By Bernadine Rodrigo
The Italian Embassy of Colombo could simply not let World Food Day, which fell on 16 October, pass eventless, principally due to the fact that the two countries contain a variety of cuisines that are so diverse but also so similar.
Hence, they decided to hold an event to introduce the Mediterranean cuisine which has been praised by so many experts for being one of the healthiest diets found in the entire globe and is also given the honour of being one of the intangible cultural heritages of humanity by UNESCO, under the theme “Healthy and Sustainable Diets”.
The event was graced by the visit of Chef Rubio from Italy who is an extremely popular celebrity chef not just for his cooking skills but also for his acting skills as he has played roles in quite a few films and TV shows in Italy. Along with him, the event witnessed the presence of Chefs Guild of Sri Lanka President Gerard Mendis, Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM) senior lecturer of Culinary Chef Nishantha Kulatunga, Ministry of Health representative Dr. Renuka Jayatissa, Minister of Tourism John Amaratunga, and was moderated by Kumar Mirchandani and of course the Italian Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Rita Mannella.
Chef Rubio spoke at the event, explaining to the crowd the healthiness of the Mediterranean diet. He told the story of how American scientist Ancel Keys noticed a very low incidence of coronary heart disease among the inhabitants of some Italian and Greek towns and hypothesised that it was their diet that was responsible for their great health.
“He saw that we lived forever,” Chef Rubio joked, in his outgoing, jovial nature. Dr. Keys then began a research project title the “Seven Countries Study” which compared the diets of 12,000 individuals between the ages of 40 and 59 in, as the name of the study suggests, seven countries: Italy, Greece, Holland, Finland, Yugoslavia, Japan ,and the US. Ultimately, the study showed that mortality due to ischemic heart disease was much lower in Mediterranean populations than in the other countries.
Ambassador Mannella spoke on a different topic, mentioning the more humanitarian things done on the political side of things. She mentioned that the United Nations hub in Rome was the third most important hub in the world and carries out one of the noblest mandates available, which was promoting food for all and achieving the eradication of hunger. She said that she was very happy to have cosponsored the “Recipes 4 Change” project with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
The first-ever video clip made for Recipes 4 Change premiered at the event, starring Chef Rubio and the island of Sri Lanka. In it, he was visiting and cooking with a Sri Lankan family in Anuradhapura while at the same time speaking of nutritional and sustainable foods.
She spoke further, saying: “Italy is an advocate of the Mediterranean diet since it is healthy and sustainable for the planet. Italy is globally the most sustainable country in the agriculture industry. We are also the first country in the world for PDO (Protected Designation of Origin – EU Geographical Indication) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) products, certifications that are aimed at protecting traditional products.”
She suggested, with care and concern for Sri Lankan products, that we too could introduce something of the sort to protect exclusively Sri Lankan goods such as Ceylon Tea and spices such as cinnamon. To this, Chef Rubio claimed optimistically that he wished that there would be no need for such things and that all the people of a country could simply work towards protecting its goods. However, he realised that reality was not so and agreed with the Ambassador that something of the sort could be done.
The Ambassador ended with the proclamation of her hopes that on the occasion, they would have explained the basic principles of Italian food, which according to her and Chef Rubio, was the use of high-quality products.
Photos Lalith Perera