There are tables, and then there’s what New Jersey restaurateur/raconteur Vic Rallo calls “the Italian table.”
“The ‘Italian table’ is the place where family and friends gather not only to eat and drink but to catch up, cry, sing, love and laugh,” says Rallo. “This is lost in America as most dads and moms work to get ahead, while children are very involved in sports, theater, and other extracurricular activities. Most dinners are on-the-go–out of a bag or a plastic container. But in Italy, the Italian family dinner is not a choice: It’s a mandate from mama and papa!”
Rallo is now set to host Eat! Drink! Italy! With Vic Rallo, a new public television series celebrating Italy’s food, people, history, wine and culture. The series is a presentation of Long Island pubic TV station WLIW21 in association with its parent company WNET (also parent of New York public TV station Thirteen) and distributed by American Public Television; the first season of 13 half-hour episodes begins airing nationally next mont (its New York metropolitan area showings commence on July 6).
“When people ask me where to go in Italy, I say go anywhere they invite you!” continues Rallo, who owns Basil T’s Brewery and Italian Grill in Red Bank, N.J., and Undici Taverna Rustica in Rumson. “Milan, Rome, Florence and Siena are beautiful, but what draws me to Italy time after time is the people in the small villages all over Italy. In those small villages the Italian people take pride in the ‘Italian table.’”
The fast-paced Eat! Drink! Italy! will span the Alps to Sicily’s southern shores in bringing viewers the country’s food and wine, stops along the way including a cheese cave that was once one of Mussolini’s bunkers, a hunt for the elusive white truffle, exploring Napoleon’s wine tunnels, and a trip 20 meters underground to the roots of one of Italy’s most celebrated wine varietals.
“The people in Italy care about the food that they serve on that table,” notes Rallo. “Most of it is local: Cheeses, meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruit and the wine are distinctly different in all 20 regions of Italy. Italians eat local, and it’s apparent when you sit at the table.”
In Italy, Rallo adds, “wine is not a cocktail. It is on every table with all meals–it is never an afterthought. For centuries the regional wines have been served with the food products from that region: You would never drink a Sicilian wine at an ‘Italian Table’ in Alto Adige. It just doesn’t happen: The wine and food of Italy are historically and culturally attached at the hip–they grow together, they go together.”
“However, I believe the most important aspect of the table is the chairs surrounding the table,” he concludes. “The hosts think long and hard about who is coming to the table, and who sits in what chair at the table. It’s a little like theater: The characters must fit in a certain way to have a perfect show, and for Italians that is the goal–to have a perfect show. So my advice is to go to any small village that you are invited to, have no reservations, and by all means make the reservation–and take the trip. When you are asked to come to dinner, accept and prepare for a truly beautiful Italian experience and remember to bring home some of the food, wine, love and laughs back to America.”
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