22 October 2023

22 October

NEW - Ettore Boiardi - entrepreneur

Emilian immigrant who founded canned pasta brand

Ettore Boiardi, the former New York chef whose name lives on in the Chef Boyardee canned pasta products brand, was born on this day in 1897 in Piacenza, now part of the Emilia-Romagna region.  Boiardi, whose culinary skills first gained popularity when he was working in the kitchens of the iconic Plaza Hotel in New York, hit upon the idea of selling cook-at-home Italian food after opening his first restaurant while still in his 20s.  He and his brother, Paolo, built a company that employed 5,000 staff and filled 250,000 cans per day at its peak, making the Chef Boyardee brand a familiar sight in grocery stores across America.  They eventually sold the business for $6 million dollars in 1948 but the Chef Boyardee brand never went away. Today, Chef Boyardee products, which still carry Ettore Boiardi’s image on their packaging, are made and marketed by Chicago-based Conagra Brands.  Ettore and Paolo grew up in Piacenza.  Their parents, Giuseppe and Maria, inspired them to be interested in food from an early age and Ettore was working in a local restaurant, La Croce Bianca, by the time he was 11.  Read more…


Valeria Golino - actress

Neapolitan starred with Hoffman and Cruise in Rain Man

The actress Valeria Golino, who found international fame when she played opposite Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in the hugely successful movie Rain Man, was born on this day in 1965 in Naples.  Golino was cast as the girlfriend of Tom Cruise’s character, Charlie Babbitt, in Barry Levinson’s comedy, in which Babbitt’s estranged father dies and leaves most of his multi-million dollar estate to another son, an autistic savant named Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) whose existence Charlie knew nothing about. The 1988 movie won four Oscars and grossed more than $350 dollars. Although Golino was not nominated for her performance in Rain Man, she has won a string of other awards over a career so far spanning almost 35 years.  She is one of only three stars to win Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival on two occasions, for the 1986 drama Storia d’amore (“A Tale of Love”), directed by Francesco Maselli, and for Giuseppe M Gaudino’s 2015 drama Per amor vostro (“For Your Love”).  Golino was close to being selected to star opposite Richard Gere in another massive US hit, Pretty Woman, making it to the final audition stage for the 1990 romantic comedy. Read more…


Soave - an Italian classic wine

How the dry white from the Veneto earned its DOC status

Soave - at one time the world's most popular Italian wine - was officially granted a DOC classification on this day in 1968.  The DOC status - which stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata - was introduced midway through the last century as part of a series of laws designed to safeguard the quality and authenticity of Italian wines.  Winegrowers had been pushing for such regulation because the increasing popularity of Italian wines around the world was impacting on quality as more and more producers sprang up to meet demand.  Soave was a case in point.  Originally limited to a small area of just 2,720 acres (1,100 hectares) in the hills to the north of the small towns of Soave and Monteforte d'Alpone, roughly 25km (16 miles) east of Verona in the Veneto region, production spread rapidly to an area more than six times as large.  The biggest demand was from the United States, which developed a taste for Italian wines in the boom years that followed the end of the Second World War.  Of the huge volume of imported bottles that arrived on ships from Europe, Soave was the most popular.  Read more…


Giovanni Martinelli – tenor

Singer made his fame abroad

One of the most famous tenors of the early 20th century, Giovanni Martinelli, was born on this day in 1885 in Montagnana in the province of Padua in the Veneto.  Martinelli began his career playing the clarinet in a military band and then studied as a singer with Giuseppe Mandolini in Milan. He made his professional debut at the Teatro del Verme in Milan in the title role of Giuseppe Verdi's Ernani in 1910.  Martinelli became famous for singing the role of Dick Johnson in Giacomo Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, which he performed in Rome, Brescia, Naples, Genoa, Monte Carlo and also at La Scala in Milan.  He played Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca at the Royal Opera House in London and took on the same role for his first American engagement in 1913. That same year Martinelli portrayed Pantagruel in the world premiere of Jules Massenet’s Panurge in Paris.  He attracted favourable reviews when he played Rodolfo in Puccini's La bohème at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He went on to sing 36 different roles for the theatre over 32 seasons.  In 1937 Martinelli returned to London to sing opposite the English soprano Eva Turner at Covent Garden.  Read more…


Roberto “Robertino” Loreti - singer and actor

Child prodigy who specialised in traditional Italian songs

The singer and actor Roberto Loreti, who performed under the stage name “Robertino”, was born on this day in 1946 in Rome.  Loreti, who sang live on Italian television earlier in 2022 at the age of 75, built popularity in many countries apart from Italy at his peak, his repertoire largely built on traditional Italian songs. He also appeared in acting roles in a number of films.  The fifth of eight children, he was only 10 years old when his father, Orlando, could not work for a long period because of illness. In order to help bring money into the household, Loreti had to give up school and find work.  He took a job as a delivery boy for a bakery which supplied pastries to restaurants. As he made his deliveries, he would amuse himself by singing folk songs.  The quality of his voice made an impression on people who heard him. One restaurant asked him to sing at a wedding and that led to others asking him to perform for their diners.  Because Rome was the heart of the Italian film industry, Loreti even landed small parts in films, such as The Return of Don Camillo in 1953, when as a six-year-old boy he was cast as the small son of one of the story’s main characters.  Read more…


Salvatore Di Vittorio – composer and conductor  

Musician has promoted his native Palermo throughout the world

Salvatore Di Vittorio, founding music director and conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of New York, was born on this day in 1967 in Palermo in Sicily.  Also a composer, Di Vittorio has written music in the style of the early 20th century Italian composer, Ottorino Respighi, who, in turn, based his compositions on the music he admired from the 16th and 17th centuries.  Di Vittorio has been recognised by music critics as respectful of the ancient Italian musical tradition and also as an emerging, leading interpreter of the music of Ottorino Respighi.  He began studying music when he was a child with his father, Giuseppe, who introduced him to the operas of Verdi and Puccini. He went on to study composition at the Manhattan School of Music and Philosophy at Columbia University.  He has since worked with orchestras all over the world and composed music for them to perform and has also taught music in New York.  In 2007, Di Vittorio was invited by Elsa and Gloria Pizzoli, Respighi’s great nieces, to edit and complete several of the composer’s early works, including his first Violin Concerto, composed in 1903.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Migrant Marketplaces: Food and Italians in North and South America, by Elizabeth Zanoni

Italian immigrants to the United States and Argentina hungered for the products of home. Merchants imported Italian cheese, wine, olive oil, and other commodities to meet the demand. The two sides met in migrant marketplaces―urban spaces that linked a mobile people with mobile goods in both real and imagined ways.  Elizabeth Zanoni provides a cutting-edge comparative look at Italian people and products on the move between 1880 and 1940. Concentrating on foodstuffs―a trade dominated by Italian entrepreneurs in New York and Buenos Aires―Zanoni reveals how consumption of these increasingly global imports affected consumer habits and identities and sparked changing and competing connections between gender, nationality, and ethnicity. Women in particular―by tradition tasked with buying and preparing food―had complex interactions that influenced both global trade and their community economies. Zanoni conveys the complicated and often fraught values and meanings that surrounded food, meals, and shopping.  A groundbreaking interdisciplinary study, Migrant Marketplaces offers a new perspective on the linkages between migration and trade that helped define globalization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Elizabeth Zanoni is an Associate Professor of History at the Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. She describes herself as a social and cultural historian of all things mobile, especially people and food.

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