Oscar Farinetti wants you to know that great food is like great sex — the more you know about what you’re dealing with, how carefully it has been tended and where it came from, the better it all is.
The brains behind foodie dream destination Eataly is talking about wine made without chemicals, hand-kneaded bread dough, the production of salami without nitrates and the importance of using yeast that’s at least 40 years old.
It’s interesting that Eataly has been called the future of food when the past figures so prominently in its methods.
Indeed, the personable Farinetti, 65, emphasizes the importance of history, saying that his first teacher was poet and screenwriter Tonino Guerra; Guerra created a garden of forgotten fruits in Pennabilli, Italy in 1989, helping ignite a country-wide movement of seed-savers and devotees of old local farming traditions keen to recover near-forgotten produce.
Essentially, everything la tua bisnonna told you about food was correct: slow, natural, unadulterated.
Farinetti was in Toronto to open the new Italian food emporium at Bay and Bloor Sts. Eataly Toronto is one of 40 stores worldwide and the only Eataly in Canada. If you’ve had to line up to get in, you already know it’s a very big deal.
Eataly offers a mind-boggling array of wonderful food (and drink) from local and Italian artisans. For two years before opening, staff sourced the very best products available in Toronto and environs with an eye to keeping the balance at 50% local items and 50% of the very best Italy has to offer — wine, olive oil, tomatoes, cheese, coffee and more.
Inspired by the great bazaars of Istanbul, Eataly combines a market, several cafes and restaurants, food counters, take-out areas, a bakery and even a cooking school in its 50,000 square feet of space.
Farinetti, a fan of the slow food movement, opened the first Eataly in Turin in 2007.
When we meet, he’s in one of Eataly Toronto’s kitchens, sitting beside a large map of Italy. The map divides the country into its many different growing areas — a biodiversity Farinetti says is the best in the world.
“Europe has 1200 varieties of apples — 1,000 of them in Italy and the other 200 in the rest of Europe,” he says. “It’s because of Italy’s geographic location.”
Asked why he chose Toronto for the newest Eataly, Farinetti says, “I like this city.”
“People say Toronto is like New York run by the Swiss,” he adds with a laugh.
“Toronto has all the best aspects of New York but with a European sensibility. Our target audience has a passion for Italy, not just the food, but the culture. And there are rich people here,” he said, laughing again.
“This city has been very kind to us.”
Eataly has also created hundreds of jobs in Toronto, which Farinetti says is the first responsibility of any entrepreneur.
“I was very lucky to be born in Italy, the most beautiful country in the world, lucky to be born into my family and to my father, who was an entrepreneur and taught me to be an entrepreneur — to love risk, investment, hard work. The entrepreneur has one big mission: to create work.”
“In the 12 years since we opened the first Eataly in Turin, we now have 8,600 employees. I like that! The mission for the entrepreneur is to have passion for the work, not just for profits but for the employees, the customer, the army of suppliers. I want to get better, not only for me, but for all of my people.”
Another item on Eataly’s list is education, hence the cooking school. Farinetti wants everyone to learn about food and know how to cook well. There’s a lot to learn — he offers as an example the 538 olive cultivars in Italy and why it’s important to know where they come from and what sort of olive oil will result.
He can explain the difference between pasta that takes three minutes to create and pasta that takes three days, the importance of a wood oven in bread baking, the role of organic flour, the creation of microclimates, the production chain. His knowledge of growing methods and food preparation techniques is a bit intimidating.
Does anyone have the courage to ask Farinetti to dinner?
“Of course! I’m a good character. When someone asks me, ‘What do you think of this dish?’ I have only one answer: ‘Good!’ Then, after three or four minutes,” he adds, laughing, “you’ll probably hear, ‘But …’”