An Italian DJ fights to keep culinary traditions alive


As DJ Donpasta or Food Sound System, he has notably performed at the Highline Ballroom in New York, Parc de la Villette in Paris, Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome and Alte Kantine in Berlin. In a performance piece, made for YouTube, he gives a rousing speech in an empty theater about how “cooking is a political act”.

Mr. De Michele’s latest book, published last year, is “La Parmigiana e la Rivoluzione”, or “Eggplant Parmesan and Revolution”, a sort of diary that mixes recipes, riffs on music from jazz to funk to rock, with detours through areas of Italy where immigrants are transforming the cuisine. (Mr. De Michele embraces these new food cultures as the latest chapters in Italy’s culinary history.) Last August 15, on Ferragosto National Day, the Feast of the Assumption, Mr. De Michele organized what he called an “Eggplant Parmesan turnip”. ” at Cantine Menhir Salento restaurant and winery in his native Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot. There was a competition for the best cook of the famous heavy dish, followed by hours of dancing music.

Mr. De Michele is from Otranto, known for its excellent cuisine and tradition of hospitality. At 14, he started working as an amateur DJ, and he continued when he moved to Rome to study economics at La Sapienza University. He then moved to France to continue his studies and now lives in Toulouse with his girlfriend, who is a scientist, and their son.

Mr. De Michele received the nickname Donpasta while working as a DJ at a club in Montmartre in Paris. After the shows, he ended up cooking pasta for the staff, mostly Senegalese. “They called me Donpasta because they said I was the Don Corleone of pasta,” he said.

“For me, it was normal to play music and cook,” he added. “I compared eggplant parmesan to John Coltrane” as a dish with blends of flavors and complexities, enhanced by endless improvisation.

At some point, Mr. De Michele realized he could use performance and food to ask the same questions he explored in his economic research: how to create development without industrialization and how to preserve age-old customs in the face of globalization.


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