His country's food is the pride, passion of Giuliano Bugialli PURE ITALIAN

March 01, 1995|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

New York -- Giuliano Bugialli is a man with a mission. He wants to teach Americans to cook Italian -- that is, real Italian, with its own working styles and characteristic ingredients.

"In Italian cooking, we have our own techniques," said the chef, teacher and cookbook author, in his characteristically emphatic way. "You cannot use a French technique making an Italian dish -- otherwise it will taste French." The differences are as basic as the foundation -- "We do not have stock, we have broth" -- and extend to the pastas, sauces and breads that round out Italian cuisine. "My goal is to get this message to people."

Mr. Bugialli, a Florentine born and raised, will be bringing his message to the Baltimore International Culinary College next week, when he will teach a series of cooking classes at the college's Water Street Cooking Demonstration Theater.

His courses "will be based on the Italian ingredients," he said, sitting in the dining room of his cooking school in New York's SoHo area one recent chilly winter day. Getting authentic ingredients, he said, is "Step No. 1 in cooking, when you want to re-create a dish."

"I'll go through 10 products," he said, including prosciutto, Parmesan cheese, pasta both fresh and dried, balsamic vinegar, and confections, such as panettone (cake with raisins and crystalized fruit). "I will be teaching them how to select a good product, how to use a good product, and why we need that product and not a different one."

Take "Parmesan" cheese, for example -- that is, the real thing, Parmigiano-Reggiano: "There's a little bit of confusion. In a recipe it could say 'Parmesan' cheese, but it could be made in South Africa. I'll be giving a history of Parmigiano-Reggiano, how's it's prepared, and the dishes you can prepare with it."

In addition, he said, "I will try to remove, somehow, the wrong ideas."

"Wrong ideas" abound in American "Italian" cuisine, according to Mr. Bugialli, who is the author of six cookbooks on Italian and regional Italian cuisine.

"Forget what we are eating even in 'good' Italian restaurants. We have to remove the idea of 'Italian' food in 'Italian' restaurants -- you think we are swimming in tomato sauce. Most Italian restaurants give you hot peppers on the table and you think you are supposed to put them on everything. If there's pasta, you think it has to have cheese -- not true."

In contrast, a typical Italian meal, Mr. Giuliano said, would consist of a first course of pasta, soup or rice, followed by a main dish of meat, fish or fowl, with appropriate vegetables. "We don't feel deprived or cheated if we don't serve dessert," he said. "We eat a lot of plain fresh fruit, and --" he adds tartly -- "not with lots of whipped cream on top."

Clearly, the outgoing and outspoken Mr. Bugialli is a self-described "purist," with definite ideas about what Italian cuisine has been and ought to be. He understands that Italian immigrants to the United States used ingredients on hand to adapt recipes from the old country. That does not make such food "Italian," he said.

"I don't compromise," he said. "Otherwise our heritage will be gone in 50 years. If we keep compromising, compromising, compromising, we'll be gone."

Mr. Bugialli is widely regarded as the keeper of the flame when it comes to pure Italian cooking -- a role other Italian and Mediterranean chefs can admire without necessarily wanting to fill it themselves.

Annapolis restaurateur Gino Giolitti, scion of a long-time food service family in Rome, said when he came to the United States in the early 1980s, he found himself eating "Italian" food he didn't even recognize.

"It was a completely 'faux' cuisine. What Italian restaurants and chefs have done in this country has been a real disservice to Italian food," said Mr. Giolitti, who, with his wife, Mary, owns Trattoria La Piccolo Roma, Giolitti Delicatessen and the new Sirocco in Annapolis.

A "purist" such as Mr. Bugialli "is important in the ethnic field," Mr. Giolitti said, to maintain the base on which the cuisine draws. "He is a traditionalist and I'm very happy that there are people like him."

However, as well as having purists to maintain the foundation of a cuisine, Mr. Giolitti thinks it's important to have "people who are willing to try something new. It's important that that happens -- otherwise you have a stagnant art form, and cooking is an art form."

"I sort of look at him as a master of Italian cooking," said Linwood Dame, owner of Linwood's-Due and chef at Linwood's in Owings Mills. of Mr. Bugialli. "He's brought to the forefront a lot of details about Italian cooking."

Mr. Dame cited Mr. Bugialli's definitive book on pasta, "Bugialli on Pasta" (Simon and Schuster, 1988, $27.50), and his championship of regional Italian cuisines. "He's a good teacher, so he's been able to do a lot for the professional side, as well as for cooks at home."

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