How did you get started in cooking?
I had an interest in cooking from when I was very young. My mom, an Italian immigrant, was always in the kitchen cooking something homemade and delicious. Our family revolved around food. We are the kind of people that talk about what we are having for dinner at the breakfast table!
What lead you to become a chef?
After having my second daughter, I decided the corporate world no longer fit with my family plan. I was incredibly stressed, working long hours and trying to raise my two children, both under the age of 2! So, I decided I needed a career change. Food had been a lifelong passion so I enrolled at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) in the night program. Nine months later I walked out with a degree and a job in Martha Stewart Living test kitchen. I loved the science of food and making a recipe ‘work.’ The kitchen was run like a lab and I realized I had found my niche. Testing recipes was fun and so educational.
I then landed a job as the on site chef at Food52. At the time, they were still very small and I cooked all the recipes featured on the site. We shot right in Amanda Hesser’s apartment. It was exciting and I learned a lot. After the birth of my son, I transitioned to a full time food writer and recipe tester, right out of my house. It allowed me to work, continue to hone my skills and, stay home!
So amazing! And how did this cookbook come to fruition?
About five years ago I realized I had all these skills and yet, didn’t know how to make my mom’s meatballs. We started a little mother/daughter project where every Sunday, she would teach me her family recipes and I would write them down in recipe format. Finally, the recipes from my grandmother’s kitchen in Italy were recorded and preserved.
I then had what I call my Oprah, aha moment. I could do this with my first generation friend’s mothers and start up a blog. Five years later, all the recipes will be together in this compilation cookbook, Heirloom Kitchen.
Why are the recipes of immigrants and mothers so wonderful and rich?
I truly believe we cook with our heart first and then our minds and hands. When I cooked with each of these women we spoke about their immigration journey and how they came to this country for a better life for their children. However, preserving the recipes of the homeland was equally as important as the opportunities they came here to obtain. As we are all the children of immigrants, the recipes are nostalgic and remind us of our childhood and most importantly, our shared culture.
Can you tell us a little bit about your cookbook?
My goal for this book is that you will sit down and read it like a novel of short stories. Each woman, not only shared her beautiful, cherished recipes, they also shared their intimate stories of immigration, survival and most of all, the love they have for their children and grandchildren. I have shared all these amazing stories in the book. In addition, each recipe is special, tried and true. My hope is that it will remind you of your grandmothers and the nostalgia will have you making them all!
If you need a gateway recipe to get you started, try my mother’s meatballs. They are what started this crazy journey and they are quite simply, the best meatballs you will ever taste. Promise!
What has it been like to work on recipes with your mother?
It is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. The reason I called the book Heirloom Kitchen is because I truly believe these recipes are heirlooms for families to pass down, generation to generation. Food is what tethers us to our past and moves us forward.
Do you cook with your kids?
We are a family of cooks! My girls love to cook and my son, now five, is currently taking a cooking class after school, upon his request! I think cooking with your kids is very important. It’s not only a life skill, it shows them how the food gets on the table. It’s hard work! It also helps to teach math; weight and fractions and it helps them hone their palates. No frozen chicken nuggets in my house!
For more recipes from Anna, browse TSSM recipes