INTERVIEW with Toni Lydecker
Your recipes and writing reveal your true passion for Italian cooking and culture. What first drew your attention to Italy?
My husband is an art historian specializing in the Italian Renaissance, and his work took us to Florence for a year. I was taking care of a new baby and my job was to feed us. I went to the outdoor market and small shops since there was no supermarket, and would ask the other customers and vendors how to prepare the ingredients I bought. They were all talking about food anyway; how they would prepare it when they got home. Eating and spending time at the table is so important there, which I loved.
What is [one of] your most memorable meals, from Italy or elsewhere?
It was the first Sunday after we arrived in Italy during this magical year. On Sundays everyone eats a big meal. We were in the Tuscan mountains, it was winter and we were in front of a fire. We ate gnocchi with tomato sauce and roasted quail and a simple cake. Next to us was a big family with the children all dressed up, not sitting demurely at the table but dancing around. I asked a friend we were with who was from Florence if this was normal and he shrugged and said “yeah.”
What is one specialty Italian ingredient that you think should be more widely used in America?
I think anchovies are underappreciated. They are delicious fresh, but it’s hard to find fresh ones outside of Italy. But here people can get cured anchovies. People think of them as very assertive and in-your-face, and they can be, but they’re also just a wonderful secret ingredient that gives your dish a savory undertone. It’s worth getting a good brand if you can, preferably Italian ones. My favorite brand is Recca, which is imported from Sicily.
What are you currently working on?
I write a blog called Tavola Talk, which focuses on eating good, authentic Italian, no matter where you might be. Most recently my blog featured an article detailing the various New Year’s Resolutions of Italian chefs and other experts. To find out more, check it out yourself: http://tavolatalk.com/. I am also in the midst of planning an extended trip to Italy, where I’ll cook and write while my husband and I farmhouse sit in Tuscany.
Any advice to aspiring food writers?
Having some professional cooking knowledge is becoming more and more crucial for food writers. I would advise people to first get a good foundation of food knowledge and experience, and then focus in on one cuisine or other specialty. Become an expert on it. For me, I think of myself as a writer first, and my love of cooking grew out of that and my stay in Italy. I started writing about food at the Washington Post. Now it’s more competitive but much easier to start out: anyone can start a blog. My biggest piece of advice is to just go ahead and write rather than wait to persuade someone to let you.
Thank you Toni for the interview! Be sure to check out her blog, http://tavolatalk.com/.
by Catherine Lamb, intern, student, food-obsessor. Check out her blog at http://lamericainegourmande.wordpress.com/