Cover of book: Serendipity

Oscar Farinetti (translated by Barbara McGilvray)

The origins of particular foods, drinks and specific dishes are a fascination for many. Everyday items such as cornflakes and Nutella have origin stories. Many of these origins come from failures, mistakes or simple serendipitous events.  Oscar Farinetti explores about 50 of these stories in Serendipity – From Truffles and Champagne to Corn Flakes and Coffee: Stories of Accidental Success, Barbara McGilvray’s recent translation of Farinetti’s 2020 Italian bestseller.

Farinetti is known globally for his chain of Eataly stores. These mega-marts, often sprawling in size, house top-end Italian produce, fresh food, restaurants, cooking schools and homewares departments where you can eat and cook like an Italian.

In Serendipity, Farinetti calls in favours from luminaries across the food and beverage scene, many from his native Italy. At times it can feel like a roll call of international food celebrities telling their stories to their favourite purveyor, but out of it come some delightful missives and some serious messages.

The original book was published by Slow Food International and Farinetti talks to Carlo Petrini, the eminent founder of the movement, about the Italian region of Barolo, the ideals behind the movement, the crises of climate change and diminishing biodiversity and how to protect ecosystems above profits.

In lighter stories we hear about the happy burning of a crumbed cutlet (cotoletta), in a kitchen in Buenos Aires, that was resurrected with the addition of Napoli sauce, ham and mozzarella to become the Neapolitan cutlet. I admit to wanting a side story on how the same dish became the Aussie parmigiana but, alas, there was no footnote for this. There is also a smattering of recipes so that some of the iconic dishes can be tried at home.

The book itself is a bright, effortless thing. Its structure of short stories makes it incredibly easy to pick up, put down and then come back to. One story leads seamlessly into another and, as a lover of food and wine, it is illuminating and slightly addictive to discover new and interesting facts about the history of food and drinks.

Farinetti concludes with a short potted history of humankind. His willingness to embrace the serendipitous nature of life and the happy accidents and epic failures that lead to unexpected or great results is as sunny as the yellow cover. As the founder of a successful worldwide luxury food empire, he probably has many reasons to delight in serendipity.

Black Inc, 304pp, $34.99

Black Inc is a Schwartz company

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 23, 2022 as "Serendipity, Oscar Farinetti (translated by Barbara McGilvray)".

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Annie Smithers is the owner and chef of du Fermier in Trentham, Victoria. Her latest book is Recipe for a Kinder Life. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

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