If you’re an LA history nerd, you won’t want to miss “La Cucina Italiana in Los Angeles: An Italian & American Story.”
This new documentary traces the emergence and evolution of Italian-American cuisine in the City of Angels from the late 19th century to 2021.
Interviews with culinary figureheads including Nancy Silverton, Piero Selvaggio, Gino Angelini, Evan Funke, Angelo Auriana, Francesco Zimone, and more shed light on the fascinating stories behind Italian food in LA.
Did you know Olvera Street was once also known as Wine Street? How San Antonio Winery, LA’s oldest winery dating back to 1917, managed to survive Prohibition? That Frank Sinatra’s visits to Villa Capri in Hollywood helped spread the popularity of Italian food in the US? That burrata cheese was unknown in the United States until very recently, when Nancy Silverton asked Mimmo Bruno, a Southern Italian cheesemaker living in LA, to produce burrata like she ate in Italy?
Find out how fettuccine alfredo originated in the US: silent film superstars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, after their 1920 honeymoon in Rome, brought a pasta recipe from a Roman cafe to Musso & Frank, where it became a sensation and, eventually, a national favorite.
You’ll discover that World War II made Italians an enemy for a while, and that American soldiers returning from Italy craving that country’s food helped revive the cuisine’s popularity in the US.
I loved Pierro Selvaggio’s tale of how, embarrassed by criticism of the inauthenticity of his restaurant Valentino in Santa Monica, returned to Italy after 15 years in the US to learn about the cuisine in great depth. Stories like his, along with Evan Funke’s insight into what makes a great chef (as he stated, “The most important thing for a chef is restraint”), help illuminate why LA has become a bastion of great Italian food.
Andrea Perugini, Deputy Consul and Head of the Economic and Commercial Office, told me the film is “an attempt to answer the question ‘Who really brought Italian taste to the Angeleno’s tables?’ and pays homage to these proud Italian food lovers and come to understand their relevance in Los Angeles’ international cuisine history.”
Perugini conceived the film, which he co-produced with the Consul General of Italy in Los Angeles.
Silvia Chiave, Consul General of Italy in Los Angeles, shared that the documentary “highlights all the efforts and challenges Italians met when they first came to LA in trying to bring their traditions along, but also the great rewards they’ve had in such a fertile environment.”
I viewed the doc’s premiere at the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles. Housed within Italian Hall, dating back to 1908 and located within the El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument, this small museum is worth a visit, and easily accessible. Just around the corner from Union Station, IAMLA adjoins Olvera Street and borders Chinatown.
You can watch “La Cucina Italian in Los Angeles: An Italian & American Story” for free on Youtube.