He’s an award-winning food critic but Matthew Fort also has an impressive amount of time in the saddle of a Vespa.
If Matthew Fort’s name seems familiar the chances are that at least one member of your family is a fan of the BBC cookery show The Great British Menu. Until recently Matthew was cast in the role of the jolly, avuncular judge with a love of puddings and a lack of tolerance for unnecessary fuss. In life he’s an accomplished writer, renowned food critic and is fanatical about all things Italian.
In this trio of books Matthew journeys along the Italian mainland (Eating Up Italy), around Sicily (Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons) and takes a ferry to the numerous islands which can be found dotted around Italy’s coastline (Summer in the Islands). His weapon of choice on each odyssey is a Vespa.
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All three books follow the same format. Matthew takes us to a part of Italy, explores how local ingredients are produced and then eats a selection of them. The first two books also include recipes at the end of each chapter, enabling the reader to savour the foods he describes without leaving the comfort of their own kitchen. This also creates a slightly confused experience for the reader and it’s one that I’m still unsure of. Thankfully it’s a gimmick that he abandons for his third offering, Summer in the Islands, which is a far more traditional travel book.
Although ‘Vespa’ features on each of the covers, in truth the scooter plays little more than a walk-on part in the narrative. The problem is that unlike most scooterists, who dream of riding in Italy because they love scooters, Matthew loves Italy and dreams of riding a scooter there. That may sound like a play on words but it makes a huge difference to the story. We know that Matthew’s travelling by Vespa because he tells us in the opening chapter but beyond that there are few mentions of his steeds. It’s also a shame as his insights reveal a rider who’s far more experienced than he admits. When introducing ‘Nicoletta’, at the opening of Summer in the Islands, his description will be recognised by most GTS owners: “She holds tight into the corners and is steady on the straight run, given to the occasional shimmy as if saying ‘Just pay attention’.”
There’s no doubt that these are superbly written accounts of his travels and if food is your passion they’ll transport you to everything good that Italy has to offer. Unfortunately, if you want to read a book about the experience of riding in that glorious country, there are better volumes to invest in. However, I must admit that there’s an exception to this advice. If you’ve a partner that needs a final, gentle, nudge towards the idea of taking a scooter trip in Italy, make them a present of at least one volume. If travelling with Matthew doesn’t convince them it’s a good idea, nothing will.
All three volumes are available in various editions
Eating Up Italy (2005) ISBN 0-00-721481-2
Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons (2008) ISBN 9780091910808
Summer in the Islands (2017) ISBN 9781-78352-333-7
Author: Matthew Fort
Best enjoyed with: Gelato and limoncello. (If you’d like to brew your own, the recipe’s inside!)
Words and images: Stan
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