The Purity Of Giallo Zafferano

It would be easy to dismiss Giallo Zafferano as a kind of aspirational bourgeoise nonsense, but it avoids that fate because it delivers the best of Italian cooking and eating in a fresh and genuine way.

Giallo Zafferano

It would be easy to dismiss Giallo Zafferano as a kind of aspirational bourgeoise nonsense, but it avoids that fate because it delivers the best of Italian cooking and eating in a fresh and genuine way.

As is evident in many of my previous pieces, I am a big fan of Italian cooking shows, particularly because I enjoy learning about Italy and Italian culture and identity, both national and regional, through them. Occasionally I will expand and expound upon this aspect of Italian life to consider larger and more general social and political dimensions of food and food production, such as the increasingly important role that Hindu immigrants play in Italian dairy farming, but at the base of my interest is a genuine love of eating, particularly in the Italian tradition.

In this most fundamental register, I am a solid consumer of the video recipes that Giallo Zafferano regularly produces and posts to their website. What I enjoy most about them is the consistency of their excellence with respect to their cultural, culinary and media quality. A handful of charismatic chefs serve up the Italian repertoire across multiple categories: antipasti, primi, secondi, dolci, et cetera. La bella figura is writ large in these videos, and I recommend them to anyone who wants to understand what fare una bella figura (making a good impression) means in the Italian cultural context. Key to this success is the complete lack of any kind of ironic subtext. The chefs execute the recipes in a plain, skillful and joyful manner that demonstrates the absolute best of italianità while also highlighting, celebrating or at least giving a nod to any regional aspects or variations of each dish. In my opinion, if you want a single introduction to Italian culture, you can do no better than to take a deep dive into Giallo Zafferano.

Not surprisingly, it is the one online source that I turn to most often when I am feeling nostalgic for life in Italy. One of the things I like about it the most is the lack of what I will call ‘nonna fetishism’. Now, God bless the nonies (as Italian Americans say) of the world, but fetishizing anyone or anything is to do them an injustice, because as we all know, nonies, and nonni and nonne, and lets not forget nonos, all come in various models, and some can cook and others cannot. Some wear sweaters and pet cats and others do not. That is just the way it is.

Giallo Zafferano chefs are often young, with the principal three of four being in their late twenties or thirties, with several guest chefs who could be of any age, but who are typically a bit older as they are experts in preparing one or more particular dishes. Sometimes the chefs of Giallo Zafferano have hipster beards, and they often wear short sleeved concert t-shirts that show off their tattoos (at least in one case). Other chefs hew toward a more traditional style, the rather romantic attire of one chef who tends to prepare pastries is a personal favorite of mine, but all of them exude a fresh and modern sensibility that has, finally, put the old, burnished Tuscan trope to rest. Move over earthy yellow, hello… hi tech grey?

This is not to say that the recipes include anything like wasabi ravioli or zuppa brasiliana. Scattered throughout the vast collection of recipes are quite a few that come from la cucina etnica, which, according to one Indian student of a local cooking school whom I encountered in Basilicata, began and ended with paella, but all of the Italian recipes, as well as those from other cultures, stand true to tradition. There will always be quibbles on how to prepare the most common and homey of Italian favorites, say ribollita or parmigiana di melanzane, but all of the basics are right, and each recipe is delivered in 5 minutes at most from start to finish.

But again, if I can be so bold as to try to separate cultura from cucina here, what I find just as delightful as the dish itself is the steady stream of Italian cultural gestures that runs throughout each video, that ineffable charm that is born out of a pride in being Italian that each chef exudes. Something in each chef’s smile, confidence and enthusiasm conveys the warmth and generosity of the Italian culinary tradition. This recipe celebrates this aspect of the Easter celebration, one chef might say, or this recipe supports this or that aspect of family life, or perhaps is more suited to a gathering of friends, or whatever. As is typical of Italian culture — in general, because I know there are important exceptions — dimensions of social life such as religion and gender are not minefields of conflict and outrage, as is the case far too often in the United States.

One of the more distressing aspects of American life, and I believe also of English life but perhaps less so of life in Canada and Australia, although I could be wrong, is an adolescent angst that causes so many teenagers to reject some of the most unifying aspects of family life, such as home cooked meals and mealtime. A lot of this tendency has to do with the value that personal independence and individualism play in the cultures of the anglophone countries, something that is essential to cultivating a thriving capitalist economy, but whatever its value, it causes at least some harm to relations between the generations and leads to instances of painful and problematic social alienation, among the young and old alike. While there certainly is tension among the generations in Italy, and for good reason, it seems less pronounced and less impactful on family relations. What I like so much about Giallo Zafferano is that it shows young people who genuinely appreciate and celebrate the Italian culinary tradition into which they were born, and the spirit of unity and sharing that it supports, and into which it is implicated. And believe me, a plate of polenta is not just a plate of polenta.

So, it would be easy to dismiss Giallo Zafferano as a kind of aspirational bourgeoise nonsense of whoever is the current kitchen guru these days, but it avoids that fate because it delivers the best of Italian cooking and eating in a fresh and genuine way.

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