Stanley Tucci, the famed actor, hosts a new show on CNN – Searching For Italy. It’s what we all needed but probably don’t deserve.
Searching for Italy on CNN
In the last six weeks, CNN has released a new destination show called Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. Unlike other forays into travel shows like the legendary Parts Unknown by the late Anthony Bourdain, the mission is more defined. Tucci’s show opens with the eponymous host narrating his familial heritage “Italian on both sides” and his desire to see every region of Italy to discover what makes each unique.
The Host We All Needed When We Needed Him
Fans of Bourdain identify an admiration for his grit, appetite for adventure, and willingness to embrace the new and daunting. His cynical take and beautifully woven prose made the show an instant hit. His cinematic flair also intrigued audiences, despite obvious campiness at times.
For all the reasons I loved Bourdain, one of his faults was that he had simply been everywhere and seemingly done everything. Other traveling food show hosts showcase their depth and breadth of culinary and worldly knowledge by “improving” upon local creations from the fabulous chefs and restaurants for which they feature.
Stanley Tucci doesn’t do that.
Tucci knows just enough to hold an educated conversation but has a lot to learn. In one episode, he comments with his wife on the myriad mistakes they’ve been making trying to recreate a dish. Despite making it “practically every day” their process and ingredients significantly diverged from the recipe they’d adopted from a beloved restaurant in Napoli. But that’s also kind of the charm. I, too, have fallen in love with a dish and then aimed to recreate it at home, convinced I’d nailed it, but had actually missed the mark.
I love his humility, his enthusiasm, and his engagement with his hosts. His blissful passion is on full display when cheesemakers crack open a round of parmesan.
Some Destinations and Dishes
In the premiere episode, Naples and the Amalfi Coast, he introduces us to fried pizza which was initially used to cleanse food in high heat during the time of cholera but then draws a reference to current COVID-19 conditions. The episode is split into two parts that blend seamlessly, but when he visits Naples and enjoys classic Milanese veal chops and risotto it makes watchers want to book a flight right away.
In Rome, he tackles the famous four pastas of the city: carbonara, amatriciana, gricia, and cacio e pepe. He debates the origins of carbonara with Italians who feel rather strongly about the matter, mostly skips past the lovely and fresh amatriciana.
Then, Tucci blew the doors off an entirely forgotten piece of meat in the Americas, apparently enjoying a renaissance in Roma: gricia. Fatty pork cheeks are sauteed giving a richer taste and feel than prosciutto or bacon for a simple pasta dish. Food vendors on local social media pages in Pittsburgh have started to advertise carrying the product in their own shops now.
He closes the episode with a visit to Bistrot64, a Michelin-starred Japanese chef, Kotaro Noda, cooking award-winning Italian food to a half-full restaurant. Romans seem to reject it based on the chef’s lack of Italian-ness. Maybe this is one case where we shouldn’t “do as the Romans do.”
The description for the Bologna episode is just this:
“Stanley Tucci explores Bologna, seen by many as the food capital of Italy. The region of Emilia-Romagna is home to globally renowned protected food products: parmigiano, prosciutto de Parma and traditional balsamic vinegar to name a few.” Rotten Tomatoes
It was that episode, however, that inspired me to be more diligent about using soffrito in my own pasta sauce.
Tucci also introduced me to a new key ingredient in the Lombardy episode, pizzoccheri, a noodle made from buckwheat.
But the gem of the tv show is likely in that first episode wherein the host sits down for Sunday lunch of freshly caught rabbit with a family who share as much of their food as they do their tradition. Tucci feasted as the “patriarch,” receiving the most important part of the dish first after their own “Papa” passed away during the lockdown.
For Stanley Tucci, Italy is personal. His family is from there and he spent a year of his youth living in the country, something I’d like to share with my daughter despite my lack of Italian heritage. More than anything else, I love his willingness to try anything including offal, to be wrong, and to be seen unabashedly in love with his surroundings.
The show is exactly what we all need when authentic travel is something we get in such limited doses right now. If you haven’t seen it, feed your travel-famished soul and watch it today (CNN/Hulu/HBOMax.)
What do you think? Have you seen the show? Do you have a favorite recipe or scene?