Around a year ago, the pandemic shut down the world — right as spring break, vacations, and gorgeous weather rounded the corner. What horrible timing! And we’re back again, hopelessly nearing spring break, overdue for airport visits and adventures in far-off lands. Have no fear: Stanley Tucci is here. The beloved actor takes Italy by storm in his latest CNN travel show, aptly titled Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, a short TV series that is, perhaps, the best piece of comfort food one could ever want. Pasta. Wine. Plenty of chinos (“Tuccinos,” if you will). Lush olive gardens. We may have lost two spring breaks and plenty of vacation opportunities in the past year; but Tucci’s voyage around the Mediterranean haven makes a fine replacement.
Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy is a six-part series that’s been airing on CNN since mid-February, a quiet blessing in a sea of other new series. Tucci explains the concept in the opening of every episode: “I’m Stanley Tucci,” he says, as if he’s welcoming us into his kitchen. “I’m Italian on both sides, and I’m traveling across Italy to discover how the food in each of this country’s 20 regions is as unique as the people and their past.” Sign me up. Throughout those six episodes, Tucci gallivants to Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Rome, Bologna, Milan, Tuscany, and Sicily.
Before diving into the food—Tucci would probably lament about waiting for the main course, which he often does so endearingly in the show—it’s worth noting the show was filmed both before and during COVID. Yes, Tucci is able to enter a trattoria jammed with unmasked people in Rome, but it’s followed by socially distanced cooking outside in Bologna. If you’re looking for pure Italian escapism, no holds barred, there are shining moments where COVID has yet to shut down everything. Or, maybe you’re wondering what life looks like on another side of the globe right about now. Either way, Searching for Italy offers a fascinating pocket of history from two very different times in the 21st century, separated only by a few months.
Ok, no more delays—overeager-eater Tucci would be showing us the sweat on his palms by now—it’s time to gush over the food. Inarguably the best part of the show, Tucci spends the majority of his program admiring the many, many facets of Italian cuisine. Upsettingly, we cannot taste anything he stirs, sears, or serves, but Tucci does offer us a whiff of his delicacies. His narration whips a meal into words, so detailed that it’s nearly tastable. “Have a smell,” Tucci flirts, while inching a tub of Milanese butter towards our noses. Juicing lemons over crisped, tender Florentine steak… it’s easy to feel the meat melt in your mouth, even though it’s not actually. Sure, a TV show is a medium of entertainment based in listening and watching, but Searching for Italy has found a way to enchant every sense.
In one example, Tucci takes a whimsical detour in Rome. In this huge, ancient city, there are almost too many traditional plates to devour. Cacio e Pepe. Carbonara. Amatriciana. Still, Tucci spends an entire segment of his show honing in on carciofi, artichokes, a little plant with a huge purpose in Roman cuisine. He shadows an elderly Italian woman, her eyelids feathered with an iconic purple glitter, who guides him through the whole process: stop by the market to select the bushels, fry ‘em up with some olive oil, and rip the petals to shreds. Eat your heart out. “So crispy,” Tucci whispers to us, mouth full of greasy goodness, and we suddenly have that crunch in our mouths too.
Tucci invites a myriad of experts on Italian fare to present their artistry on camera. It’s not just the nonnas rolling fresh pasta, nor burly macho men marching around a tiny kitchen. Not all of the chefs featured in Searching for Italy are white Italians who’ve inherited the generational tools to make themselves known in the food industry, either. Tucci ventures into new kitchens: those of immigrants, of young experimental chefs, of home cooks, and even of his parents. In doing so, he presents an optimistic view of Italy, one that could be more inclusive of underrepresented voices. There’s room to grow, and Tucci initiates those conversations.
A thorough retelling of history hides beneath crackling pastries and bubbling tomato sauces, woven into Tucci’s soothing monologues and in-person interviews. Italy, like many other nations, is a country that can be followed through its foodways, a never-ending stream of rivalry, regionality, gastronomy, and more. Pizza and pasta are so very “Italian” to Americans because they come from Southern regions of Italy, the home of most Italian-American immigrants, but in the Northern lands, rice and polenta dominate. And what’s the complicated relationship between fascism and pasta? How does class affect cuisine? What did artists eat in the Renaissance? So many questions, and Tucci gleefully searches for those answers.
Perhaps the only treat greater than the mouth-watering food is Tucci himself. The actor has been a constant force of wonderful energy since the beginning of the pandemic, starting with his mixology lessons on Instagram. He’s got a stacked history in the Italian food world, including his manual The Tucci Cookbook, and his directorial debut Big Night, in which he plays an Italian chef. This all lends itself to the great aura of familiarity that Tucci brings to his travel series. When he waltzes into a kitchen, scarf-clad and eager to eat, it’s as if he’s already best friends with everyone in the room. He’s the cool Italian uncle, the curious little brother, the zealous next door neighbor. Tucci knows all, but he’s also inquisitive and enthusiastic about what specific ingredients go where and when. You’ll want him to visit your kitchen next, encouraging you to toss that extra pinch of salt, exclaiming a loud “Mmmm” after every bite.
The Tucci narration (Moreover: can he narrate everything?) doesn’t have to end this weekend. The cherry on top, his memoir, Taste: My Life Through Food, is set for release this October; after one episode of Searching for Italy, you’ll want more. In times like these, Stanley Tucci is keeping us fed, jolly, and well-traveled. Searching for Italy finds Tucci in the role he was meant to play: the Italian American wanderer, full of spirited reactions and excitement for life. If you watch one thing in the second half of March, make it this sensationally lovely docu-series. No flight ticket needed for a sublime spring break.
Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy is available to stream on CNN with a live TV provider. The finale will premiere this Sunday, March 21 at 9 p.m. ET.
Fletcher Peters is a New York-based journalist whose writing has appeared in Decider, Jezebel, and Film School Rejects, among other spots. You can follow her on Twitter @fietcherpeters gossiping about rom-coms, TV, and the latest celebrity drama.
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