One of the greatest concerns of the leaders of the Italian American community scattered throughout the United States is to try to involve the younger generations. American kids of Italian origin grow up with the teachings of their families, but time passing from the era of mass migration inevitably makes it more difficult to celebrate the Italian heritage as those who came to America from Italy did.
This is why the use of new technologies is important: today we welcome on We the Italians Cara Di Falco, a real YouTube star, who on her channel talks about Italian cuisine and, together with it, the culture and traditions of our country. Cara is a perfect and beautiful mix of past and future, which puts the internet at the service of telling stories and memories that we must not forget.
Cara, your online series “Cara’s Cucina” is the first and only Emmy Nominated cooking show from YouTube. Please tell us something about you and how did you start your show
Back home, my mom was an amazing cook: I grew up with both of my grandmothers, and even my great-grandmother was alive and well when I was young. And we would cook together as a family; which was how I learned how to cook. My friends always wanted to come to my mother’s house to eat!
Even a friend one time, he wanted to impress his girlfriend, so he called me and say: “I want to make a dinner, can you come help me? I am a mess in this”. So, food has always been part of my story. I started my career in broadcasting, so I have been in New York in the radio and TV area for the last ten years. That’s how I met my husband, who actually now shoots and edits my show. The show started on YouTube when I lost my full-time job. My husband pushed me, saying: “You love food and being on camera, let's just see how it goes”. So, I decided to open a YouTube channel.
In your YouTube channel we read that “Food, Family, Tradition, Culture, Cooking, Inspiration & Love are what the Cucina is all about!” Please explain to our readers how you mix all these ingredients in your show
Coming from a journalism background, I have always loved the idea of the story behind the food. So I am always trying to tell that story, whether it’s my own with family recipes or if I have a guest, their story: through the recipe they are sharing.
What I discovered by meeting people and learning from other countries is that tradition in a culture is always present in the food, whatever is your place. People are always telling a story, especially when they cook a cultural cuisine, and at the end of the day, the main ingredient is love. Everybody loves to sit around a table with a good company and enjoy the meal and the conversations.
Those are fun memories for me, the things I still love to do today, and I ought to inspire my viewers to do. Whether they are using my grandma’s recipes, I only tell them: “If you don’t like something or if you want to do differently, do it your way! You don’t have to follow exactly what I say”. It means combining the things I love and encouraging viewers to bring their own tradition to their kitchens as well.
You are also an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. What does it mean?
Integrative Nutrition is a school in NYC, and it has a program online: we basically are similar to a Nutritionist, but we take a more holistic view. So, it’s very much about the impact that food has not only on your body, but also on your mind, your spirit and how all of the things create a balance in our life.
When I work with somebody, usually we start on what is on their plate and then we extend the talk to other areas of their life: because I can talk you into eating all the broccoli in the world, but if you are really unhappy in some other aspects of your life, it’s going to impact your body, how it looks and feels. We really try to take the holistic, balanced approach to human body and nutrition. So that’s basically what I do as a Health Coach and then I try to incorporate that information into the show: and the Italian cuisine helps a lot in doing this, because we all know that the Mediterranean Diet has been declared one of the healthiest in the world!
In your opinion, is there a difference between Italian cuisine and Italian American cuisine? If so, what's the difference?
There is absolutely a difference; but I am not sure that I can put my finger specifically on it. Cuisine, like language and culture, is constantly evolving, and developing and going on. But I think that the Italian American cuisine is truly the story of the Italian American people: the majority of them got here during the XX century. The US was not importing Italian goods the way it is now, so they had to make do.
So I think that a lot Italian American cuisine is basically the answer to the question “how can we get the flavor that we knew, with the ingredients that are available here and now?” And I think that’s how it started but then it got developed through the different generations, it got rediscovered. Now we have beautiful Italian markets, particularly in New York and New Jersey where I am located: you know that the population here is overwhelmingly still Italian American. We can get the correct kind of food, we have Italians to come here and curing different meats the way they would do back home, we have people who can make fresh mozzarella.
Of course, our roots are in Italy but I like to think at Italian Americans like the ancient Romans, who were able to get the best of any culture and incorporate that into the Roman culture. I think the Italian Americans took the best available to them and the best of both cultures, and they made something unique with it.
Italy is a small country, but also a huge superpower in the food and wine and cooking business. What's the reason, in your opinion?
I think it’s because Italians are passionate about their food, they know that it is the thing that people come there for. It’s their favorite export: the olive oil, the cheese, the wine… so they are dedicated to it, to always making it perfect and putting out their very best because they always want the world to know that they have the best food in the world.
Is it sauce or gravy, to you?
I love this question! People ask me about this all the time! I use them interchangeably. I am one of those Italian Americans of my generation who feel 100% Italian. A lot of people are half Italian half Irish, or half Italian half English, we’ve got a little mix and I think that’s where this sauce/ gravy thing came from. We use it interchangeably; my father’s family is Abruzzese and they would say to make “a pot of gravy” and my mother’s family is Piemontese and they would say “a pot of sauce”, but in either case, it’s always the same thing.
But once I had a friend of mine who was very Irish and he said: “what do you call the brown stuff that you put on mashed potato?” and I said: “Eew! We don’t do that, it doesn’t have a name because we don’t use it!”
By the way, this is a delicate topic. People in New Jersey will kill you over sauce or gravy, for sure!
What's your favorite dish?
In general, anything with pasta because I love it. But if I really have to pick one, I will say gnocchi in my great-grandmother ragù sauce. It was her signature dish, and I always say if I had to pick my last meal, it would be that!
Back to the YouTube success. I think that using the social media to promote the Italian American traditions and cuisine is fundamental to involve the new generations and teach them how wonderful it is the be Italian, and you are a celebrity in this. Do you have any advice to give to other young Italian Americans who want to celebrate their heritage using new technologies?
Honestly, the thing I will say to the younger Italian Americans is: if you have the ability and your grandparents are still alive, get them on video and have them tell you their story. Have them write down and get it. That is the one thing that I miss of my grandmothers. I had them until my college years and my early twenties, but I wasn’t yet doing this and it didn’t occur to me. Now, we have the video camera on the cellphone, we can have this memory in our pocket all the time. I think that this is the best thing with technology: even if you do nothing with it, just preserve the story and the memories, it’s something that I really wish I could have done.
Are you working on any new project?
Yes, we are doing our second “Cucina Tour” in the middle of Spring: we will be arriving on April 25th until the 6th of May 2020. This is by far my most favorite part of my job. So, we take a small group of people, around twenty people, and we bring them to Italy: this year will be in Campania, and some of them have never been to Italy and it’s their first trip.
We are going to see Pompeii, Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi, Ravello and Positano. But we are also going to have a really unique culinary experience. We are going to go to a vineyard that’s on Mount Vesuvius, and taste the wine that grows in the volcanic soil. We are going to go to a lemon farm and see how they make Limoncello, and then to a buffalo mozzarella farm. So not only we will see the sites, but we will really taste the flavors of the region and learn why the products are produced there in the first place.
Again, it’s about the story behind the food and what makes them so special. It’s the concept of terroir: where the soil, the air, the water, the people, the process, all impact the flavor of the food. That’s the story I love to tell with this trip, all these factors combined to make a dish. I just think it’s such an amazing experience for our clients to be able to come and see and taste why all the different parts of Italy have something different from one another: it’s something that Americans don’t realize and they also can see how beautiful each one of these regions are.
You don’t have to be Neapolitan or Italian or even American to participate, anybody is welcome to come: the tickets are available on my website. It’s a very nice trip because we structured it in a way where pretty much everything is included: the meals, the hotel, the English and Italian speaking tour guide, with a private bus that will be taking only our group through the area. All the entrance fees and all the cooking classes are included, and basically the only thing anybody would need is their flight: we’ll meet at the airport in Rome and then we will continue with private transport right down to Campania and just enjoy! The only thing you might need is shopping money!
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