The Godmother

Foodie Friday is a bit somber this week since our topic today is the passing of Marcella Hazan.

Marcella: will she peel my beans too?

(Photo credit: kattebelletje)

You might not be familiar with the name but I can assure you that you are familiar with the influence she has had in the food world.  Her obituary in The Times was entitled “Changed The Way Americans Cook Italian Food” and that may be an understatement.  Let me explain and point out a few things we can take away from her that might just apply to your business.

The comparison is often made between Marcella and Julia Child.  What Julia did for French food in this country, Marcella did for Italian.  I think that’s where the similarities end.  Julia was formally trained, Marcella was trained as a biologist, not a cook.  Julia was an American who went to Paris while Marcella was an Italian immigrant to this country.  Much of the food Julia prepares is complex; Marcella’s food is very simple but, as she wrote,

Simple doesn’t mean easy. I can describe simple cooking thus: Cooking that is stripped all the way down to those procedures and those ingredients indispensable in enunciating the sincere flavor intentions of a dish.

Of the hundred or more cookbooks I own, Marcella’s are the ones that are dog-eared and stained from much use.  If you want to learn to cook, begin with “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” which is her first two books in one volume.  In its introduction, she wrote the following about Italian food:

It is not the created, not to speak of “creative,” cooking of restaurant chefs.  It is the cooking that spans remembered history…There is no such thing as Italian haute cuisine because there are no high or low roads in Italian cooking.  All roads lead to the home, to la cucina di casa – the only one that deserves to be called Italian cooking.

What business lessons does Marcella teach us?  First, you can hear how she is confident in her positions and speaks with authority.  Second, she prefers the simple solution rather than the overly complex.  Third, she always seems to cook on a stove rather than in an oven – it’s so the cook can pay better attention to the food.  Fourth, she emphasizes great ingredients and bringing out the best from them.  Interpret that as a management goal with your team as the ingredients!

Finally,  as you read in the last quote, she always emphasized authenticity.  She disdained the use of microwave ovens to speed up cooking not because she was a Luddite but because the texture and flavor of the product was altered.   How many businesses suffer because they cut a corner or speed up a process only to denigrate their product?

Marcella was the Godmother of Italian cooking.  She changed how we eat and her lessons can change how we conduct business.  Does that make sense?

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