It happened again: yet another modified carbonara sparked a controversy, this time of international dimensions. She confirms how much (little) we are willing to accept variations of this much-loved dish, and says a lot about the way foreigners conceive Italian cuisine, even though it is voted the best in the world.
The question concerns “Delicious Shop”, restaurant in the elegant Shoreditch neighborhood of London, where Gianfillippo Mattioli, a true Roman, has made a radical decision. He chose to eliminate carbonara from the menu because, after having proposed it in its canonical version – eggs, pecorino, bacon and pepper – he found himself having to deal with so much negative feedback and so many requests for modified carbonara that he couldn’t take it anymore.
«Many customers didn’t like the original recipe, and many asked additions such as chicken, mushrooms, or removing the bacon. We preferred not to serve it”, Mattioli told Tg1. Yes, even the main Italian news program covered it, followed by almost all the British newspapers, and some Italians, attracted by a post from the restaurant on Instagram. A post entitled “Carbonara Gate” in which Mattioli essentially told the story, ruling: «Let’s be clear that we respect our customers’ preferences, but we don’t want to compromise our quality and authenticity.
Why does carbonara inflame us?
Not an isolated case, in fact. The carbonara-gates pop periodically. Sometimes they are fun, others less so, and they always unleash a never-dormant gastronomic fundamentalism. But why do cases like this happen with carbonara and not with other dishes? «In my opinion because carbonara is one of the popular dishes par excellence. Everyone does it and everyone thinks they know how to do it better than others, so they feel entitled to have their say“, He says Luciano Monosilio, among the youngest chefs to obtain the Michelin star, who is truly among the most entitled to talk about carbonara, given that in Rome he is considered the “king” of it. For his carbonara he earned praise New York Times and his recipe is one of the reasons to book a table in his restaurants: Luciano Cucina Italiana e Follie, in the historic Villa Agrippina Gran Meliá, which he has been managing for two years.
As Monosilio thinks another pillar of Roman cuisine, that is Simone Panellawho with his brother Francesco runs the kitchens ofAncient weighbridge of Romeamong the restaurants that have made the history of Capitoline cuisine (they also celebrated the centenary), and – for 12 years – of Antica Pesa in New York: «Carbonara will never stop being discussed because it is a very well-known dish in Worldwide. They do it almost everywhere, and for this very reason everyone has applied their own idea. I add: unfortunately. Because the recipe remains only one”.
How much carbonara can be changed according to Luciano Monosilio and Simone Panella
«The carbonara is the done one with eggs, bacon, pepper and pecorino. It is tenaciously Roman even in its ingredients. There is not a single codified recipe precisely because it is a dish of the people: the preparations can vary but not the raw materials, because it certainly doesn’t include chicken, mushrooms or cream, continues Monosilio. For this reason, and not only that, in his restaurants he does not give in to variations on the theme: «It has almost never happened that I have been asked for variations on the carbonara. However, I won’t compromise: I wouldn’t even change the pasta shape, imagine if I would add ingredients to the customers’ liking. If you go to a boutique to buy a pair of shoes, do you ask to change them at will?”.
«I’m quite a fundamentalist too, especially when it comes to first courses, continues Simone Panella. «I often receive unusual requests, and when possible I look for a middle ground without ever distorting the recipe. Maybe I’ll change the format for the pasta, but looking for a suitable one and explaining to the customer that it is not the best for that seasoning, but I do not add ingredients that are not foreseen. I rather recommend changing the order: if they ask for a carbonara with chicken, I suggest choosing a completely different dish. Or, if they really can’t do without it, to have a carbonara and a roast chicken to eat as they please, even at the same time, because a carbonara that isn’t a real carbonara will never come out of my kitchen.” «Not even from mine, adds Monosilio. «And for sure I wouldn’t remove carbonara from the menu if some customers didn’t like it as it is: it is an expression of my cuisine, of the cuisine of the restaurant that offers it. The customer is always free to choose.”
Carbonara and Italian cuisine abroad
It may make you smile at times to think about it, but having to respond to the request for a carbonara with chicken or mushrooms (or any other completely distorted Italian dish) for a catering professional it is much less simple than you think, especially if you interface with foreign customersthe. «In Rome it happens less often, perhaps because foreign customers come to us with awareness. But in New York it is common to receive requests for changes. Foreigners abroad are the most difficult customers, especially for dishes with strong flavours, such as a carbonara with pepper and pecorino. They are normally used to variations created to pursue their taste, in Italian-American or Italian-German restaurants depending on their origin, so they struggle to appreciate the originals”, says Panella.
«The fact, however, is that carbonara is just the tip of the iceberg, Panella points out. In fact, the issue for restaurateurs is broader: it’s a matter of whether or not they are willing to come to terms, deciding whether to make the same (mistake) that Italian restaurants abroad have made for many years. In short, there are two ways: indulge palates that are not well trained in our cuisine, or go straight on your own path aware of the fact that you are also ambassadors of a culinary culture, ours. «Customers’ needs must be satisfied, but there is a limit: if I know that calling fresh pasta filled with fish “lasagna” is misleading for them, I will call it “fresh pasta” and I will continue to call “lasagna” only that with ragù and bechamel. But no further,” says Panella. «And then – concludes Monosilio – let’s not forget one thing: maybe everyone has their own version of carbonara, but let’s leave the chefs the chance to be chefs. Otherwise – we add – what fun would there be in going to a restaurant?