Never Trust a Thin Cook whisks you to Modena
When I see the word “cook” in the title of a book, I am instantly drawn to it. Cooking is a passion and cookbooks provide the stimuli to pull out the pots. So, when I saw Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy’s Culinary Capital (University of Minnesota Press, $22.95), I immediately picked it up and opened the cover.
However, instead of recipes from an accomplished kitchen master, I found a quirky travel book about author Eric Dregni’s adventures in Modena, Italy.
The kitchen connection? Modena is the home of balsamic vinegar, a rich, wine-like syrup that is equally at home in sweet and savory dishes.
Modena also produces fast cars — Ferrari, Maserati and De Tomaso and was home to one of the world’s greatest voices and eaters — Luciano Pavarotti.
All of this factored into Dregni’s decision to move to Modena for a year with his girlfriend to absorb the culture, eat the food and teach English. What followed is a charming little book that dissects the art of the perfect coffee, moldy salami and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Dregni also shares amusing stories of Italian bicycle etiquette, head wear and car clubs. All are short and sweet, allowing the reader to absorb a story or two during lunch or before nodding off to sleep.
An American through and through, Dregni endears himself to the reader by tying his culture to the Italian experience. One example that caught my attention was a chapter about Italian opera. Like many Americans, Dregni’s previous opera experiences came via Warner Brothers productions.
“My only real exposure to opera was through cartoons of Bugs Bunny at ‘The Bunny of Seville’ or Elmer Fudd singing his heart out to ‘Kill da wabbit’ over Wagner’s cascading orchestral score. Perhaps opera can be funny after all — imagine if Pavarotti could have fit into a bunny suit!” Dregni writes.
He soon learns that opera is not far removed from the drama of his beloved Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys and Jodie Foster’s Army.
“Verdi’s masterpiece, Otello brings to mind the Sex Pistols. Othello stabs Desdemona, thinking she was unfaithful, and turns the knife on himself — just like Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols’ bassist, knifed his girlfriend Nancy and then himself with a her0in needle.”
Never Trust a Thin Cook is not a definitive book on traveling, living or even eating in Modena, but it does provide on-the-street insights into living there from a down-to-earth American. Even if you never travel to the heart of balsamic vinegar country, Dregni’s easy-to-read style will make you feel like you took a weekend trip to the Italian countryside.