Davide Paolini and his love for Florence and cuisine
Our interview to the Gastronaut, creator of Taste and officially Florentine by adoption
Do you know what a gastronaut is? An explorer of flavours, with a passion for authentic local food. But when it comes to Gastronauts, there’s only one, and his name is Davide Paolini.
Everyone knows Davide, not only for the column he has written in the Sunday edition of Il Sole 24 Ore for the past 39 years, but also because he’s the brain behind the Taste food event which has brought the best of Italian food to Florence for 17 years.
He’s recently been spotted out and about in Florence in search of new places to check out, partly because not long ago he decided to move to the city, where he has bought a delightful apartment in San Frediano.
Davide, how did your passion for food come about?
My first love was wine, but at home, from a very early age, I was lucky enough to enjoy the most authentic flavours, thanks to my grandfather, who was a meat dealer and had a delicatessen (as described in his book Confesso che ho mangiato, published in January by Giunti, ed). So actually, even though for a period of my life I got it into my head I wanted to be an economist, deep down there’s always been a passion for food and restaurants. I started out in the 80s, writing for Ugo Tognazzi’s magazine Nuova cucina. After that I got an internship at La Nazione and moved to Rome, where I met Luciano Benetton; he offered me a job in his communications office. In the meantime, Locatelli asked me to write about food, and that was the start of my column in Il Sole 24 Ore.
And the name Gastronaut?
One day one of my daughters asked me what my job was and I replied “I’m a gastronaut”, and that’s where my pseudonym came from - ‘nauta’ refers to travel, and my mission is to travel the world discovering products, producers, characters, places and cuisines. The key is curiosity because, as I like to say, “we eat with our heads, not our bellies” and because most of the time, discoveries happen by chance.
This year is the 17th edition of Pitti Taste. Tell us how it all began.
Food has a lot of similarities with fashion, and in both sectors, craftsmanship is essential. That’s why I decided to propose the idea to Pitti. At the first edition there were 120 producers, scouted individually by me, because no one believed Florence was the right place for this kind of event.
But your idea was a success, and this year Taste is changing venues, from Leopolda to Fortezza da Basso.
Yes, and having started with 120 producers, despite two years of cancellations, we now have 470.
How has the event changed over the years?
There have been some big changes. Back then, the producers were unknown, and they were hesitant to take part in a food event, because they’d always seen these events dominated by industry. But today, thanks to Taste, many producers have strengthened their position on foreign markets, and they’ve understood the potential of their products. The wonderful thing about Pitti is that it provides a stage that was originally only about fashion, to food, with a setup that goes far beyond the conventional food fair, thus giving the products more prominence and scope.
Born in Romagna, you’ve travelled the world and now decided to return to Florence, the place where you studied. Why?
First and foremost for sentimental reasons: this is a city where I’ve spent some wonderful times; plus I have two daughters and three grandchildren, so I feel the need to be closer to loved ones. And I have to say that, despite having been here just a few months, I like it a lot, because I’ve found a more natural rhythm of life, compared to the speed and chaos of Milan. After almost 50 years travelling all over the world, I needed a bit of ‘calm after the storm’. My book Confesso che ho mangiato is a desire to get down on paper many aspects of my travels that had slipped my mind, as I was always in a rush.
You’ve chosen a particular neighbourhood of Florence, San Frediano.
I was born in a village of 2500 people; I loved the local bar, my village and my friends, so Milan wasn’t really my natural environment. Having chosen Florence, I wanted to find the right area and, as I roamed the city, I realised that San Frediano might be the place for me. First of all I explored it from top to bottom, discovering the food, the bar where I go for coffee, the newsagent’s on the corner, the young guys who run the local fruit and veg market, the Santarosa Bistrot and the nearby home of the Bianchi, in Santo Spirito, where I went one night to watch the match and, trust me, it was best to be a Fiorentina supporter there! These are the things I had in Romagna, but missed when I lived in Milan.