Preserving Italian heritage has been the buzz phrase of Gotham chef Mario Batali’s first two Food Networks shows, and the latest, “Ciao America,” extends that concept to include Italian hot spots in the States. Traveling the world for culinary delights is nothing new — Bobby Flay and Anthony Bourdin have done the same — but none has done it with the zest and delight of Batali. Sharply edited, first three segs zip by in an informative flash.
Batali traipses from town to town to explore the current state of Italian heritage. Show started with a tour of pizzerias in New York, Chi and L.A.; why he skipped the America mecca of pizza, New Haven, Conn., in favor of eating barbecue chicken pizza in L.A. was a curious choice. Much as he shapes the direction of the program, each seg is about giving the unknown chef a few minutes in the spotlight. Not surprisingly, some aren’t too forthcoming with the complete recipes.
Wednesday’s episode ventures to Seattle, Batali’s hometown, where he gets in a plug for his father’s cold-cut and sandwich eatery Salumi, as well as a family feast. It captures the essence of Italian cooking — nothing’s carefully measured, the few ingredients in every dish are fresh, cooking time is all approximate. It bucks the recipe-friendly nature of many cooking shows, giving it a homier presence and drives home the informality of cooking Italian food.
Editing and camera work have a rush of excitement, and no scene is wasted with the shenanigans of a partner, the drawback of Batali’s “Mario Eats Italy.” There may be a few too many shots of Batali eating, but at least they’re accompanied by insights into flavors and traditions.