Saturday, 14 August 2010

Memories - Part 1 grandmother was a great cook, my mother is a great cook, I try to be a cook...

The difference between me and them is just a detail, I decided to be a cook in a professional way, that’s why many times I cursed my first step inside the culinary institute “G.Minuto” in Marina di Massa – Tuscany, where I’m from.

I will try to explain my life in hospitality, but to do it I have to jump back of some decades to bore some of the readers and to let understand some others.

My father Pietro, is passed away when I was six (tough situation indeed), and I have grown in a family of women: my grandmother (Nonna Emma), my mother (Donna Giovanna), my twin sisters (Grazia and Cristina, or, better Gra’ and Cri’)

Our closer neighbour was and is my father’s sister (Zia Bruna) with her three daughters.

I spent my childhood with all of them and, since then, I have started to learn about the “Women Planet” and, believe it or not, it’s a good help when a chef has to write down a menu

With these premises, every day a cooking challenge took place for years and years (...and still is going on...) between who makes the best soup, roast, stew, cake or whatever planned for our meals, with a continuous movement from one house to the other one, of pots, bowls, trays, involving, of course, also the other neighbours and why not, the other relatives.

At that time, my little town was developing to a more industrial and touristic economy, but every family used to have a plot of land to grow up the own veggies, fruits, poultry etc. that’s why the mentioned daily challenge was very appreciated by us, little bastards and judges as well.

I would say: excellent goods, excellent food, excellent mood... it might be a motto to understand the Italian Style of Life too...

By the way, it was so easy blaming Mum, because the cake made by Zia Bruna was better than..., or blaming Zia Bruna, because the chicken made by Nonna Emma was better than..., or blaming Nonna Emma, because... and so on, dropping “fuel on the fire” to have a more interesting competition in the next day.

We still own a quiet big field where my grandfather (Nonno Gino) taught me to prune the vine and the olive trees (about 60 still in full production) and where Nonna Emma taught me many tricks (mixed with a good amount of agricultural wisdom) about seeds, moon phases, transplantation, harvest.

All little details that, if followed, bring on the table outstanding products, because, it’s important don’t forget it, in Tuscany the food is a religion, not something solid to fill the stomach.

From my father’s side I don’t know much about my Grandparents, because Nonno Giuseppe (I got his name) and Nonna Carmelinda are passed away when I was very little.

I knew very well, instead, my mother’s parents they took care of me and my sisters for years after the death of my father.

They are born in the beginning of the 20th century living until few years ago. For dozen historical reasons, their life experience has affected the life of my parents and, of course, mines.

As most of the Italian families, our roots are well fixed in a agricultural past made of strong traditions and hard work, trying to enjoy the life respecting the few things available all seasoned with good manners and sense of honour, I heard Nonno Gino saying many times: “...the value of a man is as good as his word…”.

Part of this wisdom arrives also from terrible periods of the last century when their soul has been so deeply injured, I remember, about stories of sea water boiled on the beach to get salt (without get any bullets, it wasn’t allowed), than long walks up to the mountain to barter the salt with wheat or chestnut flour.

I remember when Nonna Emma told us about the tremendous battle on the Gothic Line (the last German resistance against the Americans, starting 3 km next to our place) and when, in one night, nine bombs fell down around their house, her long dark hairs became completely white for the fear to die between those walls with her children (my mum was 6 years old).

When the peace came back in Europe, my Country was totally “on the knees”, the process to get standing again was long and hard, but, it’s well known, Italians give all their best in case of troubles, my family did the same, that’s why I’m proud to be Italian and I try to give all my best in every single day of my life, to respect who really struggled making something great to assure a decent future to us, new generations.

I would say also, a combination of events from the past, traditions and a deep respect for the food which was for many years never enough to feed the families, it has influenced the life of an whole Country and consequently my job too, being so strictly connected with the territory and hundreds of different styles in producing and cooking goods, I’m quite sure the excellence of the food is in Italy... absolutely.
To be continued...

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