Jun 072007

Something different today… an interview with a former international supermodel turned celebrity chef / bestselling author, Maria Liberati. Maria is the author of the bestselling book The Basic Art of Italian Cooking; being an Italian movie ‘buff’ she has some interesting notes on some famous film locations in Rome and the foods connected to them. She also spends some of her time at her office in the heart of Rome – right among some of Rome’s most famous locations.

1. How did the idea for this particular book come about? What sets it apart from other Italian cookbooks?

It came about from my working with people in cooking and knife programs after I talked with Carlson Knives and had completed my culinary training. I found out that people not only enjoyed the food and learning about the recipes but also enjoyed hearing about the history of the foods and what I was doing when I learned to cook the foods in Italy and the places that I studied certain food processes and certain recipes. So I realized that it wasn’t just about throwing a bunch of ingredients together to make a recipe. But they wanted to experience the full effect of the recipe that made it so special and so unique. With my fiance’s encouragement (he is an architect in Italy) I began writing and took over a corner in his studio, and I soon took over full room of the studio. It is very inspiring also being surrounded by sketches of beautiful buildings. So the book is uniquely mine in the sense that I gave people not only recipes to create certain dishes but stories to help experience them. It is a good read for the budding chef as well as for the armchair traveler.

2. Talk about your transition from modeling to cooking?

It was not that difficult. While modeling in Italy I would spend my time off at my grandparents vineyard in the mountains and began studying the foods they made there and the artisan processes, and then I fell in love with not only my fiance but also I developed a love affair with the food there. It was the first time I tasted flavors that were so intense – like an Italian opera – Italian food is dramatic, intense. It is real food. I grew up around great healthy foods but the taste and smell of a fresh Lemon in Sorrento, of a fresh San Marzano tomato and of a fresh blood orange from Sicily – all flavors so intense and real that they are truly experiences. It was a love affair that saw me through formal culinary training. It just felt like I found my being, food and cooking had always played an important part in my life so it seemed like this was such a natural part of my life. So it was really only a natural extension to have cooking and writing about foods and cooking as part of my life – it had always been. I could be myself, the real me. It is also a wonderful way to communicate with people of all backgrounds. Everyone is interested in food in some way.

3. Please talk about the idea behind doing a virtual book tour as opposed to a more traditional tour?

We have become really one big world and my philosophy has always been that you can’t just live in your own town or state or country. You have to be a citizen of the world. So not only does this fit in with my philosophy of being able to reach not only people in NYC or Chicago, but people all over the world – all from my office and in a matter of a few days. You can make many more ‘stops’ and reach many more people by doing this non-conventional tour, and most publishing houses are employing this method for their authors also.

4. Are there similarities in your own personal interests in both food and film, perhaps a synergy? What about wine?

All are part of the wonderful pleasures of life and things that need to be experienced and all created in an artisan way with real, authentic ingredients.
As an Italian film buff, thinking of my favorites – Fellini, DeSica, Rosselini, Anna Magnani, Carlos Ponti, Lina Wertmuller – they all created artisan masterpieces that really can’t be duplicated, copied but never really replicated. Great food and wine created by artisan can be copied but never exactly replicated. The synergy is in the passion I have for food, film and wine. By the way, Fellini filmed La Strada in a little town in the mountains not far from where I live, Rocca Di Mezzo. Von Ryan’s Express with Frank Sinatra about the Second World War was partly filmed in the town where my grandparent’s vineyard existed, Tagliacozzo. And of course I have spent many visits to Cinecitta where some of the best films have been shot in the center of Rome.

5. Could you talk more about the connection between Italy’s food and film.

Although well-known for its delicious dishes, the heart of Italy culture is actually driven by numerous artistic forces, all of which have inspired my writing and passion for all things Italian. The movie industry thrives on scenic locations like Rome, Sicily, and Venice, which have lent beautiful backgrounds and historic architecture to classics like “Roman Holiday”, “The Godfather, Part III”, and “Ben Hur”. Undeniably, Italy was a prime filming location in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet, a revival of cinema across the country is on the rise, as Italy was home to the filming of recent blockbusters like “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, “Gangs of New York”, and most recently, “Ocean’s Twelve”. Filmed between Paris, Italy, and Amsterdam, “Ocean’s Twelve” hit Italian hot spots like the Grand Hotel Plaza situated on the via del Corso, the Stazione Termini, the Pantheon, and even quaint cafes near Campidoglio, much like those I spent countless Sunday afternoons in sipping the day away on espressos and granitas. Situated in the hills of Italy, these outdoor small cafes are an integral part of both Italian foods and in living the Italian motto, “’e dolce fare niente’” (how sweet it is to do nothing). Italians don their most vogue fashions in preparation for the passeggiata, or afternoon stroll, which culminates in a visit to a scenic café to sit and sip the chicest coffees and aperitifs while watching life float by. If you chose the right location, you might even be privy to enjoy the energy of street performers and artists trying to sell their works, like those filling the streets of Piazza Navona. As they say, when in Rome, do like the Romans do.

6. I read that you’re developing a television show – please tell me more.

Yes, we just finished filming the pilot. It is called Maria Liberati’s The Basic Art of Italian Cooking ™, after my cooking method that has just received its’ own trademark. We are hoping to create something that is more than just a cooking show. Although the pilot was shot in the US we are also planning to shoot some segments in Italy. I am also working on developing the stories of my book into a script and film treatment – sort of “The Big Night” meets “Roman Holiday”. I have had a lot of interest on that so I thought I should begin exploring that now.

7. What’s next?

I will be finishing up my next book project when I am in Italy for August and September. I am really excited about this one – The Basic Art of Italian Cooking, Spaghetti at Midnight – because a famous Italian artist, architect Mariano Moroni has asked to illustrate my book, and we will be working on that. I will also be finishing up my script and doing some interviews there as well. I will also be traveling around the USA at various food events and festivals and conventions. My first food product, a line of spice blends that I developed in Italy, will be released on the market in 2008.

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