An audience of more than one hundred packed the American Academy in Rome on Saturday morning 10 October 2009 for the launch of the English translation of Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta (2009). The book is a carefully researched compendium of historical and geographical information on this staple of the Italian diet, and is the latest installment in the California Studies in Food and Culture series of the University of California Press.
Rachel Donadio in the 14 October 2009 New York Times profiled Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia, terming it “a social history disguised as a food book”. The New York Times article also highlighted the warm reception Oretta Zanini De Vita has received at the Academy. “’I think of her as a kind of Julia Child,’ said Mona Talbott, the executive chef at the American Academy in Rome and coordinator of its Rome Sustainable Food Project, founded by Alice Waters. ‘Julia Child demystified French food. Oretta demystifies pasta.'” You can read eyewitness accounts of the 10 October AAR event by current Fellow Matthew Bronski here (“Week Five”) and by Fellow Traveler (and food expert) Amy Campion here.
From left: Christopher Boswell, Maureen B. Fant, Oretta Zanini De Vita, Sheila Levine. Credit: Annie Schlechter
At the 10 October book launch, the American Academy welcomed the general public, the AAR’s resident community, and many members of the Friends of the Academy in Italy.
The morning program gave an opportunity for the author, the translator (Rome-based writer and editor Maureen B. Fant), the publisher (Sheila Levine), and a distinguished chef (Christopher Boswell, Sous Chef of the Rome Sustainable Food Project) to talk about the book.
R. William Franklin, Associate Director for External Affairs at the Academy welcomed the guests and then introduced and moderated the panel, which was punctuated by lively discussion from the audience.
Oretta Zanini De Vita in the program focussed on her methodology in compiling this reference work—one part oral history, one part archival research, one part detective work in finding lost recipe books—and her hope that the volume will be a living link to the great Italian tradition of food that is rapidly disappearing.
And after the launch, there was a lunch to remember. More than a hundred members of the AAR community and Friends of the Academy in Italy gathered in the Academy dining room for a special pasta lunch made up of recipes of Zanini De Vita, including as dessert a memorable chocolate pasta.