Former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni subbed in for Charlie Rose last week. He invited New York City chefs Michael White (Marea, Osteria Morini) and Mario Carbone (Carbone, Torrisi Italian Specialties) to join him in conversation with Food & Wine's restaurant editor Kate Krader to tackle the question: Where does the "dominance of Italian food in upscale dining" come from? The conversation winds its way through the importance of French training, the reasons to cook (or not) with imported ingredients, the Eataly phenomenon, and much more:
· On milestone Italian restaurants: The panel names Mario Batali's Babbo (NYC), Tony Mantuano's Spiaggia (Chicago), and Andrew Carmellini's Locanda Verde (NYC) as restaurants that inspired the current interest in upscale Italian dining.
· Michael White, on the dominance of Italian food: "Italian is this food that is the ethnic food of choice all over the world."
· Mario Carbone, on heritage: "[Rich Torrisi and I] weren't born in Italy...we had this epiphany: We're from New York. We're Italian Americans ... and for a long time that had been looked down on."
· Michael White, on heritage: "One of things that's very important with Mario [Carbone] and myself: We didn't grow up in Italy, therefore we don't take the Italian food for granted, we think about it in different ways."
· Michael White, on the Italian-ness of Marea: "We do many dishes that are very very Italian that you couldn't find in Italy ... we use fantastic Italian ingredients, we use local ingredients, but we really stay true to the thought process of Italian. To a certain point ... We push the boundaries of what Italian food can be."
· Mario Carbone, on legacies: "The restaurant that I wanted to build that is Carbone is the fancy restaurant I grew up going to ... I wanted to make a newer one, to make sure that this thing stood the test of however much longer."
· Kate Krader, on Eataly: "It speaks to how all-encompassingly popular Italian food is. I don't think an Eatafrance or Eataspain would sustain people's attention for that long."
· Michael White, on why Italian food is comforting: "You do know what's on your plate when you look at it."
· On the restaurants and chefs outside of New York that are a part of this conversation: Kate Krader names Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder; Paul Kahan (who apparently has a chef staging at Marea right now); the new Minneapolis pizzeria from the Travail team.
· Mario Carbone, on the role of Italian food in America: "There's a lot of nostalgia too ... the chain pizzeria, Chef Boyardee ... Progresso. It's a real thing."
· Frank Bruni, on Americans' relationship to Italian food: "There's a template of affection there."
Video: Charlie Rose | Frank Bruni on Italian Food
· Frank Bruni on Italian Food [Charlie Rose]
· All Frank Bruni Coverage on Eater [-E-]