“Food is like a performance,” said Gregory Smith. “Everything matters, from the beginning to the end.”
By Katie Krom / Contributor || Edited by Marouso Pappas
Smith has been teaching the course “Food and Wine” in Rome since 2006. The course covers the history of Italian food, the agriculture in different regions, and how food has developed over time. In this course, we are able to taste a variety of foods and wines and talk about them and their significance.
Smith expressed that he started teaching this course because he wants to share knowledge of one of the world’s most important culinary traditions.
“I enjoy discussing responses to food with people who often have little experience in the structured appreciation of food culture,” Smith said.
Before coming to Italy, my diet consisted of Annie’s Mac & Cheese, with a side of chicken nuggets. I liked my food to come to me quickly and did not care if I ate it in a car or on my walk to class. I did not have to appreciate the food; I just needed to put something in my stomach.
From what I have learned from my time living abroad in Italy, Italians would call this “barbaro,” or barbaric.
You should not eat your pasta from a box, you must sit down with your food and enjoy every part of it.
“You are what you eat, a famous food scholar once wrote,” Smith said. “Food of course is sustenance, but also much more: identity, knowledge, passion, concern for the world around us.”
Before coming to Italy and taking this class, I did not think twice about the food I ate or where it came from.
One of my first nights in Italy, my roommates and I walked down the street to a small restaurant called Trattoria Vaticano Giggi. This has since become one of our favorite restaurants.
We sat down at a perfectly set up table; the fork on the left, and the knife and spoon on the right. The wine glass was placed neatly on the top right, above my plate. The lighting was dim, but not too dark and the music was at low volume. The menu consisted of an aperitivo, antipasti, primi, secondi, insalata, and a dolce. The waiter was kind and very patient.
First, we received a glass of Merlot wine from Veneto, Italy. I noticed that the wine was a bright ruby red color, and clear– you were able to see right through it. When I brought it up to my lips it had a faint fruity smell. It tasted smokey but also like cherries. The flavor started off powerful, got weaker, and then ended strong again on my palate. The wine was bitter but did not leave your mouth feeling dry.
Then came our bruschetta. The bread was a perfect oval with arugula and tomatoes piled on and extra virgin olive oil draped over them. The bread was toasted to a nice golden brown and made the perfect crunch sound when you bit down on it. All of the flavors blended perfectly together in your mouth.
After the bruschetta, our pasta dishes arrived. I had ordered the Amatriciana dish. The ingredients were local, originating in Lazio. The pasta was cooked to a perfect al-dente and the red sauce was sweet and warm. The pancetta was smokey and salty, it blended perfectly with the sauce. Throughout the meal, the wine paired perfectly, complimenting all of the flavors.
The restaurant was filled with friends and families conversing and laughing, all having a great night.
I felt very content like I was a part of a perfect performance.
Ileana Frongia lives in Rome and has been working at the restaurant Il Ragno d’Oro since November of 2021. She says that she takes her job very seriously and loves every part of it.
“Italians really love their food so you never get any complaints, as long as your food is good,” Frongia said. “I am Italian and food means everything to me.”
Compared to the United States, restaurants in Italy really stand out as being a crucial part of society. Everyone, from the chef to the waiters, is very passionate about giving you exceptional food and making sure you have the best experience.
“The atmosphere in restaurants is beautiful, especially this one,” Frongia said. “You really feel like you are at home.”
Italy only imports about 11.8% of its food, everything else is locally grown. Regions in Italy grow different foods, allowing them to specialize in specific meals. Rome is known for having the best artichokes and carbonara pasta.
Smith said that Italy consists of strong communities and close ties with the local environment. He said that because of this, food is a way to bring people of all different backgrounds, practices, and traditions together. Sharing food and culinary knowledge is very important in Italy.
“Human experience is articulated along three dimensions: historical, social, geographical,” Smith said. “Food expresses all of these dimensions, giving deep meaning to each and every thought and action we implement to give substance to our identity. It is not the product of a superficial commodity transaction: it has much deeper meaning.”
When I go back to America in May, I am going to miss the morning cappuccino. The high-pitched sound the machine makes, and the rich coffee smell that wafts out of it. The flavorful taste of espresso with the perfect milk and foam ratio. I will miss the sound of Italian voices early in the morning, relaxed and mingling with one another at a table. All coming to grab their coffee and croissant, to savor it with friends and family before their workday.
I am going to miss the slow strolls from my house to grab gelato spontaneously down the street. The phrase I memorized on repeat in my head, “posso avere cioccolato al latte con panna montata per favore.” I will miss the excited faces of men and women just getting off work, families coming from school pick-up, all happy to receive their sweet treat– not caring about the extra calories, just wanting to enjoy it.
I will forever miss the sweet taste of wine, knowing that I will never get a headache from it because it is locally made. I’ll miss examining the wine with techniques that we learned in our class, noticing the legs of the wine, and what fruit it smells most strongly of.
I will miss the restaurant environment the most– having all of the employees be ecstatic that you chose their restaurant to dine at. How important it is for them that you finish your entire plate, and even lick the crumbs! How you must get dessert, not just because you will spend more money, but because it finishes off your meal so well. I will miss the hours it takes to receive your check because it is important to sit and enjoy your friends and family rather than abruptly leave right after your meal.
So, thank you Rome for making me rethink my choice of Annie’s Mac & Cheese and chicken nuggets on my walk to class.
Correction on April 29: The Food and Wine course mentioned in this article is not a JCU class and the instructor is not JCU faculty.