Rosa Mariotti

An italian lady in Hawaii

Cristiana Grassi, our food blogger, is back. After the Sicilian Desserts we inaugurate a series of interviews with Italians who teach our cuisine in the world.

Who says FB is as useful as a lead balloon and only a waste of time is (partially) wrong. This “social tool” par excellence has given me the opportunity to meet beautiful people, over the years. So I tell you that finding the right contact is enough, provided you share the same interests: cooking, for instance

The love of food – good, clean and right, if possible – brings people together. That’s why renowned chefs and great cooking masters are present among my friends. One of them is Rosa Mariotti, who is both a chef and a master. Yes, because she can teach – and she’s qualified to do it – and conveys information and feelings even through a post or a photo…and what’s more, she runs a cooking school, indeed!

I’d like to start a path with her which brings me to interview various people who promote the Italian style and culture in the world through food. Yes, because Rosa lives in the Hawaii – that, for me, is a place halfway between myth and cinema, while she is sure it really exists. She makes ravioli, sweets, pasta and bread in pure Italian Style, over there.

Rosa landed at the white Pacific beaches coming not straight from Perugia, where she had left in 1998, but from Oregon (the state of the adorable beaver as a symbol), where she had been studying – as the papers show – and teaching Italian cuisine and fusion for almost ten years.

By chance, Oregon and central Italy are on the same parallel and (fancy that!) the beaver’s state is the world’s first producer of hazelnuts and the second one of truffles after Italy. What’s more… meat and fish are excellent! So it wasn’t difficult for Rosa to find ingredients for her dishes and to apply Italian techniques and traditions to local products.

Rosa Mariotti - Chef - Hawaii - Growing up italian - Giallo Zafferano - Maria Laura Berlinguer - Stile Italiano - Food - Cucina Italiana - Foodblog - Made in Italy

Interview with Rosa Mariotti

The Italian cuisine in Hawaii

Ok, we have hazelnuts and truffles in common… but who are your apprentices? What do they think about Italy? Do they know it? Is Italian cuisine “exotic” and “bizarre”, a means by itself, or do they perceive its broader cultural value? Do they know the differences between… let’s say, the Lombard cuisine and the Apulian one? Or, rather, are they packed with stereotypes of pummarola-pizza-spaghetti Bolognese food from the north to the south of the country uninterruptedly?

Rosa Mariotti: At the beginning of my career as a cooking teacher I had in mind to teach ‘popular’ classes, but fact is – in particular when considering the cost of raw materials – is that the majority of my students belong to the well-to-do middle class. Most of them have been to Italy several times, and therefore they look for and appreciate the cuisine I propose. Living in Hawaii, thirteen thousand kilometers away from Rome, I asked my class – about 20 people – how many of them had been to Italy. Almost all of them raised their hands!

Sometimes I find a supporter who funds me, so that I can give free cooking lectures. The meetings are held in a bookshop or in a shopping center; in that case I offer a monothematic class on risotto, for instance, or on pizza, which is always all the rage.

The participants/trainees are very interested in the Regional Series in which every Italian region, from north to south, is represented with local dishes. They want to know the history of the dishes, of the region, its geography; and they appreciate the aesthetic and chromatic result of the dishes… and they highlight how the Friulian cuisine is no doubt less colorful than the Sicilian one, for instance.

Not to mention when you deal with ingredients which, before the discovery of America, didn’t exist in Italy – and in Europe either – like tomatoes, potatoes, corn, cacao… It’s wonderful to see when they have a flash of inspiration and realize the complexity of the Italian cuisine, how it is interwoven with its history, how its variety reflects the intricacy of its territory, its political difficulties, its linguistic differences.

I start with Umbria, which is my region, introducing the Etruscans and, gradually, dealing with local Umbrian dishes and wines, but there’s more… Teaching one region only would be a pity because the students would lose the overall view of the wide range of the Italian cuisine. Yes, it’s true that some regions have a wider and more diverse culinary heritage than others, but I would be partial if I only focused my attention on the most famous ones.

While you knead and cook, do you promote our country? Do you praise its wonders… so to speak… for mere national pride? And have those who follow you ever experienced the true beauty and cooking with style?

Rosa Mariotti: Of course! Lots of my friends are chefs who run cooking schools in Italy – Assisi, Lecce – and some of my students have been there and have fallen in love with the Italian food and country even more! Then, of course, there are those who want to visit the most classic places like the Cinque Terre in Liguria, or Venice. But the ones who want to get to know Italy “the least touristic way” I recommend the Marche, for instance…

Rosa Mariotti - Chef - Hawaii - Growing up italian - Giallo Zafferano - Maria Laura Berlinguer - Stile Italiano - Food - Cucina Italiana - Foodblog - Made in Italy

A technical question: the ingredients. Do you try in some way to “adapt” the typical Italian recipes by using ingredient more familiar to the American taste or remain stuck to the original, trying to ‘educate’ them to our flavors?

Rosa Mariotti: Never! If ever I am reduced to making Pasta Alfredo or Spaghetti & Meatballs it‘ll be the moment in which I’ll hang up my apron! Actually, I noticed the Americans are able to fully appreciate the ingredients once they are guided to learn about flavors and tastes: Carnaroli rather than Arborio, Pecorino rather than a common grated cheese in (airtight) bag.

Even here in Hawaii, I have an Italian contact who buys cheese for a local shop. In the next classes I’d like to deal with Sweet Gorgonzola, Burrata and other lesser-known cheeses.

Then, of course, the students will decide the ingredients according to their planning, means and tastes. As an ‘educator’, I may suggest alternative solutions, nothing else; in other words, I always try to give advice, not to be prescriptive. I do an important thing, though: in all my classes I suggest a wine-paring. Since I attended different classes on wine-paring, when I lived in Oregon, I usually suggest both American and Italian Wines – even though they are out of reach – and the students like this very much.

How important is the appearance of the dishes for you? You know, the Italians are famous as masters of beauty worldwide. Do you convey this concept during your classes as well?

Rosa Mariotti: Rosa: Absolutely! We eat with our sight first, then with our taste; so it is basic to present a dish in an elegant way. During my classes I deal with portion control, too, that is the quantity of the Italian helping compared to the American ones. In a class with twenty students and limited time, I usually adopt a “family style”; namely, all students help themselves.

However, the first dish I present everyone is what I jokingly call “Kodak moment”: that is, the students arrange the presentation in detail and then take a picture of it. When I plate up a dish, I’m not that fanatic to spent twenty minutes to arrange decorations and leaflets… also because the dish cools down, then; but I care about elegance very much.

Rosa Mariotti - Chef - Hawaii - Growing up italian - Giallo Zafferano - Maria Laura Berlinguer - Stile Italiano - Food - Cucina Italiana - Foodblog - Made in Italy

Now, seriously. In the eyes of the Italians, the States is the place of the worst culinary nastiness; of food fashion and of contradictions. Those who eat a meal in food-trays warmed up in the microwave (…and they have the faintest idea of what cooking means!); those who only buy at the farmer’s market and those who produce their own food for fear of contamination; those who know nothing about agriculture and intensive livestock breeding; those who, against these issues involving society, economy, healthcare, set up crusades; those who don’t go beyond the traditional peach cobbler and those who adore the imported Italian food (from panettone to San Daniele ham, from Grana Padano cheese to pane carasau). You who are a veteran of both the States and cooking, what’s your opinion?

Rosa Mariotti: well… if I’ve been living here for twenty-one years, I have a good opinion of it, no doubt! There are a lot of things I like of the States. Bureaucracy is simple and the country is efficient on the whole, just to make a couple of examples. There’s something in the cooking that I like very much and this helped me to improve the way of being an Italian chef who thinks outside the box. At college, while I was studying Hospitality Management, culinary or pastry-making, there were students from different cultural backgrounds, in my class.

I found out dishes that I didn’t know and that I could revise with Italian ingredients. I found out dishes like dukkah: here I prepare it with macadamia nuts, while in Italy I use hazelnuts; ravioli khinkali that I adjusted with fish… well, I’m sure that creativity is enhanced in this melting pot. No one invents anything in cooking, but anyone can go through different combinations of flavors. Just like in music, notes are the same, melodies are different!

As well as in her cooking classes, you can find Rosa Mariotti at Sugar Beach bake shop di Kihei, Hawaii (if you happen to go there, you never know, you might need something sweet…): there she offers haute patisserie and bread made with starter. Then, she has her web space Growing up italian on Giallo Zafferano platform and her Instagram profile, where you can admire her wonderful, original creations. The images illustrating this article are taken from there.

Cristiana Grassi aka Orata Spensierata

Gallery: Rosa Mariotti La cucina italiana insegnata alle Hawaii