Friday, March 5, 2010
2 years ago to the date, I was interning at a beautiful restaurant in Florence Italy. Zibibbo is her name.
I had come back to Florence after spending 6 months living and cooking in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. I had been working for a supremely bitter, clichéd, French chef in Mallorca (you know the type.) And this man really did make it his current life goal to make his fresh little American intern miserable, cry (which he never did) and hate food all together. That’s right- he tried to make ME hate FOOD! I was so surprised that someone would try so hard to make my life passion-less, that by the time I reached Florence, I had a mighty guard up to protect myself from any supremely bitter, clichéd, Italian chef that I may encounter there. I found everything but.
This tiny, home-style restaurant owned by Benedetta Vitali was every bit of the bandaid I’d needed. And it was entirely the European internship that I wanted from the beginning. I walked into this restaurant with creaky wood floors under my feet and the smell of sweet onions and garlic stewing away in golden olive oil. I was welcomed every morning at the restaurant for my shift with a “Bon Giourno Ashley, cappuccino?” and greeted every evening for my second shift with a “Buona Sera Ashley, macchiato?” After exchanging genuine smiles, I respond “Si, Gracie!” I remember Zibibbo as a place that kept me smiling, kept me tasting new things everyday, kept me highly caffeinated, asking as many questions as my heart desired, and had me going to bed with sore feet and a passion for food again. I will forever be in debt to Benedetta and the crew at Zibibbo for reminding me why it is so important to love food and to love what you do.
Benedetta just came to Santa Barbara 2 weeks ago, and I had the privilege of cooking with her again. We danced in the kitchen making butternut parmigana, stuffing Cornish game hens with pancetta and dried apricots, and topping the classic Zibibbo mascarpone cheese cake with bitter orange marmalade- the same that I was making just 2 years ago on far away, Italian soil. Her graceful nature, happiness with food, and familiar smell of Italian cigarettes on her clothes had me re-booting my passion for cooking all over again, just like when I was back in Firenze. I left that night feeling truly high, happy and missing my long lost Italian life more than ever.
Its funny how just a 2 year gap in your life can feel more like a past life, and so easily untouchable. That life I lead way back when…. when I had replaced my common English words with those that made you want to skip while saying them. When gaining 10 lbs in Italian pastries, whole milk cappuccinos, and multiple gelatos a day, was without a question entirely intentional. When hearing “Ciao Bella!” on every street corner from old, round, balding, short Italian men felt like the most genuine flirtatious compliment I’d ever received. When rolling out long sheets of silky pasta dough for hours could get you totally, and romantically blissed-out.
Benedetta was a beautiful reminder of my past life, and of that piece of my soul that needs to be reignited directly someday soon. Italy and I are, and always will be very, very, very compatible with one another. We just understand the real fundamentals in living a quality life- caffeine, gelato, and ego stroking by strangers.
Oh, and plenty of pasta dough romances.