How would you describe your activity and what is Italian hospitality to you?
I have been engaging in the culinary arts for more than twenty years and I am an expert in the art of hosting. I conduct cooking classes in Italy and abroad and I work as a food stylist. I organise and curate food and wine events for companies and institutions. I have a blog called ladyerbapepe.com, born to share my recipes and kitchen stories. I am an active participant in the Milanese delegation of the Italian Academy of Cuisine.
I believe that Italian hospitality means the pleasure of receiving guests, in an atmosphere of elegance, pleasantness, and attention to detail, where harmony and good taste take the leading role. Our biodiversity and gastronomic culture distinguish us in the world, and they are a precious added value.
Where does your passion for cuisine come from?
Mine is an innate passion. I grew up in a family of gourmets, where great cooking and the pursuit of special ingredients were our “daily bread”, so to speak.
I spent much time in the kitchen, admiring the skilful hands that stretched the dough or prepared pastries; I hold flavours, gestures, memories and culinary tales in my mind. As I grew up, my desire to host parties and dinners among friends also grew, the desire to share flavours of home in a spontaneous and generous manner. I love setting up tables, looking for accessories, coming up with decor ideas for plates, floral compositions, even the aprons I wear.
Which experiences do you believe were most important to reach the place you’re in now?
The many years spent abroad (living in Singapore and New York, my many travels) have traced my path. I used to teach Italian abroad, and a group of ladies asked me to start from recipes to make conversation lessons about food.
Organising cooking classes felt like the natural next step.
With time I weaved a large web of acquaintances and friendships, a small treasure that I call my “human capital”. I had the privilege of going to friends’ houses all over the world, and visiting countries with the eyes of one who lives there and holds them in their heart; it was a great enrichment. Participating and organising many events I have always put myself out there, and as a bystander I’ve always tried to soak in as much as possible. The comparison with the many professionals, cooking teachers and chefs with whom I’ve collaborated has given me the opportunity to deepen my knowledge.
What differences can you make out in your work in Asia, in the States and here in Italy?
Abroad, I’ve always combined the teaching of Italian cuisine with our gastronomic culture and tradition history. In Singapore, I wanted people to be able to travel Italy through my tales and the dishes they ate. In New York, where Italian cuisine has arrived a long time ago, I wanted to deepen the subject of ingredients, and have themed lessons — Rossini’s cuisine, Verdi’s…
Everywhere I went I’ve been talking of entertaining Italian style, with our peculiar way of composing menus.
Once I came back to Milan, in 2005, I concentrated more on the ABC’s of cuisine: as I always say, there are no secrets but techniques that I teach to make sure everybody succeeds in the creation of a soufflé or a meringue.
Lastly, I’ve been placing more and more important on the art of hosting, in a contemporary key. I care a lot about the setting of the table, I choose a themed menu, I delight in making simple dishes and transforming them with plating.
How do tradition and innovation reconcile on the table, in your opinion?
Tradition and innovation reconcile in the name of product quality, respecting traditional dishes while making them more contemporary and healthy with new techniques, which have been rapidly improving in recent years.
Where do you get inspiration for your recipes and your table settings?
I am a design lover; when I was a girl I used to dream about being a fashion designer or interior decorator, and I never stopped buying magazines and books on fashion, decor, cuisine, entertaining. I read a lot and there isn’t a day I don’t think of a new table to set, and new decorations. Sometimes I pick up a fabric or a plate, and I start imagining them on the table, I experiment until I find the combination that is most satisfying to me.
Another great source of inspiration are of course my travels: I favour cities, I am hungry for knowledge. I get up early, get out and begin my tour, from one museum to another, from a shop to a street market, always ready to soak up everything around me. And of course I never come home empty handed!
Your social media presence is well-maintained yet genuine at the same time. What’s the most important thing that you wish to convey of yourself and your activity through these channels?
I try to be as spontaneous and natural as I am in life, and I believe — I hope — I transmit my passions. I like to think I can be an inspiration to some and that I can lead with grace towards beauty, harmony, good taste, and of course Italian style. Beauty will save us!
Looking forward, what are your objectives?
To make others discover or rediscover the value of hosting at home: inviting friends and family over is good for the soul of everybody and should be a happy occasion. With time I’ve learnt small and great “tricks” to make easier what seems to be so tiring. So I’m thinking of a sort of… “SOS party!” project, maybe online, why not?
Moreover, I want to promote and divulge our “Italian-ness” and the richness of our territory through books and videos, to an ever growing audience.
We have an incomparable cultural, artistic and culinary and wine heritage, there’s beauty and good everywhere, from North to South. I am moved when I find small artisans still making ceramic pottery, fabrics, unique embroideries; cheese or cold cuts, preserves and wines. Living abroad, I’ve learnt to appreciate and value all of this even more. It’s from Italy that I want to start on this important mission.