Are we Selling our Culinary Souls to Chains?

On a recent visit to the beautiful island of Ischia and the city of Naples in southern Italy, a culinary light dawned. Being a very big fan of systems, processes, and efficiencies and always on the look out for better ways to do things, a recurring theme emerged over the course of seven days. The restaurants and cafes we ate in had one thing in common. They kept things simple. They were without exception ‘mom and pop’, long established local hangouts. We wanted to know where locals ate, and it looks like Italians in this area favour their own food over the homogenised junk that is now served all over the globe.

There was a noticeable absence of restaurant/ café chains where we stayed. Perhaps we just didn’t see them, maybe the Italian authorities require them to be more low key than here. We ate fantastic food everywhere, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We ate the simplest of pasta dishes, lemon pasta which was so sublime and simple -and frankly did not impress on the plate – but the flavours….

Lemon Pasta

Rocket with Walnuts and another undefined (perhaps lemon) ingredient which elevated both ingredients to rock star status.

Courgettes with olive oil and mint – an inspired combination.

Pasta with anchovy sauce & pine nuts.

What was so striking about the food, the service and the venues themselves was their simplicity and lack of fuss. They wore the brilliance of their food so lightly that it is clear this is the kind of food they expect to get in their independent, generations old, locals.  None appeared to have even a web presence, not the speak of a social media forum. They are just getting on with it. They must continue if we are to have any hope of protecting real food for the future.

We did have one very disappointing experience at the seafront in Forio but the less said about that the better- tourist trap and all that!

It is an ongoing worry (amid a host of other much more pressing worries) that our industry is being turned into one big ‘chain’. Restaurant chains, hotel chains, café chains, food truck chains, supermarket chains. Yes, their systems are brilliant and from these independents can learn, and yes, their efficiencies are to be admired and yes, they employ a lot of people but in all but a few notable examples, the quality of the food they sell and serve is of marginally acceptable quality. Some restaurant chains look fabulous, their interiors would almost lead us to believe that they are being run by an entrepreneur with real taste and refinement and a passion to bring great food to the masses. Some chains do indeed support real food producers and are making real efforts to serve real food but the bigger it gets, the harder it seems to be to keep that promise.

With the ongoing energy increases, exponentially increasing costs and the nonsensical mountain of regulatory burdens on the restaurant industry, it will only be survival of the very fittest. We have a duty to support people who are continuing to push forward and truthfully use the best ingredients, truthfully support local producers, truthfully do what they say they do – no smoke and mirrors please.

Every single time we choose to spend our money for convenience over quality we are popping another little nail in the coffin of real food for our futures.

We ate in Ristorante La Rondinella da Anna, Via Tommaso Cigliano, La Tinaia, Corso Matteo Verde, 80005 Forio, Antica Trattoria Da Carmine, Via Dei Tribunali 330, 80138, Naples. ( no websites)