You probably know how much I love Italian food – so it’s easy to see why I became acquainted online with Deborah Mele of the Italian Food Forever site. Deborah’s passion for Italian food is obvious, and although I’m not the cook in my house I really love how accessible Deborah makes cooking like an Italian seem.
Deborah is fortunate enough to have married an Italian and have many excellent cooks among her in-laws, so she’s been able to incorporate their tips and tricks into her cooking techniques. And anyone who’s interested in learning more about Italian cooking is fortunate that Deborah is happy to share those tips and tricks with everyone via her website and blog.
Without further ado, here’s my interview with Deborah!
Tell us about your first trips to Italy – did you travel there on vacation before you married into an Italian family, or was your introduction to Italian travel through your husband’s family?
I honestly never knew much about Italy until we first moved to Milan in 1987. I learned quite a bit about Italian culture, cuisine, and family life when I married into an Italian family but it was 13 years after we married before I finally visited Italy for the first time and that visit lasted for 8 years.
Before I actually stepped on Italian soil I knew I would love Italy, though, as I had already fallen in love with its cuisine and culture – and then after living in Milan for 8 years, I honestly felt that even if I wasn’t Italian by birth, I had become Italian by heart.
You lived in Milan for several years, and now you live in Umbria. It seems like there would be a big difference between those two places. Do you find that to be true, or are there things that connect the two because they’re both Italian?
Although I loved my 8 years in Milan, it certainly would not be one of my first choices of places to live in Italy. I found the Milanese to be a bit too formal for my taste when we lived there compared to the very warm welcome we have received since moving to Umbria.
I think of Milan as big city life where the majority of people live in apartments, use public transit and have lives that run at full speed. Our life here in Umbria is a very relaxing country life where if we do not get into our car and drive into town every day, the only sounds we hear around our property are the birds or horses.
Our closest neighbor in Umbria is half a mile away, which was a very different experience from our time in Milano where we lived in large apartment complexes.
What are your favorite places to visit in Italy? As someone who’s focused on Italian food, are your favorite destinations favorites because of the sights or attractions, or do you associate each place with its cuisine first and foremost?
We love to travel across Italy, and I honestly have not been to a single region I would not want to return to. If I really had to choose my favorite Italian destinations (apart from Umbria) I would have to say Tuscany, Puglia, and the Amalfi coast.
We do, in fact, plan many of our vacations around restaurant visits and food-related attractions, although we do try and squeeze in the major regional attractions into our visits as well.
I like how you talk about “keeping an Italian kitchen,” and I especially appreciate how you make an effort to continue doing that while you were living outside Italy. What are your top tips for non-Italians who want to keep an Italian kitchen?
The essence of Italian cooking today is simplicity. One uses the freshest seasonal ingredients possible, and then uses basic cooking techniques to simply enhance the natural flavor of the food.
Italians buy fresh, seasonal locally grown products and therefore their menus change along with each season. Although an Italian meal may include multiple courses, the portion sizes are kept small to allow you to thoroughly enjoy and savor each course.
One other very important aspect of dining “Italian style” is that meals are never rushed, and that you are expected to take the time to enjoy your meal as well as share the company of those dining with you.
Thanks, Deborah! I am, understandably, quite hungry now.
Deborah Mele’s passion for Italian cuisine began over 35 years ago when she married into a large Italian family, and from that early beginning she thoroughly embraced the traditions of keeping an Italian kitchen. She later moved with her family to Milan, Italy where they resided for nearly a decade, and where she carefully developed and honed her culinary skills. After returning to North America, Deborah wanted to find a medium to share her passion for Italian cuisine as well as the hundreds of Italian recipes she had collected and perfected over the years which led to the creation of one of the most popular Italian recipe websites on the Internet today, ItalianFoodForever.com. Now eight years old, this website has grown in popularity and presently has an average of over 3,000 visitors a day as well as a newsletter subscription of over 13,000.