(CNN) – Stanley Tucci wants to clear you up on Italy. A land where the sun shines, the nonnas smile and every plate of spaghetti bolognese is covered with Parmesan? Scratch that off.
“I think in America there are a lot of very specific ideas about what ‘Italian’ is, and one of the reasons I wanted to do [my new] The show is to dispel some of these myths about what Italy is, ”he told CNN.
“People imagine the weather is always nice and people play mandolins and eat pizza and chicken parmesan – which isn’t even an Italian dish.
“Because my parents were so respectful of their heritage, this cultural identity was really important to me and still is.”
For his latest project, the actor is playing himself, as he tries to shed some light on the country he is from on both sides.
Premiering tonight, “Stanley Tucci: In Search of Italy” explores the gastronomy of six of Italy’s most beloved spots: Naples and the Amalfi Coast, Rome, Bologna, Milan, Tuscany and Sicily.
But while it’s all about the food, the Oscar nominee was eager to step into the history, culture, and politics of Italy – and why all of those things are inseparable from what’s on your plate.
Far from being a land of Renaissance towns wedged between mountains and the Mediterranean, Italy is home to “incredible diversity” geographically, he says.
He speaks of the “profound effect” that its history – Italy is a young country, finally unified in 1861 – has had on the regime. “Invasions and religion, politics … every region is so distinctly different, not just the topography, but the food as well,” he says.
Likewise, Italy had a profound effect on him. Born in the United States, he is descended from Italian immigrants on both sides – both, in fact, from Calabria, the tied toe of the Italian boot.
While Tucci grew up in New York State loving burgers, hot dogs and Velveeta cheese, he also ate “this really amazing diet” of Italian food at home.
And, at age 12, Italy changed her life.
A personal rebirth
Stanley Tucci spent a year in Italy at the age of 12.
In 1972, Tucci’s father, Stan, a high school art teacher, took a year off to study drawing and sculpture in Florence – and the family came with him.
Other than the ski trips to Vermont, “I had never been anywhere,” he says.
“I had never taken a plane, I had never been abroad. So it was amazing. It opened my mind completely to the world.”
For a year he attended an Italian school while his father studied art and his mother, Joan, learned about Tuscan cuisine. It was an experience, he says, that “changed everything”.
“First of all, this trip helped illuminate my aesthetic,” he says. “Second, it made me appreciate a European lifestyle and sensibility.
“By the time I graduated from college, I couldn’t wait to go back, and felt like I needed to be there more than I needed to be in America. And so, whenever I could, I would go back to Italy. “
… and now yours
Tucci says Americans generally misunderstand Italian cuisine until they visit the country.
Now that Italy has given him so much, he hopes to change the way Americans view Italy.
“They don’t have the extreme diversity – that if you’re in Sicily you’re less than 160 km from the African coast, and if you’re in northern Italy in Alto Adige, people speak Swiss, Italian, German – a combination of Italian-German and Swiss-German, ”he says.
“And that there is not a tomato in sight when we go to Lombardy.
“I would like people to see this incredible diversity, and how it came about – geography, invasions, influences from the Arab world, the Spaniards, the Normans, the Austrians. It’s an incredible culinary melting pot. “
Italian food is also notoriously regional, as the series explains – but so are people, says Tucci.
“If you ask people in Italy, then are you Italian?” They will say to you: ‘No, I am Florentine.’ Or: “No, I am Piedmontese”. “I am Sicilian. Sicilians really don’t see themselves as Italians.
In Minori, a town on the Italian Amalfi Coast, Stanley Tucci tastes lemons that he calls the best in the world. Watch “Stanley Tucci: In Search of Italy” Sundays at 9 p.m. ET / PT.
“And the more you get interested in food, the more you realize how different it is, not only from region to region or city to city, but from house to house. , or from one restaurant to another.
“People consider Parmesan to be the king of cheese, but the people of Tuscany will say, ‘No, no, that’s a terrible cheese. The one you want is Tuscan pecorino. “I remember having a conversation with a guy in a delicatessen in Pienza [known for its pecorino cheese] who said, “We don’t even carry Parmesan. It’s incredible.”
The difference with where he grew up is huge.
“Someone said to me, ‘The thing about Italy is you can go 10 miles and get a whole different menu; in America you drive 300 miles, you’re going to have the exact same thing. “
Meet under Covid
Tucci and his wife Felicity delve into a plate of pasta on the Amalfi Coast.
The Covid-19 pandemic, he believes, is one of the few times Italians have felt Italian rather than regional.
“They really came together in a way that certainly not America, or England for that matter,” he says.
“You felt there was a very strong sense of oneness, which there had not been for a long time.”
The show was filmed both before the pandemic and after the first wave, in the summer of 2020. He says he found Italians “tired, besieged by everything, but incredible, open and generous”.
Once the borders are reopened, they will need tourism “desperately”. But he suggests, as tempting as it is to go to the usual big city suspects, “it will help you tremendously if you spend [your money] in small towns and small establishments. “
And while Americans might not expect the food that awaits them – in the United States, he says, as he explored in his film, “Big Night,” “They expect. what meatballs come with spaghetti, they like huge amounts of cheese, lots of sauce ”- he thinks they’re pleasantly surprised.
“Almost everyone I talk to who is American, says, ‘Oh my God, the food in Italy is amazing.’ Which means they understand. They understand. “
The ultimate Italy
Stanley Tucci visits one of Italy’s greatest cheese makers to see him work his magic with mozzarella. Watch “Stanley Tucci: In Search of Italy” Sundays at 9 p.m. ET / PT.
Tucci has been receiving him for almost 50 years now, but although he has traveled widely across the country, one place he has not returned to is the land of his ancestors – he was the last in Calabria as a child.
Instead, it’s most taken by the central regions – Tuscany, Umbria, and the Marche – as well as Rome and Piedmont. He also has a soft spot for Lombardy – “Oh my god”, he yells at the risotto he tried in episode 4 of the series – and he says that, of Italy’s 20 regions, Lombardy would be the one to be. ‘he would have the most. live happily.
“I love the climate, I think Lake Como is one of the most beautiful places in the world, I really like the food of this region, and I like being able to live the winter, which you do not live really in london [where Tucci lives]. “
So would he ever take the plunge and move?
“No,” he said without hesitation. “Too many Italians.”
As only someone from Calabria would dare say.