"My tours are very personal because after having collaborated with farmers, cheesemakers, and butchers when I had my restaurant, these people have become my extended family - and that personal relationship really shines through and is transmitted to our guests. They feel like a part of the family by the end of the day!" (JM, Feb 2015)
You have been a professional chef since 1998. Can you tell us a bit about your early career in the United States?
I started cooking in Philadelphia after dropping out of college for dance (I guess I was eating too much! ;-) ). Just after graduating from culinary school, I did an internship in a hotel in London. From there I embarked on the classic solo backpacking trip around Europe - and on that trip I had my first taste of Italy! Returning to Philadelphia I worked mainly in French based restaurants. In 2001 I moved to Seattle and worked in a variety of restaurants, French, Spanish, American, and of course, Italian.
In 2005 I opened a stand in the local Seattle farmers’ markets called Bruschettina. This was long before the food truck craze and my little bruschetta stand was a hit. The idea was simple: I used all the local ingredients sold by the farmers at the markets and made bruschetta for customers to enjoy while they were perusing the market.
In 2006 I won an internship through the Women’s Chef Association to work on an agriturismo in Tuscany.....
What brought you to Italy?
Just before departing for Tuscany, the importers I used for Italian products brought my now husband, Federico who produces Trampetti Extra Virgin Olive Oil, to a dinner I was holding. When I arrived in Italy, I had weekends free to explore the area. After Federico showed me around Umbria, I fell in love with the area. A few trips back and forth and by the end of the year I had moved to Italy.
You opened up your own restaurant Trattoria Basilikò - how was that experience?
Opening a restaurant in Italy was a true eye opener. I had to ‘unlearn’ everything as pleasing Italians is not the same as pleasing Americans! A great sink or swim experience to really be forced to learn the language and the culture.
Why did you decide to take a break from the restaurant business?
Unfortunately in Italy, it is very expensive to have employees (which is why restaurants always seem understaffed - they are!). I ran my restaurant with another woman, Cristiana Ciraolo - she was in the front of the house and I was in the back. We both found ourselves to be pregnant at the same time and made the decision to sell the restaurant.
Your latest adventure is Life Italian Style. Can you tell us more about it?
When I had my restaurant I had the fortune of meeting many excellent food producers. Through my Life Italian Style Tours I can now bring guests of Umbria to meet these wonderful artisans. I still cook as well, and offer private chef service to those renting villas in the countryside as well as cooking classes.
What benefits are there to working with local artisan producers?
The main benefit is knowing exactly where your food comes from and having respect not only for the producers, but also for the animals, who are the real producers.
What are your most popular tours?
This year the Farm to Table tour has really taken off, especially for families traveling in Umbria. I bring guests to a local “zero kilometer” agriturismo, meaning everything is produced on the farm. We make cheese and pasta with Nonna Rita and enjoy a never- ending lunch using only products from the farm. My more active tours such as horseback riding and cycling (all paired with food and wine, of course) have been very popular as well.
Many people must offer similar tours in this beautiful part of Italy. How do you ensure your tours/cooking classes/services stand out from the rest?
My tours are very personal because after having collaborated with farmers, cheesemakers, and butchers when I had my restaurant, these people have become my extended family - and that personal relationship really shines through and is transmitted to our guests. They feel like a part of the family by the end of the day!
Do you make up tours upon request?
Absolutely. I have standard tours, but everything is customizable based on travelers’ needs.
How easy has it been to settle in Umbria?
It takes a few years (even more than a few) to fully acclimate to any new country, and Italy is no different. It is not all the countryside dream image that we try to create - there is plenty of “real life” here as well. ;-)
You are also a mother to 2 young children. How easy is it to juggle your work with your family life?
Unfortunately I don’t have that classic big Italian family to help out so my husband and I are pretty much on our own with 2 toddlers. There are good times and difficult times, but we make it work. I think that since my work is fairly seasonal, it helps that I am able to be a stay-at-home mom during the winter period, to make up for my absence in the summer!
Is there anything you think would improve children’s lives where you live?
I wish that they could see more cultural diversity in a positive way on a regular basis.
What couldn’t you live without in Umbria?
The gorgeous countryside.... and the prosciutto.
What could you live without in Umbria?!
Bureaucracy... and cotechino.