MINORI, Italy - Daniele De Michele, a bearded and boisterous D.J. and performance artist who is one of Italy's most inventive (if somewhat unlikely) food activists, is on a yearlong journey to explore and document the country's working-class and peasant culinary traditions.
Mr. De Michele, who goes by the nom d'art D.J. Donpasta, is concerned that some of Italy's age-old homespun traditions could be lost to processed foods, government regulations and the show-offy culture of television cooking competitions. And so he is going from town to town, coaxing recipes and handed-down food lore out of the people he meets.
On a recent brisk March afternoon, he came to this fishing and tourist town on the Amalfi Coast and stood amid rows of homemade pork sausages, some covered in hot pepper flakes, that were strung from the low ceiling of a work space. "What do you put in - do you put in the ear?" he asked Antonio Polverino, the sausage maker.
"No, not the ear," answered Mr. Polverino, 64, a retired construction worker with thick hands. "This is all meat, ground meat. The heart, and lungs, too. This you eat dry, you keep it in the fridge."
It is traditions like these that Mr. De Michele worries are slipping away. He put his mission this way: "I wanted to explore memory - how memory-based identity persists, exists, gets lost; to take a snapshot of Italian working-class cooking today."
Cooking shows like "Master Chef," which has been replicated in Italy, "take away someone's awareness, his identity," he said. He pointed to the coastline.
"Here, a person defines himself through hot oil with garlic and anchovies, and is proud of that," he said. " 'Master Chef' tells you that that's no good, that you need to do something cool."
Mr. De Michele's research is sponsored in part by the Bologna food association Artusi, named after Pellegrino Artusi, the author of an 1891 cookbook that was one of Italy's first. He has asked Italians to send in their old family recipes to his blog, Artusi Remix. The end result of his travels will be a book commissioned by the Italian publisher Mondadori. But he is also traveling with a videographer for a possible documentary - and for his trademark performances, which often combine a D.J. set with monologues about food and footage of people talking about food traditions.
As D.J. Donpasta or Food Sound System, he has performed at the Highline Ballroom in New York, the Parc de la Villette in Paris, the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome and the Alte Kantine in Berlin, among others. In one performance piece, done for YouTube, he delivers a rousing speech to 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 kind 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 Aug. 15, on the national holiday Ferragosto, the Feast of the Assumption, Mr. De Michele organized what he called an "eggplant Parmesan rave" at the Cantine Menhir Salento restaurant and winery in his native Puglia, the heel of Italy's boot. There was a contest for the best cook of the famously heavy dish, followed by hours of music to dance it off.
Mr. De Michele is from Otranto, known for its excellent food and tradition of hospitality. At 14, he started working as an amateur D.J., and he continued when he moved to Rome to study economics at La Sapienza University. He later moved to France to pursue his studies, and now lives in Toulouse with his girlfriend, who is a scientist, and their son.
Mr. De Michele got the nickname Donpasta while working as a D.J. at a club in Montmartre in Paris. After shows, he would end up cooking pasta for the staff, most of whom were 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 a mix of flavors and complexities, improved through infinite improvisation.
At a certain point, Mr. De Michele realized he could use performance and food to ask the same questions he was exploring in his economic research: how to create development without industrialization, and how to preserve centuries-old customs in the face of globalization.
Back in Minori, it was time for lunch. He and his small entourage gathered in an outbuilding on the property of Mr. Polverino, who sliced some sausage. Others brought homemade bread and ricotta. A friend, Ciro Caliendo, 55, cooked a soup with chickpeas and fresh octopus, heating it in a caldron blackened by a wood fire.
"The smoke is crucial," Mr. Caliendo said. "It gives it the flavor."
Mr. Polverino's wife, Maria Teresa Bonito, 60, mixed whole-wheat flour with ricotta, salt, pepper and a bit of pecorino cheese on a board, and rolled the mixture into small cylinders, scoring them with a fork to make a pasta called 'ndunderi, typical of the area. They were feather light, served with red sauce and grated cheese.
Mr. De Michele said that he admired the work of the Slow Food movement, founded in the 1980s by Carlo Petrini, but that his aims were different. He isn't interested in culinary excellence but in cultural history, and dislikes the idea that arguably elitist institutions like Slow Food have replaced homegrown cultural arbiters.
"Italian working-class culture came before Slow Food and Eataly," Mr. De Michele said. "First there was the cooking of my grandmother. I don't really care about the taste. I could eat salami and be happy. I'm interested in the working-class wisdom."
Mr. De Michele's activism comes amid a growing movement of food artisans in Italy who are frustrated with European Union regulations they see as stifling local traditions and making it difficult for small producers to stay afloat. It's a refrain he heard along the Amalfi Coast from bakers, fishermen and a woman who makes ricotta.
This tension between artisans and industrial food culture is also a theme in "Natural Resistance," a film by Jonathan Nossiter, an American in Rome whose 2004 documentary, "Mondovino," assailed the global wine industry. "Natural Resistance," which was shown at the Berlin Film Festival, follows four natural winemakers in Italy and their struggles with the country's highly political wine bureaucracy.
Mr. Nossiter said he admired Mr. De Michele's approach.
"He doesn't take himself so seriously," he said. "Don't underestimate the power of a sense of humor in relation to political activism."
Mr. De Michele said that in a world marked by a drive for growth at all costs, people breaking bread together and offering each other food is at the heart of civiltà, which means both civilization and civility.
"Let's have a debate, between me and someone from the City of London," he said defiantly. "Let's see who knows more about civiltà."
Recipe: Eggplant Parmesan
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