Tag Archives: Italian cuisine

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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Your Business Is Pasta

Our Foodie Friday Fun this week is pasta.

English: Strozzapreti pasta

Strozzapreti pasta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve expressed my love of Italian food on many episodes of the screed and there’s nothing more Italian than macaroni. There are dozens of shapes and types . Long noodles, short noodles, extruded shapes, rolled shapes. Most are associated with a particular region and the type of sauce dictates the type of pasta.  My personal favorite are the Strozzapreti – the Priest Stranglers of Roman cuisine.

Walking into a fresh pasta store in Italy is a mind-blowing experience. There are so many choices and what isn’t available can be made for you using the array of dies they have. Yet the basic building blocks are very simple – flour, eggs, maybe some oil, maybe some water. There are add-ins like spinach and squid ink but the basic as always the same. What does this have to do with your business?

First, many of us get frustrated in our attempts to “be different.”  We tend to focus on being radically different when the reality is that the basic ingredients are, in many cases, the same.  The little alterations – a pinch of salt, the cheese used in the filling – are what separates good from great and the same old same old from the fresh.  If you change things up too much, like badly made pasta it falls apart.

So what are the basic business ingredients?  The same ones we discuss all the time around here.  A plan, an open mind, a focus on facts, a great team, and an ability to listen to everyone – customers, markets, and staff.  Like flour and eggs, dozens of outcomes are possible depending on the circumstances. We determine which pasta to make base on the sauce we’re creating – delicate noodles with delicate sauces, ridged pasta to catch the sauce.  In business we need to think about the sauce – the market  – as we consider the pasta – your business.

If your business was a pasta, which one and why?  Something to ponder!

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Sauces

Short Pasta

Image via Wikipedia

This Foodie Friday the theme is sauces.  I was watching some golf highlights on TV and of course sauces came to mind immediately.  I know – my just having said the word makes you think that as well.  Or maybe not.  So let me explain and you might even see the business point that came to mind.

Let me say up front that what I’m about to say isn’t unique to golf highlights as you’ll see in a minute.  I’m watching the highlight and up from the lower portion of the screen comes a graphic describing what I’m seeing (no, the closed captioning wasn’t on..).  The graphic obscures a good 15% of the screen and all of the lower part.  The issue is that the hole was in the lower part and so the viewer never actually sees the highlight of the ball going in the hole (or maybe it nearly missed – who could tell).  What does this have to do with sauces? Continue reading

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True, true

italian food

Fridays are for food in this space and I’ve just come back from what I consider the greatest food country on the planet, Italy.  I’m not going to dwell on my usual themes of great ingredients simply prepared although we were lucky enough to have many meals done exactly that way. Rather, what struck me on this trip was how true the entire culinary culture of the nation has remained to itself. Continue reading

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Vague Recipes

My neighbor is a food professional.  She’s been a pastry chef and now tests and writes recipes for various food publications.  The good news is that she often appears at our door with a version of something, usually delicious, on which she’s working.  The bad news is that’s it’s frightening to reciprocate – kind of like teeing it up with Tiger or Phil:  no matter how good you think you are, you just know they’re way better. Continue reading

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It’s Not About You

There were a lot of great messages that came out of yesterday.  I’ll skip the overtly political ones in favor of a great business lesson of which I was reminded.

As President Obama was speaking to the luncheon after his inauguration, he said to a room filled with enormous egos (hey – why would you think you ought to be elected without one?) that “today is not about me.”  Really?  Who, then?  But you know what he means – it’s about the people.

That’s the business lesson.  It’s not about you.  It’s about your customers, your clients, your partners.  That has to be your focus 24/7 if you’re going to have, and to continue to have, success.

One of the reasons I’m a big fan of Italian food is that it’s an entire cuisine devoted to getting out of the way of the food.  Get great ingredients, put them together, and get out of the way.  French food, on the other hand, seems to be all about the chef.  It’s way to egocentric for my palate.

Is your business about you?  Are you so focused on yourself and your skills (techniques to a chef!) that you’re in the way of great results?

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Business Should Be Cooking Italian

cooking it down

Brief post to end the week, kids.  I was cooking dinner last evening- turkey meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce, thanks for asking.  But as I was stirring the pot, it dawned on me that many of the same principles of Italian cuisine correspond to smart behavior in business.  Continue reading

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