The origins of specific foods, drinks, and dishes hold a fascination for many. Everyday items such as cornflakes and Nutella have origin stories. Many of these origins come from failures, errors or simple fortuitous events. Oscar Farinetti explores around 50 of these stories in Serendipity – From Truffles and Champagne to Cornflakes and Coffee: Stories of Accidental Successrecent translation by Barbara McGilvray of Farinetti’s 2020 Italian bestseller.
Farinetti is known worldwide for its chain of Eataly stores. These often large mega-markets are home to high-end Italian produce, fresh produce, restaurants, cooking schools and homeware aisles where you can eat and cook like an Italian.
In Serendipity, Farinetti curries favor with the luminaries of the food and drink scene, many of whom hail from his native Italy. At times, it may sound like a roll call of international food celebrities telling their stories to their favorite supplier, but what emerges are delicious missives and serious messages.
The original book was published by Slow Food International and Farinetti interviews Carlo Petrini, the movement’s prominent founder, about the Italian region of Barolo, the ideals behind the movement, the crises of climate change and the loss of biodiversity and how to protect ecosystems above profits.
In lighter stories, we hear of the blissful burning of a breaded cutlet (cotoletta), in a Buenos Aires kitchen, which was resurrected with the addition of Napoli sauce, ham and mozzarella to become the Neapolitan cutlet. I admit wanting a side story of how the same dish became the Aussie parmigiana but alas there was no footnote for that. There are also a handful of recipes so some of the signature dishes can be tried at home.
The book itself is a brilliant, effortless thing. Its structure of short stories makes it incredibly easy to pick up, put down, and then come back. One story leads seamlessly into another, and as a food and wine lover, it’s illuminating and mildly addictive to discover new and interesting facts about the history of food and drink.
Farinetti concludes with a short potted history of humanity. His willingness to embrace the chance nature of life and the happy accidents and epic failures that lead to unexpected or great results is as sunny as the yellow blanket. As the founder of a thriving global luxury food empire, he likely has plenty of reason to rejoice in serendipity.
Black Inc, 304pp, $34.99
Black Inc is a Schwartz company
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 23, 2022 under the headline “Serendipity, Oscar Farinetti (translated by Barbara McGilvray)”.
A free press is a paid press. Now is the time to subscribe.