I was in shock. I stepped in off the cold, misty street and was greeted by the aroma of onions caramelizing, squash sautéing and crust browning in the oven. It was the first dinner hosted by Emilio’s university friends that I had attended since moving to Venice. I had expected the usual — a few ordered pizzas or a large pot of pasta with tomato sauce and possibly a few side dishes made by the (female) hosts. Instead, I found a group of both young men and women crowded around the stove, chopping, stirring, drinking wine and chatting away.
I placed my apple crisp on the table– to my surprise– next to a large pot of quinoa with roasted vegetables, freshly sliced bread, a bowl of salad and small muffin-like desserts. One of Emilio’s friends began to unpack her bag full of ingredients to make a typical Sicilian pasta with anchovies, fennel, pine nuts and bread crumbs on organic spaghetti. Another friend, this time male, was in charge of cooking his father’s famous recipe for squash and radicchio risotto. The host pulled out her two savory tarts from the oven, one filled with sausage and vegetables and the other with squash, leeks and goat cheese, in order to make room for another male friend’s typical tart from Trentino-Alto Adige, filled with layers of speck (a juniper-flavored aged ham), apple and scamorza cheese.
I looked at Emilio in disbelief. Finally, I had found other young people, both male and female, who liked to cook. This is what I had expected to find when I first moved to Bologna two years ago. I had thought that in a country so full of culinary history, traditions and pride, young people would be engaged in the discourse of food and enthusiastic about carrying on such traditions through their cooking.
I had hoped that it was a problem solely in the United States, where the majority of young people I met showed no real interest in food or cooking. At least at school, I had my best friend Julia who loved to cook just as much as I did. Disappointingly, I found myself in an apartment in Bologna with six Italians who seemed to know only how to heat a frozen pizza, defrost breaded fish fingers, boil cauliflower and make pasta topped with store-bought tomato sauce. Ironically, I was the one who rolled out fresh pasta, left ragù to simmer on the stove top and kneaded pizza dough.
I had even tried to join the Slow Food Mestre group in the hopes of finding a community of other young foodies, but after discovering that the volunteers were mainly white, middle-aged men, I decided to focus my attention elsewhere. That evening in Venice was the first time I saw a group of people my age decide to spend their Saturday evening cooking, drinking and eating together, each person bringing something from their culinary heritage to the table. It gave me hope. Maybe there are still other young people interested in food made from scratch with fresh, local ingredients. Maybe I just hadn’t found them yet.