Barilla Sweetly Intros 'Open Carbonara,' an Inclusive Dish That Everyone Can Savor
Like every advertising category, pasta has its tropes, with notions of love, community and comfort among them. From Chef Boyardee to Barilla, brands lean into soothing, family imagery. What could be more redolent of comfort than a doting mom or grandma preparing a child's meal?
With "Open Carbonara" from Publicis Italy/Le Pub, Barilla expands such themes beyond mere nostalgia and looks ahead in a refreshingly inclusive way.
The campaign kicks off with a short film, directed by Simone Godano and based on a true story about how the "Open Carbonara" dish came to be. It depicts a girl, Vittoria, heading to school and falling into step with her friend Gabriele. Their carefree dynamic changes come lunchtime, when some kids get carbonara, which traditionally includes eggs, guanciale (often made with pork jowl) and two kinds of cheese. Others get a less … er, complicated meal of spaghetti with tomato sauce.
From an adult perspective, the reasons for the divide are self-evident and practical (we'll get into them later). The kids, however, have a decidedly different and in some ways difficult experience.
Let's start with the obvious. As Oliviero Toscano observed when he returned to Benetton in 2017, modern Italian schoolrooms are strikingly multicultural. You see that in this Barilla ad. In Vittoria's universe, a lot of kids don't look like her. That is not important, at least for them, at the outset; they're all Italian, and all kids, until they get to the cafeteria. There's a complex, more varied meal for some, and basic, less flavorful dishes for others.
Implications abound concerning cultures and diet. Supremacist notions aside, we all know that the way we produce and move food around the world has changed, even in Italy, where most of the wheat used for pasta and bread is no longer Italian.
Complex supply chains, shifts in seed DNA, new types of fertilization and the nature of food processing mean new allergies and sensitivities (or perhaps some that just weren't acknowledged before). Assuming most people can adhere to the same diet is a form of ableism, like assuming that the vast majority of folks who enter a public building can use stairs.
Here's a standard example of this in adulthood: Remember what it was like to be a vegetarian in the '90s or early aughts? It sure sucked to go to 90 percent of restaurants and get stuck with the one afterthought salad on the menu, which existed solely for those rare occasions when "people like you" showed up.
The divisive meal is the trigger of change in Barilla's ad. Vittoria is bummed her bestie can't enjoy carbonara, and even tries to tell him it's not very good. When she comes home, and her dad—Michelin starred chef Marco Martini—makes carbonara for dinner, she declares she won't eat it, because Gabriele can't.
We're going to briefly stop to make two observations:
1) While it might not seem ideal to have the same meal served twice in a day, living halftime in Italy has taught me to never turn carbonara down, ever. Good carbonara is a competitive art form. And a chef-dad's carbonara is going to be very different from school carbonara, though both are likely superior to what I understood carbonara to be before living here.
2) I can't think of any dad doing what Martini does in this ad. I know a lot of people who, in this situation, would probably say, "Well, not everyone's the same, too bad for Gabri," and leave it at that.
Father knows best
But Martini is a professional chef, and this is advertising, where people make surprising decisions all the time. This moment causes him great reflection that results in a Rocky-style passage, where he stays up all night writing mysteriously and clutching his head. Galvanized, he hits his kitchen to create the fabled "Open Carbonara," as suitable for vegans as for lovers of the traditional dish.
Carbonara is a complicated endeavor, easily destroyed by an egg stirred in too soon or late, the wrong cheese, or imperfectly cooked pork, not to mention the matter of getting pasta texture right. Making an "inclusive" carbonara, accounting for all those granularities? It's an epic feat, legitimately worthy of a chef's talents.
This is what "Open Carbonara" is about. Martini and his team of chefs succeed in producing something that, as he says, has a shot at making "our children happy." Guanciale is replaced with toasted soy, celeriac lends the feeling of parmesan and pecorino. Potatoes, boiled and blended, are mixed with saffron and water to lend the color and consistency of glistening yolky sauce.
A month later, this "inclusive carbonara" is presented to the school and served to all students, no exceptions.
Gabriele worries about eating the meal. But he's reassured by Vittoria, and finally gets to share the experience of having this dish with her. They get to be Italian, whatever that means, on the same level. And they get to stay kids: The complexities that will ultimately complicate their lives can wait another day.
"The world is becoming more inclusive. Food should too," the ad states.
The end of the film features people, ostensibly food experts, reflecting on the importance of the project.
"Food should be something that bridges people," one says. Another notes, "Having friends from different cultures, and being able to invite them to your table, is a fundamental aspect for the cultural growth for the whole world."
"Open Carbonara" is, in part, the fruit of a February 2023 survey of 2000 people. Forty percent would more often cook for friends if they could serve a single dish for everyone. Forty-seven percent said they felt more relaxed cooking one meal that could effectively cater to all.
'A sign of love'
"At Barilla, we care about making the world a more inclusive place. Naturally, as a pasta brand, leaning into food’s ability to bring people together was our first instinct," says Ilaria Lodigiani, Barilla’s CMO. "Our belief that food is a bridge that connects people from all walks of life is as strong as ever. Having had such an exceptional team of chefs from diverse cultural backgrounds craft this Open Carbonara recipe, we’re excited to continue promoting food inclusivity."
The recipe can be found at a dedicated sub-site, along with other "Open Recipes."
We get that a lot of people might decry the "corruption" of a traditional Italian dish in this way. But this is what cultures have always done, notably before the creation of nationhood. People move around, they bring spices and new ingredients with them. Like "invasive species" of plants, strangers become locals and make their new homes richer.
Classic carbonara is itself the fruit of such shifts. After the Allied liberation of Rome in 1944, it appeared when Italians incorporated eggs and bacon, supplied by U.S. troops, into their diets. Food historian Luca Cesari described it as "an American dish born in Italy." The original recipe didn't even use real egg. By necessity, troops supplied locals with powdered yolks.
So "Open Carbonara," and "Open Recipes” overall, cast neat reflections. They mirror how cultures, like languages and people, shift over time. This inclusive take betrays a greater loyalty to the dish's history than attempts to keep it unchanged and monolithic—which any cook will tell you is simply not possible in a well-loved kitchen.
Martini was also a great choice for the project. He's built his professional identity on "innovative takes" on traditional Roman cuisine, and worked with chefs and food experts that possess expertise in different culinary traditions and backgrounds, notably specialists in Halal, Kosher, lactose-free and vegan cooking.
"Pasta is a meal known for being accessible: it's easy to buy and cook. Taking on the challenge to make a beloved recipe open to others who have food allergies and intolerances, and moving away from the conscious choice not to eat meat, was a great exercise as a chef," said Martini. "It's really inspiring to have been able to take inclusivity, a cause I am passionate about, and apply it to improve something people can enjoy every day. I hope that this will help pasta lovers realize that with some tweaking, they can enjoy amazing new recipes too."
Fittingly, the ad ends with the tagline: "A Sign of Love."
Global CEO Le Pub, Global CCO Publicis Worldwide, CCO Publicis Groupe Italy: Bruno
CCO Publicis Italy: Cristiana Boccassini
CCO Publicis Italy: Mihnea Gheorghiu
CCO Publicis Italy: Francesco Poletti
Global Executive Creative Director: Riccardo Fregoso
Global Executive Creative Director: Selim Unlusoy
Associate Creative Director: Daniela De Seta
Associate Creative Director: Alessandro Agnellini
Art Director Supervisor: Andrea Raia
Copywriter Supervisor: Matteo Gatto
Head of Strategy: Niccolò Rigo
Senior Experience Strategist: Antonio Jorgaqi
Senior Digital Strategist: Margherita Tuvo
Data Strategist: Andrea Battista
Social Media Analyst: Alberto Mura
Junior Data Analyst: Federica Parisi
Global Client Service Director: Simona Coletta
Group Client Service Director: Federica Papetti
Account Supervisor: Roberta Di Ponzio
Account Executive: Giovanni Spadola
Global Head of PR and Communication: Isabella Cecconi
Digital PR Manager: Carol Verde
PR Manager: Eleonora Botta
Head of Social and Content: Valentina Salaro
Senior Social Media Manager: Remigio Guerriero
Chief Creation Officer: Francesca Zazzera
Senior TV Producer: Antonella Capella
TV Producer Assistant: Eva Maio
Head of Digital Production: Vittorio Cafiero
Digital Project Manager: Ornella Scarparo
Head of Creative Technology: Mauro Mazzei
Digital Designer: Serena Murgia
Production and print managers: Tina Paolella, Daniela Inglieri
Progress Managers: Elisa Petrone, Alessia Cornali