Giuseppe Derubertis Interview
I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Giuseppe Derubertis, a renowned, retired chef, who specializes in Italian and French cuisine. Giuseppe is an Italian himself, born in Campobasso, then migrating to Montreal, Canada, where he completed his culinary education at Académie Culinaire. He described Italian cuisine as highly optical, in which he was able to translate over when mastering French cuisine, since it is not as optical as Italian dishes. Throughout his career, Giuseppe describes his yearning to absorb the riches of each cuisine as its own entity—avoiding meshing cuisines as one. He has worked in the Grand Cayman, Bermuda, Mexico and has even served diplomats in China. However, Giuseppe emphasizes how his occupations gave him “an eye to the world, while opening conversation.” I found this statement extremely powerful because it clearly conveys just how many doors food can open for humans allowing them to piece their personalized definition of the world.
Moreover, he proceeds to claim that food is a common foundation for everyone, despite demographics; thus, throughout his journey, he attempted to “understand everyone’s food.” He gave a beautiful example of what he meant by understanding a certain group’s food: He characterizes Italy as a country of many distinct tastes and nuanced versions of pasta. While the base remains the same, the Northern part of Italy tends to be a bit more adventurous with their pasta sauces in comparison to central Italy for instance, which prioritizes simplicity across the board when making sauces to complement their pasta. By understanding everyone’s native quirks and remaining open-minded, Giuseppe stresses how he was so immersed in his cooking experiences across Italy that he picked up each region’s respective dialect. Deepening his relationship with each culture allowed him to further enhance his exposure and refine his cooking accordingly—ultimately reaching new heights. Hence, Giuseppe characterizes Italian-American food as sauce-heavy, but he was very careful in emphasizing that it does not signify a bad thing—one slogan he referenced is “to each their own.” I found this incredibly telling of how Giuseppe is keen on never pointing fingers and being as open as possible when examining and learning other styles of food, even when they are clearly “inspired by other cuisines.” It is this mentality that Giuseppe instilled in himself, allowing him to fully prosper as a chef in America.
Naturally, Giuseppe highlighted some important differences between Italian cuisine and Italian-American cuisine. Throughout the course, we’ve emphasized synergies and distinctions amongst cuisines, no matter how related or unrelated. Giuseppe pointed out that many restaurants in Italy and across Europe have daily crafted menus. He emphasized how clearly this corresponds to freshness of food. From his own proper experience, he worked at restaurants with 50+ items on the menu. He attests that as one might think these restaurants don’t typically have the capacity and capital to serve fresh food. Giuseppe says, “the costs are just too high […] it simply does not make sense.” So, Giuseppe says it’s common to find restaurants in Europe with a “menu du jour,” containing about 4-5 appetizers, 2-3 entrée plaits, and 5-6 main dishes. He then stated that pasta dishes usually are part of the “entrée plaits” section. Pasta in Italy is usually not consumed as a main dish, but rather, a “dish in between dishes.” This solidified an important concept for me: One must reconsider the way they examine dishes across cultures— of course, there are many similarities between Italian-inspired dishes here in the U.S., but there are also many nuances across the purpose of these different dishes. While in the U.S. the purpose is for the pasta dish to be served as a main dish in adapted quantity, style and overall composition, in Italy pasta dishes may often follow specific weight guidelines and are usually intended to transition between the appetizer and the main course. How astonishing is it to be able to comprehend how these nuances add a whole another layer of contrast?
Moving on to homemade pasta, Giuseppe and I shared the discussion we had in class regarding the prominence of homemade pasta between Italians and Italian-Americans. I mentioned to him our dilemma pertaining to whom homemade pasta is a must in terms of making pasta. Though Giuseppe certainly agreed that many Italian-Americans hope to reconnect with their culture and traditions by making pasta from scratch, he wholeheartedly did not endorse the thought that Italians as a group are shifting away from homemade pasta. He claimed: Though many hub cities like “Milano e Roma” are undoubtedly deprioritizing homemade pasta, the countryside does not follow this trend. As soon as one hits the exterior, they will come across “pride.” Giuseppe boldly exclaims that “pride is homemade” and that the countryside and many families in rural areas refuse to ever compromise their pride, alluding to the connection between homemade pasta and pride. I found this particularly strong because I myself have only seen Italian pasta through the lenses of tourists, which often seem to reflect urban-like restaurants with many options, oftentimes in the very well-known cities. Furthermore, he described the little towns as places where “old lad[ies] are still cooking,” essentially, he means that the values of the countryside still remain, despite the ever changing nature of Italian cuisine as a whole. After this conversation, I am beyond inspired to study this dynamic more closely. What are the tensions between developed cities in Italia versus the countryside? Are there any substantial implications on Italian culture overall from “rapid Americanization” in central metropolitan cities?
Lastly, I wanted to conclude by sharing some pieces of miscellaneous tidbits that Giuseppe so kindly included during our interview. First, he commented on his grandmother’s traditional cooking and the fact that “from nothing she can make a meal.” He claims that her homemade tomato sauce is exceptional and easy to digest because it is made with a food mill. I love how he mentioned digestion, as this was a common theme we came across when studying Italian culture. To further leverage class concepts, Giuseppe also mentioned the difficulty in replicating certain dishes when temperatures are different and the environment in which these dishes are created tend to always be quite distinct. Interestingly enough, he added that there is some grey zone between this concept nowadays because of the liberalization of trade and the boom in the exporting industry. I found this to be a very impactful perspective because from one point of view there is a lot more interconnectivity in today’s times, but I wonder to what extent this connectivity actually translates to more synonymous dishes across borders? I personally hypothesize that there are still inherent limitations because many intricacies cannot be transported over because of the cultural element that is often jeopardized across borders. Whether it be the lack of language or a vital component that is not written or outlined in a recipe, these are some of the nuances I suspect are worthy of consideration. Additionally, Giuseppe contrasted Alfredo sauce versus rosé sauce, which are both considered lighter sauces. Rosé sauce in Italy is actually not made of cream, but simply butter fat and Romano cheese; whereas, in the U.S., cream is used and blended with parmesan to yield the typical, American white sauce. Lastly, he reiterated several times that semolina is the magic wonder behind great pasta.
Thus, I have learned wonders throughout this hour long interview with Giuseppe Derubertis. Overall, Giuseppe considers himself a pasta chef, who has surpassed the threshold in truly comprehending the rich complexities of the noodle. To conclude, I finish off with a paraphrased thought by him: Politics, journalism and now, food are all mixed, and thus, the original foundation is hard to find anymore—“unmask the beautiful product.”