Fred Plotkin is a self-styled “pleasure activist.” But that playful term doesn’t begin to encapsulate his extraordinarily accomplished and diverse background. Fred is one of the world’s leading authorities on Italian food and cooking, the author of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, which has just been released in its 5th edition. A Fulbright Scholar, he’s taught a course on Fellini at the New School. As a wine expert, he has led tastings and organized cellars for restaurants.
Fred also knows a staggering amount about opera –- he worked at La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera and authored Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera. You may have heard him as a guest on the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday afternoon broadcasts, or caught him lecturing onboard a Crystal Cruises or a trip run by the Smithsonian Institution. The author of nine books and countless articles for such publications as Bon Appetit and The New York Times, Fred maintains a dizzying travel schedule but took a few moments to answer some questions about Italy, food and the pleasures of travel.
The 5th edition of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler is just out. I’ve used it as my food bible when I’ve traveled in Italy. How did it come about?
Most of my books seem to be the result of people asking me for advice and information about the things I love –Italy, opera, food, wine, among them. I have traveled more widely in Italy than anyone I know, including Italians. I have always had an eye and nose for that which is local and typical rather than touristy. Italy has an unmatched food and wine culture and I see it as something that should be documented so that it is not corrupted. Thirty years of notes formed the basis of the first edition of Italy for the Gourmet Traveler back in 1996 and there have been updates in 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2010.
How exhausting is it to update such a guide?
Well, you should know that I do not have a staff. Everything I have written about in this book I have seen, smelled, heard, touched and tasted myself. This is a very personal guidebook that reflects my taste and experience. I never say that something is “the best” without adding the words “I know.”