Even as Italian cooking grows in popularity it still can't gain the respect that French food once had or that Nouvelle Spanish food has garnered
When I first started cooking professionally in America, restaurants had only recently discovered "Northern Italian" food as opposed to Italo American food, the standard since Italian immigration began but which people were beginning to dismiss as inauthentic and bastardized. In fact, the one thing I had going for me when I started out cooking professionally was a deep understanding of what Italians really ate in Italy based on years of living and eating there. Everyone else I worked with had been trained in French food, either in school or in a French restaurant. It didn't seem like anything else was really considered valid. Even though more attention was being paid to Northern Italian food at higher and more refined levels of restaurants, classic French food was still considered the apex of culinary civilization.
Shortly after I started cooking professionally in Boston, Julia Child was quoted in the local paper saying, "anyone can make a bowl of pasta but it takes a skilled chef to put out a fine French meal." That pretty much summed up the prevailing attitude with regards to Italian food.
As fascinated as I am by other cuisines of the Mediterranean, I keep coming back to Italian as the cuisine I most want to cook, the one I most want to eat, and the one I understand the most. Twenty years ago, when I first started out with a dim understanding of demi glace but a great understanding of pasta, extra virgin olive oil, and tomatoes, I would not have been able to imagine Italian food conquering the American palate so thoroughly from the high end (Del Posto earning four stars from the New York Times) to the low (propagation of chain restaurants like the Olive Garden). Even though its popularity has gone farther than I would have ever thought and perhaps because of it, it still seems a cuisine people all too easily dismiss as easy and simple, lacking the sophistication of French, Japanese, or modern Spanish cuisine -- maybe because Italian food gets generalized as one style of food when it is not.