After a month in the kitchen, I am still restricted to setting the table. Once I was allowed to stir something, but apparently that was a special situation. Foreigners are seen as culinary toddlers. If we knew what to do with tomatoes we wouldn’t be taking expensive holidays to Italy, now would we?
I planned an afternoon baking cookies with my friend. I wanted to bake small batches, adjusting the dough each time. By the end of this,
“I remember saying to somebody very early on that I just want to make furniture and talk to people about it. And I feel like now I might take the word ‘furniture’ out of it… The customers I’m thinking of can enunciate what they’re looking for in a piece of furniture beyond price. They have an experience in mind or a material connection or an aesthetic. Or they understood the slow movement and they liked the origin story.
Shopping involved certain gestures, discreetly fingering the fabric, deftly flipping a garment open to see how it was sewn, to examine the quality of the lining. Objects were promptly upended to see the quality of workmanship and to search for manufacturers’ engravings. If she couldn’t lift and turn an object of interest with one hand, she’d give me the nod, and I would turn it upside down for her examination.
Just because I’m finally in Italy doesn’t mean I’m going to be able to get my favorite cheeses from Sicily and Campania (Southern Italy) any easier here in Turin (the Piemonte region is in the NorthWest of Italy) than in Berlin or Paris, because most of what’s on offer is going to be local.
As a philosopher, young Karl Marx learned that work was an aspect of being human. He became an economist in fury that work was being systematically torn from our personhood to serve industries. His intellectual and political inheritors have mostly sought to limit this incursion, to protect the person from the world of work. Which wasn’t quite the point. Meanwhile all around us people bolt because the work is even more important than the money.
As a food tourist my strategy was simple: try lots of things and keep track of the names of the ones I like. Faced now with time to explore the diversity of Italy at leisure, I suddenly felt that I should be doing more than trawling for things I like. I should know why I like them.
“Bread for us is an emotional product. How do we give it the level of attention it deserves? And how can we present bread in a different way? If we look at conventional bakeries, they stuff the bread on to one shelf. How do we make it a product you really desire, that triggers emotions and also reflect on traditional consumption and connect to bread in a different way?”
The FoodTech world is fatally out of touch with the food world. In the food world people consume at least as much food porn as meals, spend their free time closely observing chefs making things by hand, and take an added pleasure in reading about food, cooking, and restaurants. It’s a hot journalistic category. Two crucial sensations in the pop culture passion for food are pleasure and power. The pleasure importantly can be mediated and digital, not only sensory. Food gives us other pleasures than taste.
Someone hands me a glass of wine. While I stand tasting it, the next vendor plies me with a sardine. I finish the wine and take a few steps, to be offered a scoop of mascarpone (sheepsmilk ricotta with sugar, the filling for cannoli), a few steps more and see a special cheese to try, then onion jam, then panettone, then salami… Each taste the chance of of a lifetime.
Because this grape was difficult to grow and not abundant it fell almost completely of production in favor of more abundant varieties. In the 1990s, winemaker Elvio Cogno rediscovered the wine and got it back into production. This was not easy because they had to actually locate and select the plants. The contemporary interest in autochthonous wines provides the support to bring a difficult grape into commercial viability.
Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (DOP) Balsamico to be certified by the “consortium” (and receive its label and €10/ml price) must age for 25 years through a “battery”. Nevertheless no balsamic has an age, because the barrels are never emptied or cleaned. They still contain the sediment of hundreds of years. Giusti produces 250 l/year.
“We try to keep the distance between the customer and the workshop as short as possible…These are objects that I want to be used. And it should be used hard. That’s what they’re made for…Buying a table takes a long time. It takes months….Most of these people are buying the last table for their life…For me it would be a success if the grandchildren still like the table.
I have a vision in my head and arrogantly I feel like it’s fully formed, but through mistakes, working with your medium, you move, it reacts, you attack it, it responds. It’s like you’re discovering what the guitar is meant to be, rather than manipulating it to your will. And that is a magical process.
His explanation of his strategic capacities is “I am an electrician.” This reminds me of Matthew Crawford’s painstaking work on the “cognitive riches” of trade labour. (Summary here.) Crawford’s point is that trade work is satisfying. Wałȩsa’s point is that it is also a form of analytic training.
He explained that he doesn’t try to create something that will sell. “I make what I like.”
He sells at the Berlin artisan market and at some annual artisan markets. “I don’t like selling with shops. First, they take 40% of the money. But also I need to be able to see the people, how they handle it, the questions they ask me. I need to watch. Is it going in her eye?”
“People see eggs and they ask ‘are these barn raised or free range raised?’ ‘Are they organic or not?’ It baffles me that wine is not the same. Where did it come from? How was it grown? Is it organic? People should be interested in the process and provenance of wine, the same way they are with food.”
The farm was back blocks of the conventional farming area, and it was considered scrub country. It wasn’t valued for any purpose, because it was too steep for cattle and totally vegetated. I jumped at the opportunity because to me it had value.
Local Objects, the exhibit, is a small collection of opportunities to find sensuality and relationship in artisan objects through touch and artisans’ stories. It is designed to create a deeper level of meaning with these objects and the desire to bring these experiences into your own transactions.
“For a long time I’ve called it a compulsion rather than a business because there are things that I can’t leave on the footpath. Obviously I don’t need any more chairs. You see the potential in something and you know you can make it something that other people will value again, and you can’t pass it up because you know that not everyone can do that or see it until you’ve had your way with it.”
“I am figuring out how to make that difference between obsolete and desirable. What makes desire last a long time? Some of the things I have found are considered to be ‘good design’, even ‘classic’. How do they become unwanted? What gives objects a staying power in desire? What imparts longevity?”
This is a story is about falling in love with food. It’s about working for something because it’s beautiful, and hoping the money will be enough to keep doing it – a story that I keep running into while distractedly turning a corner. It’s about a search for meaning in the money, connection in the contract.