There's a garlic debate raging among chefs and eaters in Italy, and it's not about freshness. It's about eliminating garlic from Italian cooking entirely. Sicilian chef Filippo La Mantia, who has a hot restaurant in Rome, declared that he'll never use it. Like others in his camp, he feels that garlic smells terrible and overwhelms delicate flavors. The antigarlic contigency has a powerful ally in former Premier Silvio Berlusconi whose has a well-known aversion to the stinking rose. Carlo Rossella, a news director for Berlusconi's Mediaset has even started a list of garlic-free restaurants and is pushing for places that serve garlic to have separate, garlic-free menus.
Cooking purists tend to chap my ass. I've been having the garlic argument for years. There has always been a very vocal minority that finds garlic to be anathema. That minority is very small. My experience began with working in kitchens around C'ville. Every now and then Helen Worth, a local cooking eminence, would drop in. Helen Worth is very old school. Literally. She's a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier, had a cooking school in New York, invented the precursor to Kitchen Bouquet and she used to pal around with M.F.K. Fisher. She's published a number of cookbooks way back when. In her retirement, she lives near C'ville and gives cooking classes. She's a very sweet old lady.
She also can't abide garlic. And she explained to me that, "Real chefs don't feel the need to use garlic." Talk about waving the red cape...
I, on the other hand, adore garlic. I use it both appropriately and with complete abandon. One of my favorite movie scenes is in Goodfellas, where our protaganists are preparing an Italian meal in prison, and one character is showing another how to lovingly slice garlic paper thin with a razor blade. There is great culinary wisdom in that scene.
Helen and I agreed to disagree.
I always find it interesting when little movements arise proclaiming certain ingredients to be verboten. I've always felt is shows a narrowness of mind that has no room in the world of cooking. Every ingredient has it's context, and there are scores of applications for each of those ingredients, from the obvious to some that make your eyebrows hurt. But I believe this to be true: They are all relevant. Just because I don't particularly like okra doesn't mean I'm going to pronounce it somehow unacceptable to use in gumbo.
You don't like garlic? Fine. But don't tell me the use of it is somehow unworthy of true culinary endeavour. Don't make fey little pronouncements, proclaiming that garlic, "overwhelms delicate flavors." That's just silly. Garlic will do what you want it to do. Used properly, it can bring out delicate flavors, and enhance them. Or you can just drop a garlic bomb and reek for days. I can do both. I suspect that those who make such blanket statements are somewhat lacking in skill and imagination.