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Oscar Farinetti’s views on the relationship between the future and the past

Few, if any, people come to mind better suited to talk to masters students about food entrepreneurship than Eataly’s founder, Oscar Farinetti. In a matter of only ten years Eataly has grown to become one of the world’s 25 most disruptive brands according to Forbes, with plans for expansion that include more locations worldwide and the opening of Eataly World, a one-of-a-kind 20-acre Italian “food experience” in Bologna.

Mr. Farinetti came to The University of Gastronomic Sciences on June 6th and delivered a lecture entitled, “The Future…Staying Young.” The importance of maintaining a youthful, energetic, flexible and open mind was a recurring theme, especially when it comes to tackling a project. According to Farinetti, all projects begin with analysis, which he believes is extremely important. In the case of Eataly, Farinetti meticulously examined Italy’s identity—its record number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, remarkable biodiversity, world-renowned PDO products and cuisine, artistic patrimony, and consistently high desirability for tourists. His overwhelming sense of national pride, along with his belief that food is the world’s most important product gave rise to an image and a concept that has come to life across 33 stores in 9 countries.

Central to Farinetti’s success has been his perspective on the relationship between the future and the past. The past is something we can only remember, whereas the future we can do something about. He stressed the notion of an assisted destiny, a consideration of the important and positive aspects of our past, which informs the decisions we make in shaping our future. We should always be on the lookout for what captivates us—a fruit and vegetable display, a street sign, a piece of good advice—and be unafraid to copy it. Eventually, this patchwork collection of memories and impressions will manifest itself in however we choose to apply ourselves.

The contemporary business landscape is exciting to Farinetti. He noted that consumer society is changing rapidly, and that we are slowly shifting away from a model governed by work, salary and consumption. This has led to what he calls an “employment crisis,” but has also created fertile ground for entrepreneurs, and he thinks we will be seeing revolutionary changes and innovations in numerous industries as a result. The key is being disruptive.

The way Farinetti sees it, disruption is most effective when you emphasise contrasts. Be ironic, but proud of it; be honest, yet clever. Strive for informality, but maintain authority. And there’s no reason not to stock the local, artisanal product in the bustling megastore. The ultimate contrast, and ultimate ambition, would be to open Eataly in every single country worldwide, and Farinetti sees no reason why that should not happen. While the goal may have struck some as almost impossible, the lesson was clear—it takes courage to face your fears and to dream big, but that should not discourage us from doing either. In fact, we should do both! And do so with courage, conviction and confidence.

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