Influential Italian Food and Wine Figure Passes Away

Influential Italian Food and Wine Figure Passes Away
Influential Italian Food and Wine Figure Passes Away

Bonilli died of a heart attack on August 3.

In December of 1986, Stefano Bonilli, a political columnist and reporter for Il Manifesto, a left-wing Italian newspaper that styled itself "communist" though it wasn't officially associated with Italy's Communist Party, produced an eight-page insert about food for the paper — about food and politics, specifically. The manifesto with which Bonilli introduced the insert — which he christened Gambero Rosso, or Red Prawn (after the disreputable tavern of that name in Pinocchio) — announced a "war" against the food merchants and producers and restaurateurs who cheated the consumer, and against production practices that could ultimately harm the populace, including "the massive use of pesticides in agriculture." Bonilli called for a boycott of suspect products and establishments, and invited readers to report "the good and bad things you encounter," promising to give them a voice in the publication.

Gambero Rosso was the de facto house organ of Arcigola, the then-brand-new organization of food-lovers founded by Carlo Petrini and his associates in the Piedmontese wine-brewing region of Langhe to protest the opening of a McDonald's near the Spanish Steps in Rome, and to champion a return to traditional and regional cuisines. Arcigola (the name means something like "extreme gourmandise") evolved into the celebrated Slow Food — Bonilli was a signatory to the statement establishing that organization — and Gambero Rosso evolved from a newspaper insert into a wine guide, a restaurant guide, and a monthly magazine, eventually spawning a food-and-wine TV channel, website, and a complex called Città del Gusto (City of Taste) in Rome, combining TV studios, a cooking school, and a wine bar; outposts in Naples, Catania, and Palermo followed.

Bonilli established himself as one of the most trusted voices in Italian gastronomy. Along with Luigi Veronelli, Mario Soldati, and several other important food and wine journalists, he — in the words of La Repubblica, one of Italy's major newspapers — "created a new way to talk about food and wine, transforming them from simple pleasures into the stuff of culture and emotion." He didn't focus exclusively on Italy, though, and was one of the first important international journalists to write favorably about Ferran Adrià, among other innovative chefs.

In 2009, after a new group of investors took over Gambero Rosso, Bonilli withdrew from the organization, citing editorial differences. He went on to found a lively food, drink, and travel website, Gazzetta Gastronomica, and to launch what is considered the first major Italian food blog, Papero Giallo (Yellow Duck). He was also working on a history of post-war Italian cuisine.

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Exceptionally for an Italian journalist of his generation, Bonilli was active on Facebook and Twitter. Late in June, on his Papero Giallo twitter account, he posted this poem: "Deserted and alone / the city of Rome / the feast of St. Peter / the sea is far / shipwrecked at home / readings in the shadows / speak to you via Twitter / an echo answers." Bonilli died of a heart attack on August 3, at an age variously reported as 67 and 69. Ferran Adrià, on his own Twitter account, wrote "Sad day for gastronomy. Stefano Bonilli, one of the finest, has left us…"