Saturday mornings are like that, aren’t they? You get up, get your coffee, and switch on the television. I’d probably watch some of the Time Team re-runs, if I haven’t seen them several times already. This morning when I switched on, it was the one with the Napoleonic redoubt, you know the one where they couldn’t find anything from the original period and had to put a brave face on it?
Yes, I have seen that one. So taking advantage of my satellite dish, I checked out Euronews — a trip to the UK, where “Motorway Man” is apparently going to take the blame if David Cameron becomes Prime Minister — and then the main Italian stations. On Retequattro there was something going on in the sunshine in a nice Renaissance piazza, so I stayed to watch.
The majority of Italian television seems to consist of people talking in the studio, which may say something about the Italian national personality. There’s less popular drama or soap opera, say, than on British television, and what is shown is often imported and dubbed. And there is relatively little “out and about” programming, so the show I saw this morning is something of an exception.
Well, it turned out to be “Cuochi Senza Frontiere” — Cooks Without Frontiers — and it was in Ferrara, which is a World Heritage Site. Yes another. I haven’t been to Ferrara, but it looks absolutely beautiful, largely due to the building works of the d’Este family, rivals to the Medici in Florence. The programme was from in front of the ornate d’Este castle in the historic centre of the city.
And being a cookery programme, they were cooking. I haven’t seen the programme before, but from the website, [http://www.cuochisenzafrontiere.com/] they go to the location a couple of days prior to the live broadcast, and select one local amateur cook and one locally-based foreigner, and each has to prepare a single dish live on the day, and they’re judged against each other.
Today, the plucky foreigner happened to be Irish. I missed the start of the programme, so I didn’t get his name. In fact, I didn’t realise at first that he wasn’t Italian. There was a little flag on his table, but it’s easy to confuse the two at fist glance. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really think of there being such a thing as “Irish cuisine”. Or at least, once you’ve covered stew, boiled bacon and cabbage, champ, and the Ulster “heart attack” fry, what else is there?
Our hero had chosen to cook stuffed pork with pears and a whiskey sauce, which I suppose sounds plausibly Irish; and he was up against a local lady doing ravioli in cheese sauce with balsamic vinegar. I’d probably have preferred the pork, but the judge, a renaissance lady in costume, picked the ravioli. (Italians will get into period costume at the drop of a hat. I’ll bet everyone has a gown or a tabard in their wardrobe.) It’s hard to know if national pride was a factor in the decision. Or just that local cuisine is always going to be preferred, since in Italy even food from a neighbouring region is considered “foreign”. Actually, sometimes food from a neighbouring village.
The winning cook got a weekend away for two, but she had to pick it blind out of a guidebook directory. I didn’t quite catch where she got, but it seems a chancy business. The runner-up was presented with a hamper of fine local foods. I wonder if the foreign competitor ever wins?