launching a new initiative to put some authenticity back into Italian restaurants which dot almost every corner of the globe.

The scheme, to be announced by the Agriculture Ministry, will test the red, white and green credentials of trattorias, pizzerias and ristorantes around the world - many of which are Italian in name alone.


They keep the Italian name like trattoria, pizzeria, cannelloni, lasagne: it's not only that in Italy, there is a lot more in Italian food

Chef Marzio Zacchi
Though Italian owners and chefs will not be among the criteria for approval, the use of Italian produce will be.

The plan has been welcomed by some, who say it will clear up confusion and maintain the profile of one of Italy's greatest treasures.

Others, however, see it as nothing more than a simple ploy to try to boost exports of Italian produce.

Mix and match

Marzio Zacchi, head chef at the Alforo restaurant, says the proliferation of Italian cookery is bringing down standards.

"The quality goes down, they keep the Italian name like trattoria, pizzeria, cannelloni, lasagne: it's not only that in Italy, there is a lot more in Italian food," he said.

Antonio Carluccio
Antonio Carluccio: A discerning Italian palate
A common complaint is that in restaurants abroad, dishes from a variety of regions will all be served together, as generically Italian.

Although pizza, which originated in Naples, has spread nationwide, many pasta dishes and sauces are still very specific to a particular area of Italy and would not be served up mix and match.

Italians are also irritated when they go abroad to find the most basic terms mis-spelled on so-called Italian menus.

Leonardo Simonelli, from the Italian Chamber of Commerce in the UK, says that this kind of sloppiness is damaging to the whole image of Italy - not just its kitchen.

"It's important because it's the first contact you have with Italy... and therefore you can be induced to visit the country. It is very important for tourism," he said.

"Then there is the association with quality of life, elegance, fashion and therefore a serious product."

Protection

Antonio Carluccio, an Italian restaurateur in London, thinks the new scheme will help clear up the confusion caused when people are served a dish under the same name, but of varying quality.

But, while he thinks the use of authentic ingredients is important, he admits there is an element of protectionism.


The fact that its not strictly speaking authentic Italian food is neither here nor there

David Harris, Caterer magazine
"The Italian Government is a bit frustrated because various ingredients which are typically Italian are made abroad and they would like to see the export being of authentic Italian food," he said.

"If mozzarella comes from Holland for example it's not a good thing for Italy."

Italy has acted aggressively in court in the past in an attempt to safeguard products such as parmesan and parma ham.

But some experts think the ministry may have missed the point.

"It's become the acceptable face of fast food for many people in Britain," said David Harris, of Caterer magazine.

"They can go in, get something quickly, get something decent and get something nutritious.

"The fact that it is not, strictly speaking, authentic Italian food is neither here nor there."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Gabriele Palumbo, Ravello's Italian restaurant
"[Some restaurants] promote Italian food that many times is not up to the Italian standard"
See also:

25 Jun 02 | Business
25 Oct 00 | Europe
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