Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy’s Culinary Capital is the whole title of a book by Eric Dregni. Mr. Dregni spent some time in the seldom visited Modena teaching English to somewhat reticent students. They taught him a lot about Italian culture.
(Note to the FTC and disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of the book. Free. Second, I am not by trade a book reviewer. So there.)
That said, let me just add about this book, “I couldn’t put it down.”
Ok, usually that last sentence is attached to a review of one of those “one in a zillion books” that are the most wonderful books on the planet. I’m not putting “Never Trust a Thin Cook” in that category. What I’m saying is that the book is written in the present tense. I’ve nothing against the present, I live in it and have used its tense often—in the 70s. But every time I picked up Never Trust a Thin Cook I got a strange vibe. The problem is that I’m now bothered by the lack of contrast between the present tense dialog and the narrative, and the whole things ends up seeming to be dated (but still enticing, in a garter belts and silk nylons sort of way). So there was nothing to do but pick it up and read it through—which I did on the plane to Italy last week.
That said, it was a good, honest read. Dregni is at his best when he’s describing the exchanges in his classroom. The students are far more interested in a cultural exchange with the American in their midst than they are in learning to speak Italian. In this way, Dregni’s narrative rings far truer than those of many big names who’ve come to cash in on America’s fascination with Italian culture. Italophiles will want to read this book.
You’ll learn that Italy doesn’t really have a word for “safe.” That explains a lot, especially about the driving, eh?
The word safe doesn’t really exist in Italian. Sicuro is just “secure.” My students suggest non pericoloso (not dangerous) but add that everything has a certain amount of danger, so “safe” is a paradox.
See, these students are smart!
Modena, besides being a bit of a culinary capital, is also home to Ferrari (or, close enough). The students are quite interested in the hand made cars that have come to be a symbol of Italian style. They know all sorts of facts that would make a student of Italian culture envious, including the fact that they make the seats bigger for the notorious, expanded American backsides. A student who works for Ferrari points out how the bigger American seats get tested:
We found the biggest eater in the company cafeteria, put him in a prototype, and let him take a few laps.”
Ok, so I won’t let any more cats out of their burlap bag, but I enjoyed the book and found it to be an excellent introduction to Italian culture and to a part of Italy that most folks don’t visit, despite their infatuation with the local Balsamic vinegar and other fine products of Emilia Romagna. There is one contrast that does stand out clearly: the difference between Italian and American culture. Dregni sure got that right.
Buy the book (if you want) at Amazon: Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy’s Culinary Capital.