Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Cucina Bolognese and Me - 2: Virginio Merola, Mayor of Bologna

 My ideal dinner companions are people who love good food and enjoy it in the company of others.

Virginio Merola was elected Mayor Bologna for a five year term in May 2011. The candidate of the centre left parties, he won just over 50% of the votes cast. He has committed to tidying up the city centre – long covered in graffiti – and pedestrianising it.  Merola, at home with twitter and facebook, has taken a distinctly modern stand on issues like gay marriage. In a photo for the local paper he posed in jeans and jacket surrounded by his cabinet, half of them women. His interview with us shows that he knows his onions when it comes to Bolognese food, even if he does betray his southern origins by plumping for penne all’arrabiata as his favourite dish.
Virginio Merola: Brought up Bolognese

1. Who or what has been the biggest influence on your food preferences?

Family and upbringing are the things that have shaped my taste in food.  I was born in the South, in the province of Caserta and I was five before we moved to Bologna.
It took me a while  to get used to Bolognese food  because the flavours were quite different to what I was used to. But in time I’ve come to appreciate Bolognese food.

2. Why do you think food is so important for the Bolognese?

Food is important because it reflects the culture and tradition of a community. And Bologna, perhaps more markedly than the rest of Italy, has a strong culinary tradition.
It is not just cooking in its strict sense, i.e. how to mix ingredients to best effect, but also how to create them. Take for example  tagliatelle al ragù, or spaghetti bolognese as it is known outside Italy. Here we always start by making the pasta – la sfoglia – and then we make the sauce. The traditional skills of the sfogline – the people who make the pasta- are handed on from generation to generation by cookery schools in Bologna specially set up for that purpose.  

3. As mayor, what would you like to do to improve the impression that visitors have of Bologna?

One of my priorities is to establish a Bologna brand to strengthen our reputation. The aim is to attract more visitors and to raise our profile as a city. We will focus on quality of life issues because we want to improve the sense of well-being of our own citizens as well as our visitors.

4. My favourite meal is...?

My favorite dish is penne all'arrabbiata

5. My ideal dinner companions?

My ideal dinner companions are people who love good food and enjoy it in the company of  others.

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