Everyone is in Italy this year – including Alison Roman, whose new cooking series will take us, like half the people on my Instagram feed, on a tour of the Amalfi Coast. CNN announced yesterday that Roman’s four episodes are coming out (More than) a cooking show, originally slated for the now-defunct CNN+, will air on CNN this fall. The show will take audiences into Roman’s New York kitchen and accompany her on her trips abroad. Sure, that sounds fun, if a bit familiar.
In between Bobby and Giada in Italy; Stanley Tucci: In Search of Italy; episodes of Chef’s table, Someone feed Phil, top chefand salt fatty acid heat, I can’t help but feel a little Italianized over the past few years, as if I’ve reached my capacity to watch clips about cheese making or people eating perfectly crispy Neapolitan pizza. (And that doesn’t even include Italy’s dominance of fictional food-neighborhood shows like Netflix’s forthcoming Completely new and the second season of HBO’s hospitality themes The White Lotus.) Well, I’m no stranger to making up my own eat, pray, love Spaghetti scene, and the green-eyed monster and I were in close company this summer as I scrolled past the weddings and rented villas of so many friends and influencers on Lake Como.
But all of this is starting to feel repetitive, especially given how rarely this in-depth treatment is accorded to other countries. Incidentally, Italy and France are countries and cuisines whose regionality finds its place in the food landscape of the United States – while so many places around the world remain simplistic in the culinary imagination: a visit to an episode of a food series leaves here and there they usually cater to the same cities and chefs with the biggest names.
It’s as if big networks, who want a guaranteed hit, see the success of all this Italy-focused TV and think, great, we’ll do it again – which almost certainly happens (streaming congestion led time to claim last year: “Welcome to the era of peak redundancy in television”). CNN is a perfect example of this: not only is Roman’s Italy show featuring the Amalfi Coast dropping this fall, but so is Tucci’s sequel, which will continue to explore Italy’s regions after going to Tuscany, Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Rome , Bologna, Milan and Sicily last year.
It all feels a little safe: Showing potential travelers from the US already familiar food in a country that feels like a safe bet, thereby reinforcing Western expectations of which cuisines are valuable and which countries are worth traveling to. I like to imagine Italian beach moments a la The talented Mr Ripleybut what other daydreams could we have if food travel shows dared to delve deeper into places less commonly portrayed?