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In 1970, the Italian Cuisine scene was basically a wasteland of bastardized Sicilian and Roman cooking styles. Overcooked, dark tomato sauces seemed to be de rigueur for everything from pasta to veal. Antipasto was horrible nitrate-laden meats, plastic cheeses and, if you were lucky, some acidic olives or giardinara featuring pepperoncini. Even the most authentic Italian restaurants in large cities "dumbed-down" their cuisine for customers who were accustomed to little more than the occasional lasagne, spaghetti and meatballs, and perhaps eggplant parmigiana. A young man who came to The United States from Tuscany, originally intending to become a teacher of the Italian language, changed all that.

“There are only two questions to ask about food. Is it good? And is it authentic? We are open to new ideas, but not if it means destroying our history. And food is history.”

 — Giuliano Bugialli


Giuliano Bugialli was born outside of Florence to a father who was chairman of one of Italy's larger wineries. Of course, his family, like so many other Italian families, held tradition dear and passed recipes down from generation to generation. This sparked an early interest on the part of Bugialli in the history of Italian cuisine. Suffice it to say that young Giuliano learned how to cook early on, and he did it well.

He took degrees in languages from the University of Rome and the University of Florence, and began teaching Italian in New York in the early 1970s. He frequently entertained guests, and strove to reproduce the dishes of his homeland in his kitchen in America. It was difficult for him to find the correct ingredients, however, because very few truly authentic Italian food products were being imported to the U.S. He worked tirelessly sourcing out the ingredients for his Florentine cuisine, which most of his guests had never enjoyed before.
 

From Language Instructor to Cooking Instructor

 He soon found that his love of good food had eclipsed his love of language. He possessed not only the ability to cook magnificent dishes, but his skills at communications and education made him a popular teacher. By 1972, he'd started "Cooking in Florence," in his homeland. A total immersion in Italian food and wine, the course featured visits to restaurants in the city and the country, vineyards, and sites of cultural interest, as well. The school became the first Italian cooking school with an International clientele in mind, and spawned many other schools throughtout the country. Giulialli's website brags that it's no exaggeration if one says that the school started an entirely new tourist industry for Italy.

Bugialli's first book, The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, first came out in 1977. With the help of prestigious publisher Times Books, it became a best-seller and arguably the then most authentic guide to Italian cuisine, from the fresh point of view of the cuisine of Tuscany. What set this book apart from the rest was his commitment to authenticity; his painstaking work researching through old manuscripts, handwritten notes, and historical notation. The book, more than a cookbook but a cultural guide, was the first to answer "why is this seasoned this way?" and "what makes this different?" for those interested in a great education in the foods of Italy.

Another book came out in the early 1980s, and in 1984 the gourmet world was dazzled by the innovative tome Giuliani Bugialli's Foods of Italy. The book was the product of many months of working on location with photographer John Dominis. Tableware and linen, as well as other props, were matched with the foods and photographed in the exact district where each dish originated. Photos of regional landscape and architecture abound, as well as tantalizing images of foods at market. An enormous, "coffee-table" sized book, it's a great read and a fabulous cookbook featuring some of Bugialli's finest recipes and a few great visual tricks for pasta preparation which can be executed by professional or novice alike. The critic from France's Le Monde raved that he'd never seen anything like this before; a match of cuisine and culture presented with a wealth of photographs.

A slew of books, an Italian television show dubbed and broadcast all over the world, and finally English-language videotapes all followed. Incredibly, he also keeps up his schedule of cooking instruction and guest appearances on cooking programs and at food events worldwide.

Bugialli is today touring 45 American and Canadian cities annually, as well as continuing to teach. His Foods of Italy has been translated into French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish. The book, originally written in English, was translated back into Italian for Bugialli's home country in 1987, a first.

It bears repeating that his skills in communication and rapport with his audiences have earned him myriad loyal followers, taking courses in Italy, the U.S., and attending his appearances on cruise ships.

Through his efforts in person, on video and in print, he has raised the awareness of importers of the viability of importing cheeses, wines, meats, mushrooms, olives and olive oil from Italy. Importers now refer to his books to discover new products to bring to an eager American market.

Bugialli's talent may be had "for hire" as a restaurant consultant. He has been involved in the training of some of America's greatest Italian chefs. The Italian Trade Commission chose him to give courses on Italian products and cooking at five major culinary colleges in the United States. He is spokesperson for the Consortium of Producers of Prosciutto di Parma, the Consortium of Italian Confection Makers, and the Consortium of Chianti Classico Olive Oil.
 

Remarkably Approachable

As part of the research for this piece, I had the distinct pleasure of talking with one of Mr. Bugialli's colleagues, Henry Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein paused for a moment when I asked if he knew the date when Mr. Bugialli was born — it doesn't appear in any of his books and there's little in-depth biographical information available about the chef. Henry paused and said it would suffice to say that Mr. Bugialli is 70 years old as of this writing.

The charming and interesting Mr. Weinstein went on to discuss quite a few anecdotes about the chef. The earliest example was when New York Times restaurant maven the late Craig Claiborne had written an article about origins of French cuisine dating to the 16th Century and pooh-poohed the thought that the chefs of the French kings were influenced by Italian chefs. Indeed, the de Medici family entertained French royalty and brought their chefs with them to France. (It is a fact that Caterina de Medici introduced the three-pronged fork to the French Court in 1535.) Claiborne demanded to know, "who are these Italian chefs?! How could they possibly have anything to do with influencing the great French repertoire?" Well, Bugialli, wearing his "historian" hat, published the names of all of them. This prompted a somewhat apologetic article from Claiborne, a man known for rarely enduring the humiliation of being corrected, much less putting it in print.

Bugialli gave a dinner one evening for a group of food critics. For all of their expertise, only Mimi Sheraton could describe each and every ingredient in a dish that mystified the other guests. Bugialli was also hired by Alan Balducci, of the famous Balducci's Italian specialty market in New York City, after Balducci took one of his courses in Florence and sought to be the first and best source for authentic ingredients for Bugialli's recipes.
 

Emulation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

In the world of the epicure, plagiarism exists just as it does in the world of academe. However, the consequences aren't as life-changing; merely a loss of face for the plagiarist and a bolster for the reputation of the chef whose recipe has been stolen.

This happened to Mr. Bugialli in 2000, and was chronicled in a fascinating article in The New York Times. Justice is best done the anecdote by lifting it verbatim. The article is at the Times's website here:

This season's accusation of recipe plundering was made by Mimi Sheraton, a prolific author of food books, against David Ruggerio, once chef at La Caravelle and Le Chantilly, past celebrity television cook and currently author of "David Ruggerio's Italian Kitchen: Family Recipes From the Old Country" (Artisan).


Mr. Ruggerio's recipe for ''Baked Shrimp, Potatoes and Tomatoes'' was almost identical to the recipe created by Giuliano Bugialli for his book, "Foods of Sicily and Sardinia and the Smaller Islands" (Rizzoli, 1996), according to both Ms. Sheraton and Mr. Bugialli.

"To add insult to injury, he took another of my recipes from a different book, a Sicilian recipe, and made it a Tuscan recipe without changing it," Mr. Bugialli said. Which gives you a flavor of the seriousness and territorial imperatives in the writing of the books. Still, Mr. Bugialli said, even this indignity was topped when he went into a bookstore recently and found his latest book, "On Pasta" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), on the shelf right next to Mr. Ruggerio's.

Mr. Ruggerio's publisher commented that she had "obsessed" about it and was "uncomfortable with the similarity" but was not going to pull it from shelves; although a reprinting would be considered. She claimed not to have known about the plagiarism and claims that had she, she wouldn't have "gone to press" with the book as it was. 25,000 copies of the book without credit to Bugialli were printed.
 

Bibliography

  • The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, 1977, New York: Times Books ISBN 0-81291-838-X
     
  • Classic Techniques of Italian Cooking, 1982, New York: Simon and Schuster ISBN 0-671-25218-6 (Paperback 0-671-69069-8)
     
  • Giuliano Bugialli's Foods of Italy, 1984, New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang ISBN 0-941434-52-4 (Paperback 1-55670-370-8)
     
  • Bugialli On Pasta, 1988, New York: Simon and Schuster ISBN 0-671-62024-X
     
  • Foods of Tuscany, 1992, New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang ISBN 1-55670-200-0 (Paperback 1-55670-513-1)
     
  • The Best of Bugialli, 1994, New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang ISBN 1-55670-384-8
     
  • Foods of Sicily and Sardini and the Smaller Islands, 1996, New York: Rizzoli International ISBN 0-8478-1924-8

Two more Bugialli books, Foods of Naples and Campania and Parma: A Capital of Italian Gastronomy are soon to be released. The Fine Art of Italian Cooking covers the most ground with regard to variety of relatively standard dishes prepared in authentic style. However, Giuliano Bugialli's Foods of Italy is a visual delight to behold, and the recipes are just amazing. The simple recipe for artichokes stuffed with bread and roasted red peppers is one of the finest Italian dishes this writer has ever tasted.
 

SOURCES:

"Giuliano Bugialli's Foods of Italy" http://www.bugialli.com/ (Accessed March 3, 2008)

Interview with Henry Weinberg of Giuliano Bugialli's company, located in Pennsylvania (see website, above).

"Author Spotlight: Giuliano Bugialli" http://www.randomhouse.com/author/results.pperl?authorid=3703 (Accessed March 3, 2008)

Quote: http://thinkexist.com/quotes/giuliano_bugialli/ (Accessed March 3, 2008)

Brief Biography: http://www.lacademie.com/Recreation/Instructors.aspx?Instructor=Giuliano%20Bugialli (Accessed March 3, 2008)

"Tastes of Haute Cuisine from Tomorrow's Chefs," by Alice Gabriel, The New York Times, March 2, 2003 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A06E2D91E3CF931A35750C0A9659C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all (Accessed March 3, 2008)

"Making Books: Family Recipes of a Big Family," By Martin Arnold, The New York Times, June 29, 2000 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0CEFDF1E30F93AA15755C0A9669C8B63 (Accessed March 3, 2008)

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