On Friday 12th June at the Bridport Arts Centre the town will welcome Anna del Conte as part of the Bridport Food festival. Anna del Conte is the doyenne of Italian food and cooking. As the first Italian-born cookery writer in Britain to specialise in Italian food, Anna’s influence on modern gastronomy is far-reaching.
Nigella Lawson says of her: “Anyone who cooks should have Anna’s books. She is, I am telling you, the best writer on Italian food there is.” Nigella Lawson
“Anna del Conte is my favourite Italian food writer” Delia Smith
Anna del Conte will be in Bridport in conversation with local food writer, friend and colleague, Shirley Booth, with whom she shares a love for genuine local ingredients, in which Dorset is blissfully rich. They will talk of lamb and pork cooked the Italian way, of squids and octopus both fished locally but not much eaten, of green beans and peas and broccoli, and of pasta of course in its many different shapes and guises.
Throughout, Anna will share her recollections of an Italy where foraging was a necessity and not a fashion; her observations of the differences between Italy and Britain, then and now: and of the astonishing changes in attitudes to food that Anna has observed in her long and fascinating life.
Anna del Conte, who now lives in Dorset, was born in Milan, and grew up in pre-war Italy in a privileged and gentle environment. When war came it changed everything, and the young Anna, along with her family, was forced to move out of the city to the countryside. Although life was dangerous food was relatively plentiful, and everyone, including the peasants, ate well.
Anna survived the war, enduring a couple of short imprisonments along the way, and eventually found her self in post-war Britain, as an au pair, in 1949. This was a Britain where pasta meant tinned spaghetti hoops, if it meant anything at all.
In the days before TV cooking shows, Anna’s ground-breaking books inspired a whole new generation of cooks (many of them now TV celebrities themselves).
Anna’s books are books for those who cook, of course, but also those who want to know about food, its origins, how it is made and where it comes from.
In total Anna has written twelve books including the acclaimed Portrait of Pasta; Gastronomy of Italy; Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes; and Anna Del Conte’s Italian Kitchen.
Gastronomy Of Italy is more accurately described as an encyclopaedia of Italian Cuisine: a work even more astounding when you realise that there is no such thing as Italian Cuisine – each region of Italy is a country and a cuisine apart.
For all of this Anna has won numerous awards: In Italy the Duchess Maria Luigia di Parma; the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, and the Orio Vergani Awards.
Here in Great Britain in 1996 she was given the Guild of Food Writers’ Award for her “Classic Food of Northern Italy” ; the Glenfiddich award in 1999; and in 2011 she was honoured by the Guild of Food Writers with their Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 2010 Anna received from the Italian Republic the honour of Ufficiale Cavaliere al Merito della Repubblica Italiana, an honour akin to a Damehood. But her greatest achievement she says, was being interviewed by Kirsty Young on Desert island Discs in 2010.
Although Anna recently celebrated her ninetieth birthday she is still working – currently on a revised edition of her first book Portrait of Pasta. First published, to great acclaim, in 1976 it is to be re-published by Pavilion in October in a new edition which will include the existing history of pasta, the revised existing recipes and a number of new recipes.
Tickets are £8 pp available from the Bridport Arts Centre box office, by phone 01308 424204 or online www.bridport-arts.com