A few days ago, the Taste Awards 2021, often called “the Oscars of Food, Fashion and Lifestyle Media”, were assigned. For the the fourth time an Italian chef, Ale Gambini, has been recognized by The Taste Awards commission as creator, host, and chef of online food programs (A Queen in the Kitchen, Estate Italiana, Eatalians-Fresh Up Your Life).
If Italy is indisputably the greatest superpower in the world of food, cuisine, diversity of its food and wine products and food education, the Italian chefs who develop their talents in the United States are certainly among the best representatives of Italian excellence in America. So it is with great pleasure that I welcome Ale Gambini to We the Italians, thanking her for the wonderful way she represents Italian food in the United States.
Ale, I'd start by asking you to tell our readers your story. Where were you born, where are your Italian roots, and where do you reside now?
I was born and raised in beautiful Milan in Lombardy, where I’ve lived for the majority of my life. I’m 100% Milanese and my origins strongly influenced my career. My very first cookbook A Queen in the Kitchen is dedicated to the Milanese and Northern Italian cuisine. My hometown is Italy’s industrial, financial and fashion capital, a very dynamic city similar to NY. Unfortunately, it is not very well known for its extraordinary cuisine that is rich, variegate, and delicious. I grew up with Risotto alla Milanese, Osso Buco con Gremolata, Orecchio di Elefante alla Milanese, and Panettone but there is so much more. I relocated to Los Angeles in 2008 and currently a proud resident of one of the most beautiful beach cities of California: Santa Monica. I call myself lucky to live in Santa Monica, a multicultural, vibrant, and inclusive city with top-notch restaurants food spots, a dream place for foodies.
How and when did you become interested in Italian food and cooking?
I learned to cook and to love good in my Nonna’s kitchen. My grandmother Fernanda has been my role model and mentor not only in the kitchen but in life, she’s the one who instilled in me the importance of high-quality ingredients as a healthy lifestyle and in everyday cooking. She taught me to choose quality over quantity and that less is more, and that’s exactly my philosophy whether I’m working, teaching or simply grocery shopping for my family. I would define myself as an Italian Food Advocate rather than a chef or cook. My main goal is to preserve and promote the Italian agri-food products because ingredients are the starting point of making and enjoying food. One recipe can have different facets but if prepared with the wrong ingredients it won’t shine.
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience at the 2015 Milan Expo?
Milan Expo 2015 has been one of the most prestigious fairs hosted in EU. I had the honor and privilege to be selected as a contributor for Italian cuisine. Many of my recipes have been shared on their official website, Piedmont hazelnut cake, gnocco fritto to name a few. I was also a part of WE-Woman for Expo project in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
You are a multimedia star: internet, television, books. Please tell us about your most recent experiences in these fields
Thank you for the star! I’m only a passionate person that loves to communicate. The pandemic has changed probably forever the way to work and interact between humans. I’m currently promoting my second book No ketchup on Spaghetti through virtual and in-person events. I had the pleasure to present the book during the V Week of the Italian Cuisine in the world with a webinar organized by the Consulate of Italy in LA and the Italian Institute of Culture in LA. The book has been also presented via virtual events, cooking demos, interviews, and podcasts at the Italian community of Saint Louis, Culinary Center of Culture Los Angeles, Italian Cultural Center Maryland-Baltimore, Little Italy of Los Angeles. Many more events are already scheduled for the next few months. I’m also a recipient of a Taste Award 2021 with a web-series based on my format Eatalians and co-produced with I love Italian Food. I feel blessed for all these achievements and I dedicate all of them to our beloved cuisine and culture.
About the book No Ketchup on Spaghetti... is that a provocative title or does someone actually put ketchup on spaghetti?
Both! People do put ketchup on spaghetti and that’s gives me chills but de gustibus non est disputandum (in matters of taste, there can be no disputes). In this case, the title and the cover gives an exact idea to the reader of what the book is all about. It is much more than a cookbook, it’s a guide on how to shop, eat, and cook as Italians (residing in Italy) do.
What is the Italian dish you enjoy eating the most, and what do you enjoy cooking the most?
I love seafood so Tagliolini allo Scoglio e Polpo in Insalata are among my favorite dishes. I also have a sweet tooth Meringata, Tiramisù, Cannoncini, and Gelato are on my top 10 food list. I love to bake and I love to make bread. Kneading the dough is therapeutical. In general, I think that cooking is one of the greatest act of love and it’s beneficial for those who make it and enjoy it.
When it comes to Italian cuisine in America, there is always a touchy subject: the difference between Italian and Italian American cuisine. Some people are not happy that more than one Italian American restaurant calls its dishes "Italian". What are your thoughts on this topic?
Well, this is a crucial topic to me. I strongly believe that Italian cuisine and Italian American cuisine are TWO cuisines, both strongly connected to family and tradition but different. Italian American cuisine is a style of cooking per se, shaped throughout history by waves of Italian immigrants and descendants. They should proudly refer to themselves as Italian American restaurants rather than Italian. On the other side, some Italian restaurants adjust their menu to please the American taste and this create even more confusion. Luckily, it only happened once to me to eat at a restaurant own and run by an Italian restaurateur that was serving Chicken Parmigiana, Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce, Cioppino and so on selling them as authentic Italian food. A great disappointment not only for the tricky menu but also for the use of poor-quality ingredients at high prices.
What can Italy do to promote even better its cuisine, both national and regional, in the United States?
I think Italy is doing a great job in promoting its food in the US. In big cities like LA, we have outstanding Italian Restaurants, Italian Markets, Import-Export companies. You can find DOP or IGP products at a “reasonable” price, as well as 100% Italian food products and Products of Italy. Events like the Week of the Italian Cuisine or taste of Italy are very much needed and appreciated.
The ingredients of Italian cuisine are delicious and diverse, and there are so many of them. Is there something that still doesn't make it to America, some typical Italian flavor that you miss?
I’m from Lombardy and I love BRESAOLA, the dried-air, salted beef from Valtellina. I can find bresaola here in LA but it’s not IGP which means that even though the brand is Italian, and the way of processing the meat is Italian-style, the beef used isn’t from Italy. Still a good product but not what I expect at the taste.
The last question is the most difficult, the most delicate, the most problematic. I have to ask you, you know you can't escape... sauce or gravy?
Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!! It’s SUGO! I’ve been asked that question so many times during interviews, shows, cooking classes and the answer is always the same, in Italy we call it sugo so I would go with sauce. This is a topic I’ve also have included in No ketchup on Spaghetti in the chapter of Do’s and Don’ts of Italian cooking in Italy.
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