Underscoring his reputation as an authority on the world’s grilling cultures, Steven was invited last year to host a new show on the Gambero Rosso (“Red Shrimp”) food channel in Italy. The premise of the show is a simple but intriguing one: Steven visits fishermen, butchers, farmers, chefs, and other people deeply involved in Italy’s food world, learns their favorite preparations, then reinterprets them through the lens of American barbecue traditions. The show, which was filmed in English but will feature Italian subtitles, begins airing this month in Italy. Below is an interview Gambero Rosso conducted with Steven when filming concluded late last fall.
Food critic, TV personality, lover of great food, and a passionate cook, Steven Raichlen has found in grilling his best means of expression. Filming of his new TV program with the Gambero Rosso Channel is concluded. The show will air March, 2018. We asked him about the experience.
Steven Raichlen in Italy
“I had heard about the renowned Fiorentina steak, and when I started taking an interest in grilling, I travelled to Tuscany to taste it.” This was only the beginning of a long journey of discovery of Italian cookery, because Steven Raichlen first landed in Basilicata: “Walking in the small hilltop villages I noticed a great number of fine butchers. Grilling is a homespun practice that’s not very common in restaurants. But it is nonetheless widespread, and it’s delicious.” Last April, the US grilling guru described the Italian barbecue tradition as “a hidden art form.” Let’s discover it with him.
Steven and the Gambero Rosso Channel (number 412 on the Sky platform) have developed a new project. A TV program that focuses on Italian ingredients grilled and cooked by Raichlen “without changing their local nature.”Filming kicked off last fall, and several Italian regions were visited during the shoot. These are places where Steven discovered typical products and recipes and gave them each a personal touch, while respecting local tradition. We asked Raichlen to give us a sneak preview.
Steven Raichlen Grills Italy
This is the name of the program; it begin airing in March, 2018. The king of BBQ will be grilling in Italy, challenged by strong, deep and ancient gastronomic tradition. One that’s so ingrained that it can sometimes become limiting. But not in this case: chef and Italian artisans, fishermen and cattle breeders all showed enthusiasm for this juxtaposition of such a diverse and equally consolidated culinary tradition as American grilling. “The filming tour was fantastic, I visited Goro and Codigoro fishing eels, then I was in Polesine Parmense visiting pig farms, in Venice at the Rialto Market for an assortment of grilled polenta, and in Portofino grilling the fresh catch of the day.” He was also in Florence tasting the Fiorentina steaks of Luciano Ghinassi, in Cuneo discovering the secrets of grilled lamb with Eric Barin, “one of the chefs that I was most impressed with”, and in San Candido, near Bozen, where he learned how to grill venison with Markus Holzer.
The team and filming locations
Raichlen worked with a group of Gambero Rosso Channel filming professionals, “a team of very creative and skilled pros. The angle of the program is unusual, the idea is very original, and I believe the results will be very interesting”. The shooting schedule brought the crew to many big and small Italian cities of central and northern Italy, “from the lagoon to the mountains, spanning from the Alps to the hilltops. Italy is the sum of enchanting landscapes. Filming in such beautiful surroundings was deeply stimulating”. What was the most beautiful city according to Raichlen? “Venice, for sure. It’s a magical place and I intend to return with my family, who has joined me now that shooting has concluded.” The program was shot in English with Italian subtitles, “save for parts in which I attempt speaking in Italian with the locals.”
Eel fishing and recipes
Among the most significant experiences during the shoot, Steven says, was fishing for eels: “I had already tasted grilled eel, but never in Italy. I tried them first in a local recipe, simply grilled with some salt; then I grilled them my way, brined in teriyaki, as an homage to my Japanese origins, plus a splash of vin santo.” The Italian version was grilled by chef Maria Grazia Soncini of the restaurant La Capanna di Eraclio, in the Bassa Ferrarese area. “She is a talented chef, who leaves – like the majority of Italians – flavors intact and pure without too many condiments.” Soncini also showed Raichlen how to cook veraci clams, which he reinterpreted as a pizza topping, “fire grilled directly on the grill grate, without a stone.” Any other unusual recipes? “Venison, which was brined in red wine and swaddled in strips of guanciale, then spit-roasted.” He also enjoyed the octopus salad prepared by chef Lorenzo Cogo of restaurant El Coq in Vicenza: “In Italy, salads are usually served as a side dish. In the US on the other hand, we’re accustomed to serving it on the same dish as the entrée. For this recipe I chose to use a piadina flatbread, filled with eggplant and grilled octopus. The result is a unique dish.”
Grilling in Italy vs. USA: differences and similarities
No sides and lots of sauces, this is the basis of American-style grilling and barbecue – which is very different from the Italian concept, which focuses instead on very few ingredients. “In Italy, foods are grilled using only a thread of extra virgin olive oil, salt and sometimes, a splash of lemon juice. I tried to mediate between the two different techniques and traditions: on Fiorentina steak, for example, I added sweet peppers sautéed with olive oil, garlic and some chopped parsley”. The grill in Italy is nothing but meat over the fire, with no added condiments: “In addition to herbs and spices, in the US we’re very into the Maillard reaction; we like our meat to be well seared and dark on the outside. Italians, on the other hand, use less heat while grilling”. Among the many cultural divergences, there is one common point: the wood. “We make large use of a chimney. During the filming tour, for example, Massimo Spigaroli of Antica Corte Pallavicina prepared wood-grilled duck, and it was exceptional!”
Travelling in Italy, visiting cities of art and gathering niche products
Tireless traveler Raichlen (between looking up restaurants and filming his show) had time to visit sites such as Pinacoteca di Brera and the Duomo in Milan, travel back to Venice and Florence, and finished his tour in France before returning to Miami and his many projects. “In Italy there’s always so much to learn in regards to cookery and cuisine. The culinary biodiversity is staggering, I’m always impressed. I tasted zucca mantovana pumpkin, red mountain potatoes, Chianina beef, lamb called sambucano, cannolicchi crustaceans, and many other extraordinary specialties. What can I say, I can’t wait to return!”
Steven Grills Italy | March 2018 on channel 412 Sky Italia, Gambero Rosso Channel