Chef Turturo Salvatore believes that people with special needs and women should have equal opportunity in the kitchen. It’s a game changer when leaders like him make it their mission.
Chef Turturo Salvatore is the President of the Cooks’ Union of the Puglia Region as well as the Italian Federation of Cooks for Southern Italy. He is also a restaurateur and the technical director of Factory del Gusto, a cooking school in Bari, Puglia.
His passion for cooking started in hotel school. He has done significant research on food. Salvatore enjoys being creative – developing healthy dishes, particularly food that’s good for the heart, he said. He is always on the hunt for excellent quality products.
The Italian Federation of Cooks currently has over 20,000 members in Italy. Puglia members account for more than 10 per cent of its membership, making them the second largest membership base after Sicily.
When asked why there are so many cooks from Puglia, Salvatore said there are many culinary and hospitality schools in the region. Puglia has a diverse range of food products. Members are very passionate about cooking.
Inclusion Secures Opportunities for Special Needs Students
For the first time this year, the 7th Edition of Eracio d’Oro” Competition included participation by students with special needs. It’s a prestigious cooking, pastry and sweets competition. Salvatore said the inclusion of special needs students was something he wanted and felt strongly about taking on.
“It gives happiness and enthusiasm to these students who are not as capable as a regular able person,” he added. He didn’t have any issues with the special needs participants in the kitchen because they all had a coach with them.
It was such a success that in February next year, a segment for the special needs students will be included in this competition again. He believes that in the kitchen, just like in any other job or activity, everybody should have the same opportunity to participate.
Italian Lady Chefs
In a male dominated industry, the gender divide and imbalance is very evident in the kitchen world. Chefs like Salvatore are standing up in support of women who deserve better recognition. Salvatore said,
I have a very open mind
Not only did he establish the special needs, but also the lady chef concept. Despite running into a bit of conflict with other male chefs with his new ideas, he said, when he is determined to do something, he will get it done.
Salvatore is also the deputy vice president and treasurer of the Baresi Cooking Association. Joining him is Chef Chiara Mangini.
Mangini said she has to fight to gain ground in the male dominated industry. She accredits Salvatore’s support for the opportunity to be on the association’s board as the lady chef manager.
For Mangini, she likes to try anything new in the kitchen, anything she can get her hands on, she said. She cooks very traditional and simple food in her kitchen. Her preference, she said is slow cooked food, baking and making thick sauces.
Lady chefs currently make up 10 per cent of the association’s membership in Puglia, said Salvatore. He is actively creating awareness and putting out newspaper and television ads with the goal to attract more female membership. He targets an increase of up to 25 per cent in the next three years.
UNESCO on Women’s Contributions
Women play a crucial task in passing the cooking baton to the next generation, according to UNESCO. In 2013, UNESCO granted the Mediterranean diet (of which cucina povera is very much a part) – the status as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The website description cited that “women play an important role in transmitting knowledge of the Mediterranean diet: they safeguard its techniques, respect seasonal rhythms and festive events, and transmit the values of the element to new generations.”
Future of Apulian gastronomy
The region’s cuisine has its humble roots in cucina povera (means poor kitchen in Italian). With innovation, research and in keeping with traditions, Salvatore believes in developing dishes that are healthy for people.
The future of Apulian cuisine is non-GMO products, safe and healthy food, he added. Olive oil is Puglia’s most renowned product. The region produces nearly half of Italy’s olive oil, according to Olive Times.
His next destination is Argentina. Argentines buy extra virgin oil, but don’t know how to use it correctly, he said. Salvatore emphasized,
Using olive oil the correct way is very, very important
If you cook it at a high temperature, you destroy the oil molecules. Everything should be cooked at a low temperature to retain all the nutritional properties, he added.
This is the future of Puglia cooking and Italian food. We don’t want to give olive oil “lessons” to the world. We only want to “show” them how we use our olive oil. Asia is also on their list of future markets.
Thank you to Lidia Catalano, vice-president of Pugliese Cultural Society of B.C. for assisting as an interpreter for our interview with chefs: Turturo Salvatore and Chiara Mangini. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.