Growing up in Umbria, the green region and heart of Italy, I had a pretty uneventful childhood. Or so I thought. I really never appreciated my origins until I detached myself from them. Things I took for granted growing up Italian, have now become treasured experiences. Flavors, smells and memories, are part of my repertoire of sensory recalls I hope never to lose.
But let’s start from the beginning. I was born as Rosalinda Mariotti, no middle names, in Perugia, Italy, in the 60’s. When one is born Italian, he/she is supposed to like coffee, wine and animal organs (in this order) as if it were part of the natural genetic patrimony. Just like Art or History! Therefore, like all Italians, I always had a natural fascination with food. Any food.
My mom was a good cook, but my grandmothers were the greatest. Two different personalities: on my dad’s side, a more relaxed, easy going Nonna who cooked more out of obligation than pleasure; on my mom’s side, Nunzia the real food-police–perfection with each bite. As for many things in life, finding the good balance is key. Cooking is no exception, for sure. You could say I’m a late bloomer. I did not really discovered the real joy in cooking until I moved here, to Eugene in 1996 and started attending Lane Community College and its Hospitality Management Program. Like Julia Child would say: Until then, I just ate.
Learning a new language has also given me a new soul. A NEW perspective on my OLD life. Being so far from my native land I have developed a new vision on traditional Italian food. The hardship of leaving my family behind came with an unexpected reward: the gift of getting to know myself. Someone once told me
“It’s only when you get really lost, that you can find yourself.”
So it goes for me—being totally alone in a foreign country, I found my passion, the key to my inner happiness and emotional balance. It wasn’t were I had been looking all along: it wasn’t through fancy clothes or strolling on exotic beaches. It was through food. Simple, earthy, traditional food from my childhood cooked with love for the ones I care about.
Fast forward almost 20 years since the first time I landed in Eugene and I am finally the person I was meant to be all along. My life revolves around food and I’m happy. Cooking as a professional is more than a job: it’s a lifestyle: Physically demanding, stressful, packed with adrenaline rush…not to mention the sugar high.
I can’t describe the soul-satisfying sensations that overcome me when I see the positive reactions of someone who just tasted my food. I couldn’t possibly attach a price tag to it. These days I manage a kitchen for a local school district where the emphasis is on child nutrition and serving healthy, local food, cooked with love. I also teach Traditional Italian cooking classes for Lane Community College, where I returned after almost 2 decades from my first graduation, and got a second degree in Baking and Pastry.
I embraced and learned to adore Eugene and its plethora of local, natural products and the producers who remind me of the ones I left in Umbria.
My goal, with this column is to have you, the reader, feel what I felt growing up in Italy. I hope my recipes will allow you to taste what I tasted growing up so that you experience some of what I did.
My goal is to transmit the incredible gratitude and appreciation I have for the source of everything I eat, whether it comes from an animal or the hard labor of a farmer. Only then, will I feel that I’ve served this local community, while also making my parents and grandparents really proud of the childhood, traditions and respect for food they have given me.
Until next time, Mangia! and Ciao!