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Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy’s Culinary Capital

2009
Author:

Eric Dregni

Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy’s Culinary Capital

The food-obsessed chronicle of an American’s three years in Italy

I simply want to live in the place with the best food in the world. This dream led Eric Dregni from Minnesota to Italy, first to Milan and eventually to a small, fog-covered town to the north: Modena, the birthplace of balsamic vinegar, Ferrari, and Luciano Pavarotti. Never Trust a Thin Cook is a classic American abroad tale, brimming with adventures both expected and unexpected, awkward social moments, and most important, very good food.

Never Trust a Thin Cook is a funny little intimate travel tale, it's like getting a series of letters from a good friend off on a great adventure.

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, Minnesota Monthly

I simply want to live in the place with the best food in the world. This dream led Eric Dregni to Italy, first to Milan and eventually to a small, fog-covered town to the north: Modena, the birthplace of balsamic vinegar, Ferrari, and Luciano Pavarotti. Never Trust a Thin Cook is a classic American abroad tale, brimming with adventures both expected and unexpected, awkward social moments, and most important, very good food.

Parmesan thieves. Tortellini based on the shape of Venus’s navel. Infiltrating the secret world of the balsamic vinegar elite. Life in Modena is a long way from the Leaning Tower of Pizza (the south Minneapolis pizzeria where Eric and his girlfriend and fellow traveler Katy first met), and while some Italians are impressed that “Minnesota” sounds like “minestrone,” they are soon learning what it means to live in a country where the word “safe” doesn’t actually exist—only “less dangerous.” Thankfully, another meal is always waiting, and Dregni revels in uncorking the secrets of Italian cuisine, such as how to guzzle espresso “corrected” with grappa and learning that mold really does make a good salami great.

What begins as a gastronomical quest soon becomes a revealing, authentic portrait of how Italians live and a hilarious demonstration of how American and Italian cultures differ. In Never Trust a Thin Cook, Eric Dregni dishes up the sometimes wild experiences of living abroad alongside the simple pleasures of Italian culture in perfect, complementary proportions.

Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy’s Culinary Capital

Eric Dregni is assistant professor of English at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and dean of the Italian Concordia Language Village, Lago del Bosco. He is the author of several books, including In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream, Minnesota Marvels: Roadside Attractions in the Land of Lakes, and Midwest Marvels: Roadside Attractions across Iowa, Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Wisconsin, all published by the University of Minnesota Press.

Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy’s Culinary Capital

Never Trust a Thin Cook is a funny little intimate travel tale, it's like getting a series of letters from a good friend off on a great adventure.

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, Minnesota Monthly

An enjoyable waltz through Eric’s, oft food inspired, exploits in Modena. . . . Never Trust a Thin Cook is well worth reading. Even those with no intention of coming to live in the Living Museum, will find Dregni’s book provides an interesting and amusing insight into contemporary Italian culture and life. Great fun!

Blog from Italy

This book is a truthful account of life in Italy and seeing and reading it through the eyes of an American as he adjusts to Italian life is enlightening.

Italian American Girl

Never Trust a Thin Cook opens with [Dregni and Katy] already in Modena. Dregni paints a picture of the alley off their apartment so thoroughly that, within three pages, I felt I was smelling herbs and hearing tires rolling on cobbled streets. The author so completely transported me into his space that I realized it is perfect recession reading: I feel like I’ve visited remote places in a European country without shelling out for the airfare.

Metro Lutheran

M.F.K. Fisher once wrote that the mark of a true gourmet is a complete lack of caution. Dregni seems to apply that philosophy to all of life, at least in Modena, putting himself at the mercy of come what may, whether it’s accepting a bite of something dubious or an impromptu speaking engagement on a foreign subject. The resulting essays provide a rich, if sometimes absurd, look at many aspects of Italian life: sex, politics, taxes, postal service, bikes, opera, soccer, superstition—and of course, food.

The Heavy Table

It’s a journey of gastronomical proportion, but it is also an exploration of cultural differences, awkward ‘lost in translation’ moments, and charming, homeless drunks who direct traffic and can speak eloquently on local history.

City Pages

A pleasant read.

Star Tribune

Dregni’s essays easily and deftly draw the reader into the rhythm of his Italian community—a trait he shares with Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun), although readers will find him rather more attuned to the quiet humor of the everyday. This witty and evocative culinary memoir will appeal to food lovers, those interested in Italy and Italian culture, and anyone who enjoys a good travel narrative.

Library Journal

This is a splendid book for anyone who appreciates Italy and its people and to reminisce about their own experiences. It is funny, educational and enduring. Eric Dregni, the raconteur, uses his skillful writing to embrace each and every tale. I highly recommend this fabulous book, read it, you will not be sorry.

The Boston Post-Gazette

Never Trust a Thin Cook is a refreshing non-ethnocentric dip into Italian culture, with essays on everything from the importance of hats in the Italian wardrobe to the exhaustive list of celebrated saints’ days.

Minnesota Daily

Dregni’s new book is comprised of individual stories layered together into a rich and satisfying whole. . . It is a tasty comparison of American and Italian cultures with a side of humor.

Anne Thillen, Woodbury-South Maplewood Review

A delightful chronicle of three years of eating in Italy.

Star Tribune

Readers of Dregni’s In Cod We Trust will delight in his gastronomic two-year adventure in Modena, Italy.

Lavender

Never Trust a Thin Cook by Eric Dregni can be devoured in less time than is required to sit down and eat an authentic Italian meal cooked by la momma, and it’s every bit as satisfying.

Minnesota Magazine

What begins as a journey through Italy’s rich culinary traditions soon becomes a revealing portrait of how Italians live and how their culture differs from America’s. A professor of English at Concordia University in Minnesota, author Dregni spent two years in Modena, the ‘culinary capital’ in the title. There he delved into the lore of Modena’s famous balsamic vinegar, rich polenta, and even chocolate salami. He learns never to mix basil and oregano or cut up his spaghetti. . .it spoils the taste, he’s told. Anecdotes about his adventures and mishaps abound in this book about life in unpredictable Italy.

Italian American Magazine

Never Trust a Thin Cook is one of those travelouges where the country being visited seems to remain strange to the writer even as he celebrates his experiences there — or at least the writer continues to present the culture as strange, even as he becomes accustomed to it. But each dispatch is just a brief taste of life in Italy; the full meal remains tempting.

Isthmus

Never Trust a Thin Cook will hit you with culture shock the moment you start reading. It is much more than a cookbook; anyone with ah love of travel or who is thinking about teaching English overseas should pick up a copy. This lesson on life will most certainly leave you wondering, ‘what’s for dinner?’

MinnesotaReads.com

The tales or stories are light and frothy like the foam atop a cup of cappuccino.

PopMatters.com

He cracks the social code of drinking espresso correctly and understands the place of spaghetti and meatballs in Italy, and for this we can give thanks.

PopMatters.com

Enjoyable and easy to pick up and read.

Maria and Co.

Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy’s Culinary Capital

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UMP blog: A hungry American in Italy

8/26/2009
I have a whole list of titles that I weighed for awhile. I considered most of the (book's chapter titles), especially "Lessons from Guido." When I told friends about this title, though, they assumed it was an Italian-American "wise guy" book. If only Guido had been named Luigi, it might have made it. Here were a few others.
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