Strange times here in Italy.
Firstly, we’re fine. Everyone we know is fine. Yes, it’s odd to no longer kiss socially and that everyone needs to work and study from home for a few weeks but like most things in the post-social media age, there is a lot of reactionary panic that isn’t very helpful. I don’t want to wreck the surprise though, as you’ll likely be doing the same soon yourself. We’re concentrating on our TV show, reading, writing and filming. We appreciate all the sympathetic messages of solidarity but for 99.999999 percent of the population here in Italy, this is just one long snow day.
Now, onto our new newsletter….
We’ve started an online magazine. Well, not a magazine but something bigger than a blog but smaller than a newspaper. Somewhere in between. What makes this stand out though is that all of this is focused on your needs and desires and how to help you get the most out of Southern Italy. Read on each month to learn more about Puglia, and the rest of Southern Italy. And please forward this onto your food and wine loving friends.
Venosa. Easily one of Basilicata’s prettiest cities. Here in Italy the town is mostly known as the birthplace of Horace, the Roman era poet. To wine lovers it’s known as one of the five hundred-year old Albanian communities in the mountains of Basilicata (the region is most often still referred to by its old name here in Italy, Lucania). Its cuisine is decidedly mountain food, with lots of air-cured pork, lamb and of course l’aglianico, what just might be Southern Italy’s most impressive red wine grape. I’m there filming a few times a month this year and I always end up tacking on time just to walk the stone city. You will too.
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Every month we’ll hear from those that have lived large parts of their lives in two different countries, one of them, Italy.
Some moved here long ago, others moved away long ago. What can we learn about life from those have lived two versions of it?
An interview with Chef Stefano Manfredi
Hybrids like us.
Do you think of yourself as an expat or an immigrant?
It changes constantly. I’ve lived in Australia since I was 6 years old. At a certain point my family was offered citizenship. But at that time you had to renounce any other citizenship.
My mother and I refused to give up our Italian passports but my brother and father both became Australians.
So I remained on a permanent resident visa and have kept that status ever since. Even though I know Australia well and have had businesses here for all my working life, I still renew my visa every 5 years.
So to answer the question, technically I’m an expat even though I have been here for over 50 years.
What’s the difference for you?
The difference is in how one views oneself at any given time. It’s only in the last 10 years or so that, as my working life as a chef and business owner has slowed down (intentionally), I’ve been spending more time in Italy.
In spending more time there, I’ve found that I’ve connected effortlessly as I’ve made many friends and rediscovered not only the country of my birth but also the Italian parts of me.
It’s not to say that Australia is more or less important to me – and vice versa with Italy – it’s that I constantly feel both an expat and an immigrant, depending on my circumstance and mood.
In which ways do you feel foreign when in Italy?
Obviously, there’s the sense that I’m a foreigner when I get behind the wheel of a car in Italy. Australians drive on the left. But that feeling dissipates quickly. I do like driving in Italy.
Perhaps the most striking thing is the labyrinthine nature of the Italian bureaucracy. It takes a lot to navigate.
In which ways do you feel foreign in your other country?
In all the time I’ve been in Australia, I’ve not gotten used to the lack of celebration in this country. There’s also an under appreciation of the arts, fine craft and beauty and I must give a dishonourable mention for the woeful food and coffee available on the road outside the major cities.
What would we be surprised about in regards to your average work day?
I don’t have a particularly unusual or surprising workday. Perhaps it would surprise some who have a more structured and delineated day to know that at this point in my career I set my own agenda.
My days are varied. I generally start after my morning espresso with a long, brisk walk.
Then it’s emails, reading news and some menu development and writing.
Gardening takes a good deal of time and a visit to meet with my chefs discussing dishes, ingredients, dough, flour and pizze.
Visiting markets, suppliers, doing chores and cooking for my daughter and friends takes up the rest of the day. Pretty normal really.
What does one country just not grasp about the other?
Australians quite rightly don’t understand the politics in Italy, as a republic is vastly different to a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. The political structure in Australia is easier to navigate than that of Italy.
My Italian friends find Australia over-regulated, especially with a maximum speed limit on highways set at 110kph. They also think that because the continent is large, then Australia is like the USA. It isn’t. Australia has a population of 25 million and the US 330 million. Italy’s population is almost three times that of Australia in a fraction of the area.
What concepts are just too foreign to be embraced?
Italians don’t get the game of cricket. When you point out that a game can last up to six days, my Italian friends look at me dumbfounded and incredulous.
Australians don’t get the prepayment system in the Italian bar. Their reaction consists of, “But I don’t know what I want.” Also, the concept of differing prices for coffee at the bar and at a table is a mystery.
Which Italian wine do you drink the most?
I’ve been lucky enough to experience many of the great and ordinary-everyday wines of Italy over the last four decades. I’ve watched Italian wines go from quantity to quality over that time.
I have many favourites up and down the boot, too numerous to mention, but in the last decade I’ve fallen in love with Sicilian wines like Etna’s reds and whites, the sweet and dry Malvasia whites of the Aeolian Islands, the Nero d’Avola and Frappato of the southeast. I’m also partial to Passito di Pantelleria and the unfortified Marsala of the west of the island. Recently I’ve also been delighted with some of the whites made from the Grillo grape.
Which non-Italian wine do you drink most?
Once again, because of my work, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying wines from around the world. Living in Australia has meant that I’ve watched the local winemakers shed their reliance on a handful of French varietals and embrace what the wider world has to offer.
While I adore South Australian Riesling and Shiraz, Hunter Valley Semillon, Pinot Noir from both the Yarra Valley and Tasmania as well as Chardonnay from Margaret River, I’m excited by the new wines coming from Tempranillo, Vermentino, Nebbiolo in the cooler areas, Nero d’Avola and Aglianico.
What’s your favourite dirty word or insult in each language?
Australian-English: ‘fuck’ is the one I use most but I do like ‘dickhead’ and ‘fuckface’.
Italian: ‘minchia’ or ‘cazzo’, there are lots but these are the ones I use most often.
Which dialect is spoken in heaven?
Neapolitan, definitely Neapolitan is spoken in heaven.
What are you currently working on?
After writing six books on Italian cuisine, I’m working on a detective novel set between Rome and Sicily. And I’m constantly working on my bread baking.
*Stefano Manfredi is a chef, restaurateur, author of 6 books on Italian cuisine and has been a columnist and written articles for major newspapers and magazines in Australia. He has a coffee brand, Espresso di Manfredi, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. He leads tours to a different part of Italy each year that concentrate on food, wine, art, architecture and gardens.
He lives in Sydney, Australia.
Each month, these are the things that have us excited.
A short essay on the subject of food and wine.
The Hair on my Hands.
Not long ago I was walking through a large international airport when I overheard two line cooks talking in an open kitchen.
‘Well, he calls himself a cook but I don’t buy it. Not anymore, anyway. I mean, he’s like, well, he had hairy hands’, said one.
The other cook just grimaced, completely aware of the implications.
One of the things that I truly adore about my job is how many worlds it straddles. Italian newspapers and magazines always refer to me as a ‘chef’, not matter how much I insist against it in the actual interviews. (‘Chef’ is often used nowadays erroneously as a complement but it’s really a job title, the head of a professional kitchen, ‘chief’, in French).
I occasionally teach university courses but I’m not a professor either. Those with tenure are curious about what I do but no one is applying the secret handshake.
I write for a wine magazine but don’t have any journalistic training (and I’m not a member of the guild of journalists here in Italy, something that angers my friends that are). When I send the drafts of my articles to my editor in New York I can all but hear him calling his wife to cancel his dinner plans. ‘This is going to need a lot of work’, I can imagine him saying.
Once a month I buy all the cleaning supplies for the school at a large, industrial supplier. Waiting my turn in line with all the custodians, they never seem to like my answer when I tell them where I work when they ask. Their voices always cut off and their eyes drop to my shoes, which are decidedly not steel-toed.
Industry groups write me to encourage me to enrol into professional wine associations but I can’t because they ask for my employer’s tax number, which I don’t have, as the Italian government sees me as a teacher. (Many argue that ‘sommelier isn’t a nationally-certified title- which I have- but that the word is reserved only for those that head wine programmes in upper end restaurants, which I don’t). I fill in all the boxes on the online applications on the sites but without that last tax number, the forms never even send.
As a teacher, I rarely if ever cook during our classes. Our school is hands-on for the students, which means ‘hands-off’ for me, and the normally scorched-off hair on the back my hands has grown back over the years. It seems foreign to me when I see it, the hands of someone else somehow grafted on at the end of my own arms.
I like to think that I’m able to silently slither between all of this occupations, sneaking in the backdoor and just standing around until no one really notices that I shouldn’t really be there. But in my heart I know that I’m a charlatan, an interloper, someone that skims along many professions but that doesn’t really achieve any identify from any of them.
I can’t see the face of the man that the two cooks were referring to but I can certainly visualise his hands, the black bristly sprouts coming out of his knuckles.
I wish I could meet him. To see if he’s anything like me
To our new How to eat and drink to be 100
To our extra virgin course, Olive you!
To our classic Lecce course (the one that started in all, 17 years ago)
To our homepage
The Awaiting Table Cookery School in Lecce, Italy, is Puglia’s oldest cooking school, offering 13 different culinary courses based on bicycling the /food /wine of Puglia, Southern Italian wine, The Jewish Cooking of Southern Italy, Mediterranean fish, The Mediterranean Diet, home canning and How To Eat and Drink to be 100. Choose from a day, evening and week-long courses in either of our two locations- in our owner’s home in the historic centre of Lecce, or at the baron’s castle, an hour south of Lecce. Learn to make the fresh pasta of Puglia, take a class on the wine from Sicily, Calabria, Basilicata and Puglia. Or learn how to add years to your life through a healthy mix of life-extending, sun drenched ingredients.
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