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.
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Searching for Italy on CNN
In the last six weeks, CNN has released a new destination series: 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 CNN original series introduces viewers to young chefs making dishes entrees from otherwise discarded meats while Tucci learned the proper execution on Italian cuisine classics like Pasta Alla Norma.
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.
This isn’t a full list of the dishes and destinations, check CNN’s website for more.
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?
Great show. It’s 9 pm appointment television. Italian food and culture strikes a massive chord in the States. And I’m ready to eat dinner again 10 minutes into every episode.
Not sure what’s going on lately, but I agree with you again! I absolutely love this show. He is not only a great story teller but is superb in his ability to encourage others to tell theirs. My favorite so far being the story of how rabbit became a delicacy. A function of plenty and need in the mountains and hills. I would really love to see him take on other countries as well. Japan would be a fantastic season.
My most loved so far is the tale of how hare turned into a delicacy. Incredible show. would truly very much want to see him take on different nations too.
Who are you and what have you done to Kyle?
This show is the perfect blend of cooking, food and history. I feel very fortunate to have visited several Italy times. Look forward to going back.
I was not familiar with this show. Tucci is one of my favorite actors, though. Am I correct in understanding that he ordered cotoletta alla milanese in Napoli? That seems hard to believe. Would you go to New Orleans and order New England clam chowder?
I’d say that for those (non-EU residents) who are determined enough, you could find a way to enter Italy now, but with the lockdowns, it wouldn’t be worth it. They can’t end soon enough. Still, it was nice to be able to visit Venice again without the tourist hordes.
@Stuart/MaKr – I appreciate the kind words. There’s more that unites us than divides us, and Stanley Tucci unabashedly squeezing the milk out of a fresh ball of mozzarella might be that unifying point we can all relate to.
I’m glad I’ve been DVRing it since the beginning. It’s a great and informative show. Tucci provides a great balance of enthusiasm, information, and more importantly, humility. It’s one of the few shows that i I watch that I wish would never end.
Cargocult- that’s a typo. He has the risotto and veal chops in the Milan episode. The episode discusses a bit how the different climate and landscape in northern Italy means more rice (and thus risotto) and polenta than the pasta more prevalent in southern Italy (because wheat grows more easily in central and southern Italy).
One thing the show brought home to me is why Americans mostly think of southern Italian food as “Italian food”- because northern Italy has always been the economic powerhouse, most of the immigrants who came to the US for a new life were from the poorer southern Italy and brought their food with them.
Absolutely agreed. This show has been amazing fun. I find myself simultaneously grateful to be able to “visit” vicariously through Stanley Tucci and horribly jealous that he gets to have all these experiences. In the Rome episode, he even walks right past my Roman “living room”! It’s painful how much I miss it.
But I am a little confused on one point: what about the other regions of Italy? Certainly, there’s going to be more than just this first six. How could this series possibly conclude without Tucci taking us through Piemonte, Veneto, Campania and, of course, Umbria? Perhaps next season …
Thank you for your excellent review. I’ve been watching since episode one and have fallen in love with Italy, it’s people, food, and most especially Stanley Tucci. He is completely genuine in his passion for all things Italian. His interaction with everyone he encounters is truly heartwarming. I hope that CNN will consider expanding this show and sending Mr. Tucci to other corners of the world. I would be watching every moment.
It’s a great show. Makes me miss Bourdain though. I just think Tucci may need some new catch phrases after he tastes something!
Enjoyable show that gets me in the mood to get back to Europe just as soon as the borders open. I just wish Tucci wasn’t so damned arrogant. He is so full of himself, and that’s a turn-off. Thankfully the food turns me back on very quickly.
Southern Italy was richer than the north before industrialization and unification. Since then the opposite has been true. Emigration from the region for economic reasons continues as it did more than a hundred years ago. Still, food from the south is much better than in the north, except for perhaps in Emilia-Romagna. Lombardia is too Germanic to be truly delicious. I always wonder who orders the wurstel e patatine pizze I see on menus in Italy.
Great post. I had no idea about this show but will definitely check it out. I am Italian so definitely miss the real Italian food. Guy Fieri had a pretty good DDD that was filmed in Italy. Fantastic restaurants.
@Santastico, I think that Tucci’s show is far better than anything that Guy Fieri puts on. He goes beyond food and into culture and politics (which opens the door for controversy, of course). It makes me miss Italy, not just Italian food. I hope that you enjoy it!