Where it all started… I’m guessing you are here because you are passionate about food, have a curiosity about it or are trying to figure out new innovative, creative ways to “play with your food”. Well, you’re in the right place because I am a total foodie, a die hard plant pusher, I’m curious about it-where it comes from, how it affects our health and wellbeing-and I’m always looking for new ways to “play with my food” that hopefully will inspire you to do the same.
But where did all of this begin? I don’t know about you, but I think for most of us foodies we can think back to a moment or person in our lives that sparked our love for food. Was your curiosity and passion seeded from a young age or is it something that you are just diving into now? Either way, I believe the seeds are planted along the way and it’s only a matter of time before we see them blooming throughout our lives.
My passion for food stems back as far as I can recall. I remember pulling my stool up to the stove to stir the onions and garlic with my mom as my evening chore. I remember always trying to sneak a small bowl of caramelized onions and garlic before dinner whenever I could.
However, my greatest influence that helped plant those seeds for me at a very young age was my Nana, Mary Sarno. So to kick off my new website, I would like to share a bit about her as she was one of my greatest influences around food and helped seed my passion for cooking and curiosity in the kitchen. She, along with my mom and older brother, was a key player in my life that taught me that sharing a meal is truly a gift and celebration of life.
Growing up, my Italian Nana was a force of passion in the kitchen and she ruled the food world throughout my childhood. Nana was the original super woman, the rock of the family, the maestro in midst of holiday chaos feeding and filling every last inch of our bellies.
She would meticulously pull off a multiple course meal every holiday we spent with her. Her days leading up to each holiday feast revolved around preparations and making every course perfect before any large gathering. The memories are so rich of each holiday, sharing such abundant traditional Italian meals with my huge extended family. Nana was the chief that lead the 7+ courses we all gluttonously enjoyed every holiday. Each Christmas eve we would make the hour drive to Nanas, with my belly growling anticipating the meal in the back seat with my brothers, and on the drive back we would be passed out before we left Nana’s driveway in a food coma. The memories are delicious.
And it wasn’t just limited to holidays…we all knew that if you gave Nana a bit of notice before arriving, you and your carload of friends and family would have a feast waiting for your arrival. She fed everyone that was willing to eat, and boy, did we eat.
When I left New England after high school I dove into the vegan world, eliminating all animal products, starting with dairy, and in turn healed my chronic asthma along the way. I was zigzagging across the country living my vagabond hippy days of self and food discovery. But, every holiday I would call home and through the loud Italian chaos, I would talk to Nana to wish her a happy holiday. I could picture her in her flowery apron, smudges of sauce and flour on her arms and hands, phone on her shoulder, yelling at everyone to sit down because the next course was being served.
When I finally managed to make it back home, I began to bring Nana some Italian inspired vegan dishes; from lasagna, eggplant parmesan, and manicotti and would eagerly wait for her to try it and give her approval. No matter what it was, she would eat a plate always acting as if she enjoyed it (hopefully she really did), and she was so curious as to what ‘tofu’ was and why it was in her lasagna recipe.
Nana did not travel out of her little neighborhood much, besides going to visit close family, the store and of course for Sunday church. So when I had a special dinner planned as guest chef across the city at an Italian restaurant, I had all my toes and fingers crossed that she would make the trek to be my honored guest.
At the event, I peeked into the dining room before service, and there she was with my aunt, dressed to the nines. She told me that she wouldn’t have missed it for the world. That kept such a huge smile on my face throughout the entire dinner service.
It was a multiple course Italian tasting menu, but little did she know, it was a completely raw, vegan menu. I was holding my breath, hoping that she would at least give everything a try. The evening flew by and the last course served was a ganache torte with drunken berries (see Chocoholic post for recipe). Walking out of the kitchen I saw Nana literally licking her plate. Amazing! She finished every course, and loved the experience. Regardless of having no idea of what she was eating most of the time, she was beaming from the meal (or was it from the wine?). The other 80 people that filled the room were a blur, because to me, since Nana liked it, the event was a success. That moment to me was truly a pivotal food memory. To have the opportunity to serve and feed this super woman, and queen of the kitchen that helped plant the seed of passion for homemade food in me, was an unforgettable evening, and such an honor.
Seeing someone so richly rooted in traditional foods, but being open to (and enjoying!) my interpretation on traditional foods just deepened my passion and curiosity about food and inspired me to dive even deeper.
Sadly, Nana passed away this past Spring, 2012. It was right in the middle of writing my book and also while I was working on the beginning stages of this site. So it is important to me to share a little of why she was one of the greatest inspirations in the kitchen, and one of the most influential people in my life that kick started my career as a chef. The greatest thing she taught me- and I hope that you will bring into your kitchen-is that the most important ingredient in any recipe is love. Her recipes and love will forever be engraved in my heart, and may the love and passion for food and family she blessed my life with, come through in the recipes and stories I share on this blog.
Please feel free to leave a comment. I would love to hear what or who in your life has inspired your passion for food.