“I would like to teach people how to nourish themselves. I know it sounds a little cliche, but most of my students honestly don’t know what to eat. In addition to the basics of choosing nutritious food, many people are very far removed from their senses. Intelligent doctors and lawyers will ask me “how do I know if there is enough salt in my food?” (While they are tasting it)! Our industrial food industry has put “experts” in charge of people’s palates, and therefore in charge of their bodies, health, and happiness. I would like to start a movement which teaches people how to listen to what their bodies need, and their senses crave so that they can take back the pleasure of eating again and be in control of their health. Once that is accomplished, I would like to transmit the joy and therapeutic benefits that cooking and baking can give. I would like to inspire people to really enjoy cooking, baking, and sharing food with others — so much so that it becomes an integral part of their life — the way that it is in the Mediterranean region.”
As an award — winning, best-selling, author, chef, television personality, and educator, Amy Riolo is one of the world’s foremost authorities on culinary culture. She is known for sharing history, culture, and nutrition through global cuisine as well as simplifying recipes for the home cook. A graduate of Cornell University, Amy is considered a culinary thought leader who enjoys changing the way we think about food and the people who create it.
Food was always a central part of my life. I grew up in an Italian-American family where cooking, baking, growing produce, and picking fruit made up the happiest of times. When I was a teenager, I was given the responsibility of cooking for my family and not too long after my mom was diagnosed with diabetes — so I had to make our food fit into her meal plan — and I wanted it to taste good at the same time, so that everyone could enjoy it. My dad and I used to watch National Geographic together, and that is what led me to pursue my interests in food history and anthropology. As an adult, it became clear that the only things I really wanted to do were cook and write, becoming a chef was the only way I could think of to fuse those two passions.
I guess it has been a homecoming of sorts, because that is where I feel the most comfortable. I have had the pleasure (and challenge) of working internationally, so even the professional kitchen which is not yours can be welcoming and I have had the good fortune of collaborating with many amazing kindred spirits around the globe. The kitchen allows you to teach and learn at the same time- which always inspires me. When I started, it was difficult for me to get work, both as an educator and a writer because everywhere I applied already had an “Italian chef”, so one day one of the editors at Cooking Light magazine dubbed me a “North African Specialist” because I had spent so much time in the region. I began focusing on that type of food, because no one else was doing it, that allowed me to grow professionally, and then I came back to the Mediterranean and regional Italian food which are second nature to me. Now I am comfortable in kitchens around the Mediterranean, Italy, and the entire Mediterranean region.
Yes, the Mediterranean Lifestyle — the cuisines that span from all of the countries that touch the Mediterranean Sea- from the South of France to Italy, Greece, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, etc….
As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in an Italian-American family, and spent time living in Italy — so that is my “home cuisine” — my step grandmother was Greek — so I learned to cook and bake Greek food from her. As an adult I began spending a lot of time in Egypt and then went on to write Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Italian cookbooks. Nowadays, I like to promote our own home region of Italy (Calabria) and the notion of the ancient Magna Grecia and the entire Mediterranean in terms of both diet and lifestyle.
There are many — one of them happened when I was doing restaurant consulting in Egypt. In the beginning of my time there, I was concerned that I might not be taken seriously because I am a woman. So I used to be overly direct and serious in giving direction to the staff. I swapped out the corn oil that they were using for high-phenolic extra-virgin olive oil. One day when I went into the kitchen I saw the chefs were storing it above the stove and I was concerned that the oil would be ruined. So I made a firm point that “the oil must be kept away from heat.” The next day I went in to work and found it in the refrigerator. I laughed so hard — and from that moment I learned to take myself a little less seriously.
In the larger sense, I think it is to know that I am making a contribution or a difference to someone. Being able to travel, learn, and teach at the same time. Leading culinary tours allows me that pleasure. It gives me great satisfaction that people would spend their time and money to travel with me overseas.
When I was publishing my second book, Nile Style: Egyptian Cuisine and Culture, my proposal was rejected 50 times! Many publishers felt I was too new an author to write about an unfamiliar cuisine.
Yes. I just keep going and don’t give up unless I don’t believe or want something anymore. I also continued to grow my platform so that I would no longer be considered a novice author, and promoted Egyptian cuisine on social media and at cultural events to create interest that I could document. In the case of the book, the 51st publisher did publish it, the book went on to win the World Gourmand Award in Paris, was re-printed , and enabled me to present at the National Book Festival and The Library of Congress as well as many institutions and embassies in the US and Egypt.
Yes! Next week I will release a new book Creating a Cookbook: How to Write, Publish and Promote Your Culinary Philosophy — available on Amazon. I also am writing an expanded edition of my Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook with The American Diabetes Association which should be out next month. I am also about to lead 2 culinary tours to Italy this fall and am planning custom tours to Morocco and Greece in the Spring. I also have a new series of cooking classes which I’ll be teaching at the Pizza University & Culinary Arts Center and Casa Italiana in the DC area.
I believe, like the Sufis and the Egyptians, that the “breath of a chef” meaning their soul, shines through their food. If you are not into what you’re making, or don’t feel like being there, it will show — if you are in a great place emotionally and energetically, your food will speak for itself. One of the things I enjoy most about cooking is that if you love to do it, you can enter the kitchen with a less than perfect mindset, then allow yourself to get lost in the process and the sensory experience of cooking with the food can actually help lift your mood. So, the most important key is mindset and emotions. After that I would say the quality of ingredients, then the technical skills of a chef married with the desire to please those you feed.
Of course it does. In my work, I have always focused on the history and culture of food as a means to introduce a new cuisine. Long before culinary diplomacy was a term coined by the State Dept., I began lecturing at embassies and cultural centers to explain how the foods of various countries shaped their cultures. I have also been invited by many state-sponsored International Visitors Centers to speak about various communities and their cuisine. I recently created a lecture called “From Palace to Street: Iraqi and Ethiopian Food and their Impact on World Cuisine” I use food as a means to draw parallels between cultures, but at an even more simple note, just to create a meal that you know your loved ones — family and friends will enjoy and remember is one of the most satisfying privileges on earth.
I would like to teach people how to nourish themselves. I know it sounds a little cliche, but most of my students honestly don’t know what to eat. In addition to the basics of choosing nutritious food, many people are very far removed from their senses. Intelligent doctors and lawyers will ask me “how do I know if there is enough salt in my food?” (While they are tasting it)! Our industrial food industry has put “experts” in charge of people’s palates, and therefore in charge of their bodies, health, and happiness. I would like to start a movement which teaches people how to listen to what their bodies need, and their senses crave so that they can take back the pleasure of eating again and be in control of their health. Once that is accomplished, I would like to transmit the joy and therapeutic benefits that cooking and baking can give. I would like to inspire people to really enjoy cooking, baking, and sharing food with others — so much so that it becomes an integral part of their life — the way that it is in the Mediterranean region.
It is an honor and a privilege for me to cook for others, and it would not give me more pleasure to cook for one human being over another. I am grateful for the clients and loved ones that I cook for on a regular basis. I have had the opportunity to cook for many world leaders, as well as the opportunity to create menus for them. I enjoy planning the menus of politically important and historical events because I believe that it allows me to “set the stage” for the discussions that follow.
Originally published at medium.com