Tuesday, January 18

Stanley Tucci: The Flirty Gourmet TV Hero You Need In Your Life | Food tv

YYou may not realize this right now, but your heart has been crying out for a series like Stanley Tucci: Looking for Italy. If you saw the first episode last night, hidden on CNN International, you already know. If it didn’t, stop what you’re doing and find it. It’s less of a TV show and more of an hour of full-body relaxation. When the episode ended, I felt like my entire brain had been pulled out and massaged with olive oil.

Although the title suggests a different series, in which a beloved actor receives a concussion and then desperately tries to navigate Google Maps, this is actually a culinary travel journal. Tucci visits a different Italian region in each episode and tries his food with satisfaction. It’s a formula you’ve seen thousands of times before, albeit with a couple of key differences.

The first is your time. Searching for Italy was filmed last summer, in that near-mythical hiatus when Covid calmed down and people were briefly allowed to leave their homes again. As such, the entire series is eternally dazzled by the possibility of travel. Every restaurant, every mountain, every cobbled street is captured with a sense of astonished wonder, as if it were a newly rediscovered treasure. That it is being broadcast now, when we are not yet allowed to go abroad, only exacerbates this feeling. If you have missed a trip to Europe even a little during these last 15 months, you will feel this spectacle in your bones.

The second difference is your host. Programs like this tend to have a limited range. There are few times when you can look at a tomato farm or visit a lemon tree. As such, they largely depend on the personality of whoever is in front of the camera. Anthony Bourdain’s shows were full of adventurous spirit, for example, while Phil Rosenthal’s are like watching a sugar-mad little boy go berserk in a supermarket. But Searching for Italy has Stanley Tucci, for crying out loud, a man who can’t help but radiate graceful calm from his pores.

Tucci, by all accounts, has had a crushing pandemic. He became a breakout viral star at first, thanks to videos of him making cocktails in his kitchen. There was something about her unflappable, mocking yet authoritative presentation that not only cut through the chaos of those early months, but inspired wave after wave of fierce lust in almost everyone who saw her. And then, if that wasn’t enough, last May he wrote an hour-by-hour breakdown of confinement life for The Atlantic which acted as perhaps the first convincing summary of locked family life. If Stanley Tucci: Looking for Italy had been done before the lockdown, if it had been the guy in the Hunger Games wig eating risotto on a bench it would have been fine. But this is the new and improved sexy post-viral Tucci. As such, their show is a must.

Stanley Tucci in a pizzeria in Naples
A big slice of charm… Stanley Tucci at a pizzeria in Naples. Photograph: CNN

At Searching for Italy, Tucci is basically dedicated to charming every Italian he meets, in Italian. The first episode takes place in Naples, and at first you visit a small century-old pizzeria with a hole in the wall. He takes a bite out of his calzone, then looks at the middle-aged woman who made it for him. “Fernanda,” he purrs, “you’ve changed my life.” “You’re going to get fat!” she screams flirtatiously, completely ready to leave her family for this stylish new stranger.

Tucci does this with everyone: chefs, farmers, old friends. They all fall under Tucci’s powerful hypnodazzle. The purr is also a constant. At one point, a violent hail storm hits and the camera crew rushes inside to save their equipment. At this point, Tucci became the only person I’ve ever heard the phrase “Shit” purr.

This is the kind of show they made him present. Tucci knows food, and he knows Italy, and he’s so confident that you want him to stop acting and do it full time. There is already a feeling that he could be the next Bourdain, so he will probably be allowed to do as many shows like this as he wants. Whether that happens or not is another matter. My feeling is that this works so well because Tucci is completely aligned with Italy, and a sequel called something like Stanley Tucci: Searching for Belgium would lose its charm. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Stanley Tucci: Looking for Italy is what we have, and it would be foolish not to savor every bite.


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