Giuliano Bugialli, a Tuscan-born writer and culinary historian whose authoritative cookbooks, immersive classes and frequent television appearances helped generations of readers and eaters fall in love with Italian cuisine, died April 26 in Viareggio, Italy. He was 88.
His family announced the death in a statement but did not say precisely where or how he died.
Brusque and exuberant, with a blunt speaking style and an insistence on adherence to history and tradition above all else, Mr. Bugialli was among a handful of cooking writers who helped popularize old-school Italian food in the United States, where the cuisine was long known through spaghetti and meatballs and pizza alone.
When he published his first book, “The Fine Art of Italian Cooking” (1977), few American supermarkets carried high-quality ingredients such as extra-virgin olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano or San Marzano tomatoes, and few cooks knew how to use them.
Yet through his efforts and those of writers such as Marcella Hazan, Ada Boni and Nika Hazelton, Italian cuisine is now a mainstay of America’s international dining scene. And a home cook with a well-stocked bookshelf and pantry can now experiment with hundreds of recipes for regional dishes from Tuscany, Sicily, Sardinia, Parma, Naples or Emilia.
Mr. Bugialli “was a serious historian and linguist, and yet a teacher that made history and food come alive,” said Bonnie Stern, a Canadian food writer who often hosted Mr. Bugialli at her Toronto cooking school. “His goal was never to invent recipes or be original — he wanted to preserve recipes and traditions.”
“There are only two questions to ask about food,” Mr. Bugialli told the New York Times in 1984. “Is it good? And is it authentic? We are open for new ideas, but not if it means destroying our history. And food,” he added, “is history.”
Mr. Bugialli was born in Florence, which he described as the birthplace of haute cuisine, but spent much of his life in New York, where he preferred eating out at Chinese restaurants to sampling the city’s Italian fare. Too often, he said, he found himself falling into the mode of a critic, lamenting that meat, pasta and vegetables were heaped together on a single plate, rather than served in separate courses; or that cheese was haphazardly grated onto dishes; or that rich desserts seemed to follow every meal.
“The simplicity, the linearity of Italian food is based on very few ingredients and finding the correct balance,” he once said. “That’s the sophistication of Italian food.”
Mr. Bugialli appeared on PBS television programs, wrote a dozen cookbooks and won three James Beard Awards. In 1986 he was named to the Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America list, often described as a kind of culinary hall of fame.
Unlike many of his peers, he also spent much of his career teaching. He established schools in Manhattan and Florence but also held lectures and demonstrations at L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland, De Gustibus in New York and at smaller cooking academies in dozens of cities across the country.
If his instructions sometimes seemed irrational — “You must stir this sauce in only one direction,” he said, according to one Washington Post account — they were also guided by long hours of research. Mr. Bugialli pored over 16th- and 17th-century manuscripts in search of truly “authentic” dishes, and urged his students to recognize what he described as unbreakable rules of Italian cooking. (Lasagna required at least a dozen layers, he said. Anything less could only be called “stuffed pasta.”)
“When he made homemade pasta, he made the dough by hand and insisted on using a hand-cranked Imperia machine,” Stern said by email, recalling one of Mr. Bugialli’s classes. “He made enough dough for 30 people and rolled it out in one piece. The piece was so long, the whole class had to stand up and carry it side-by-side (thumbs up so it didn’t pierce the pasta dough). In the end they had to carry it out the door and down the street.”
“It is still,” she added, “the best pasta I have ever tasted.”
The second of five children, Giuliano Bugialli was born in Florence on Jan. 7, 1931. His father worked in the wine business, and his mother was a shorthand typist at a Florentine newspaper — a “liberated woman,” in Mr. Bugialli’s words, who preferred not to cook. (In the dedication to his first book, he wrote that she “was the worst cook in the family. But the best everything else.”)
With both parents at work, it was often left to Mr. Bugialli to prepare lunch and dinner for the family, with the help of a grandmother and two aunts. His father steered him toward a career in business, and Mr. Bugialli studied at the University of Florence and the University of Rome before finding a job as an Italian teacher for visiting American college students.
But he continued honing his cooking skills by hosting lavish dinner parties at the end of each semester, and in 1972 formed his cooking school in Florence, encouraged by his students. Later that year, he moved to Manhattan to teach Italian at the Dalton School. He soon won a school cooking contest with a dish of stuffed cannelloni and dropped his Italian classes in favor of cooking courses.
His books included “Classic Techniques of Italian Cooking” (1982), “Foods of Italy” (1984) and “Bugialli on Pasta” (1988). In 2005 the mayor of Florence awarded him the Fiorino d’Oro, the city’s highest honor.
Mr. Bugialli’s longtime companion, Henry Weinberg, a music composition professor at Queens College in New York, died in 2017. Survivors include a brother.
In recent years, Mr. Bugialli led cooking classes out of a 15th-century farmhouse near Siena, where he maintained his long-held aversion to efforts to update, revise or reimagine Italian cooking. When asked what he would like to eat for his last meal, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in 2007, Mr. Bugialli replied: “Fusion cuisine and bastardized Italian food. Then, I wouldn’t be afraid to die.”