I don’t get too many chances to play the stern headmaster, but this week’s episode gave me more than enough opportunity. I was absolutely gobsmacked that the Black Team would waste the chance to cook Tuscan food with a woman who has been making these dishes for decades.
First and foremost, the Black Team just didn’t act like experienced chefs. Cooking is something we do with all five of our senses. While the language barrier with Nonna Nara made it more difficult to learn the recipes, it was by no means impossible. Watch her cook, take notes on the ingredients and techniques, and use that as the guide for your meal. Ask any linguist -- the majority of communication is nonverbal. So make hand gestures, hold up ingredients, do whatever it takes to learn a thing or two. As crafty as Nookie has shown himself to be in this competition, he was surprisingly uncreative with Nonna Nara.
To make matters worse, the Black Team also wasted the chance to truly understand the beauty of Tuscan food. Simple, local and seasonal, Tuscan cuisine relies on the quality of ingredients and time-honored preparations. There are a number of places in the world where locals will appreciate innovation with their cuisine. Tuscany isn’t one of them. To learn a recipe from a grandma is to learn from a true master.While the Black Team won, their guesswork with Tuscan cuisine kept them from really shining. Prosciutto is amazing, but it doesn’t belong in a Ribollita. Using wild boar in the gnocchi dish tapped into the region’s love of game meats, but the texture should have been ground finer. The Red Team had their share of missteps too. Remember, local ingredients are king in Italy. So while the Red Team’s grape granita was tasty -- it didn’t make any sense to a Tuscan palate. Granitas come from Sicily, the hottest part of Italy. Tuscany is a cooler climate, so typical desserts like a Christmas Panaforte or Castagnaccio cake tend to be warmer and creamier.
Thankfully, we have more Italian culture and cuisine to enjoy next week. Good luck to Gary on his future adventures. For the rest of us, see you in Bologna!