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Flora's Table's interview

Interview by Gitanjali Interview by Gitanjali

We interviewed Flora's Table!

Visit the blog: Flora's Table.

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Hello Flora's Table, so tell us...

When did you begin your blog, and what inspired you to start it?

Francesca: We started our blog at the end of September 2012.
After moving to Fairfield County (CT) for a while, we had no choice but to realize that, even if we were living close to New York City, it was almost impossible to find authentic Italian food. Many establishments around here just serve food labeling it "Italian", even if the dish is just flat out not Italian and you would never find any such dish on any table in Italy. Most of the people that we have met over the last few years have so many misconceptions about Italian food, simply because their palate got used to combinations of flavors and ingredients that, most of the times, have very little to do with the original dishes.
We wanted to document and show to our community first, and the rest of the world then, how simple and unpretentious, and yet authentic, real Italian food is and what is really going on our "Italian table".
And since in Italy everybody knows that where there is good food there must be good wine and Stefano is a certified sommelier with the Italian Sommelier Association, we decided to go one step further and offer wine pairing recommendations to go along with my recipes, reviews of wines that piqued Stefano's interest and, occasionally, cool information about the wine world.

Tell us about your journey from Italy to the USA; did you encounter any challenges? How did you adapt to the food?

Stefano: We first came to the US (New York City, in particular) back in 1999, when we stayed for one and half years and then went back to Italy, but only to go back to the City That Never Sleeps in 2004. We have lived in New York and Connecticut ever since.
Adjusting to the New World when we first arrived certainly presented a few challenges and getting used to a few things that were just different from what we were used to in Italy. For instance, back in the day when bills in the US were still paid by putting a check in the mail, we were surprised by how much reliance there was on the postal system for so repetitive an action as paying a utilities bills. In Italy recurrent bills would normally be paid by direct payment out of your bank account, something that took off in the States only much later. On the other hand, when we were in New York we immediately came to love the convenience of having stores open seven days a week and delis or certain food stores being open any time of the day (or night) - such a striking difference with Italy, where store hours are regulated.
Regarding the food, we love New York's incredibly diverse offering of food from pretty much everywhere in the world. We have stumbled across a few restaurants that have become some of our favorites, from hole in the wall places all the way up to fancy restaurants. We have eaten at some pretty terrible Italian restaurants and at some excellent ones. We have also found good pizza and good buffalo mozzarella. We think that the quality of Italian restaurants in New York has steadily grown over the last ten years and now the City offers some that would be considered outstanding even in Italy, by Italian standards.
One thing that kind of surprised us was noticing how much garlic is generally used in traditional Italian-American cuisine: this is very different from Italy, where garlic is used much more subtly and sparingly, only to add a gentle accent to the food flavors. Here things sometimes get a little heavy-handed, to the point that all that garlic simply overpowers and covers up the real ingredients of a dish. We do not subscribe to such a rendition of Italian food, which instead is meant to be fresh, simple and make the quality of its ingredients sing.

What are your culinary influences?

Francesca: When I started cooking five years ago, I was greatly influenced by the culinary traditions of my family. Over time, I learned to select top quality ingredients and prepare them as well as I could, while I kept improving my culinary skills in order to be able to master and perfect my family's recipes.
Nowadays, I feel confident in my skills and I can say that pretty much anything can influence me: a smell, a flavor, a color, a shape, a flower, even a page of a fashion magazine. I'm open to anything that inspires me. The great point about cooking is that you can learn something new every day, if you are willing to. You can meet the most unusual person, someone you have absolutely nothing in common with, and yet that person may teach you something really valuable and share with you the most extraordinary of recipes.

What's it like working together as a husband/wife duo on the blog?

Stefano: For us it works very well, especially because we are complementary to one another, so there is no overlap. Francesca takes care of the culinary and lifestyle content of the blog, while I am in charge of photography (although she is also my demanding art director) and of all the wine-related content. We coordinate our editorial schedule and we try to keep things varied as much as possible, by publishing a mix of recipes, wine reviews, wine pairings, coverage of food- or wine-related trips or fairs, interviews with winemakers and product or book reviews which we think may be of interest to our readers.

What is your earliest food memory?

Francesca: My grandmother's signature cake: a multi-layer sponge cake (pan di spagna) filled with vanilla pastry cream and covered with chocolate ganache - pretty decadent! Stefano's instead is of ripe, juicy, yellow peaches - to date, his favorite fruit!

Do you have a secret ingredient, a product you use a lot that is unexpected or that helps you save time?

Francesca: yes, it is called magic wand and, if I remember correctly, the words that go with it are "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo". Just joking! No, I don't have a secret ingredient, but I do like to add leeks to my savory dishes (pastas, meats, quiches). Their flavor is milder than onions' and they complement and enhance the flavor of other savory ingredients very well.

Is there any dish, ingredient or type of food you refuse to cook? Or anything that you refuse to eat?

Francesca: I don't eat mushrooms and any kind of fish simply because I don't like the taste of either. Stefano eats pretty much any kind of food and is always eager to experiment new things - his exceptions are liver, watermelon and cucumbers (all of which he REALLY dislikes). And no, for the sake of my family's health and in order to educate our daughter's palate, there is no type of food that I refuse to cook. However, I'm not really comfortable with the throwing of the poor live lobster in the boiling water!

What are your goals for your blog? Where would you like to see it in the next year? Five years?

Francesca and Stefano: Our goal is to see it keep growing steadily and to always push ourselves to raise the bar in terms of quality of its content, because we are convinced that organic growth of a blog can only happen by publishing quality posts that readers find interesting and that make them want to come back for more. We are not interested in techniques for quickly harvesting followers from other blogs: we want to build an audience that is genuinely interested in what we do, what we show them, what we have to say. Well, our plan for our blog five years from now is kind of a secret, but since we like you guys at Gourmandize so much we are going to reveal it: we plan to make it the most successful IPO in history, one that would make Facebook's pale in comparison ;-) Keep following us if you want to see how this is going to pan out ;-)

My worst food flop was...

Francesca: My worst food flop was Latte Dolce Fritto (Sweet Fried Milk). It is a traditional dish from Liguria (the Northern Italian Region where Stefano was born). It is a milky cream that should thicken and then is cut into pieces that are breaded and fried - supposedly delicious. I couldn't nail it, but I don't give up and I'm still working on it.

Anything else you would like to share?

Francesca: Just a word of advice from someone who, up to five years ago, didn't even put a tea kettle on the stove.
Don't let the modern culinary culture influence or intimidate you. All those celebrity chefs and TV shows and contests! They are all about people and have very little to do with food. I have met chefs talking to me about food like they were revealing to me the secret of the Holy Grail!
In my opinion, there is no magic formula and cooking is not a contest. Perfection takes time and nobody cares if you are making the dish in record time. You just need determination, time and practice and, above all, you must love what you are doing. Maybe you won't end up being the chef of a three star Michelin restaurant, but, in the privacy of your kitchen and with the help of a few basic utensils, you can create little masterpieces that will put a big smile on the face of your family and friends. Isn't that something?

Thank you Flora's Table for answering our questions and see you soon!
Published by Gitanjali - 10/06/2014

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Comment on this interview

I love Francesca and Stefano and their food and wine blogs. Thank you for sharing this wonderful interview with them! I learned quite a few interesting tidbits and now plan to buy shares so that I can rake it in when they go public. :) But seriously, they are the best.

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Fantastic interview! Enjoyed reading your immigration story and thoughts about Italian American cuisine.

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Great interview. Love the last tip!

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