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Listening to Elisabetta Ciardullo’s first experience in the US, I couldn’t help thinking about the fictional nanny Mary Poppins.
Just as the British babysitter, to solve the situation, pulls magical gadgets from her purse, the Italian event planner and personal chef, armed with an endless optimism and with a past as “au pair,” sets the table and cooks to cheer up the spirits.
Recently, Elisabetta Ciar-dullo, president of the Los Angeles-based company, Think Italian! Events, was recognized by Expertise among the top seventeen personal chefs in LA: https://www.expertise.com/ca/los-angeles/personal-chefs. And now, let’s delve deeper into the woman behind the apron:
Please, introduce yourself. What is your cultural background?
I was born in Rome, Italy. My grandfather on my dad’s side was from Naples, Campania, while my grandmother was from the German speaking area in Switzerland. Instead, on my mom’s side, they all hail from Tuscany.
I’ve always felt a deep connection with both Florence and Naples, and their respective cuisines. Simultaneously, having some of my roots from abroad, prompted me to direct my attention outside of Italy.
For the first nineteen years of my life, I never left my home country. Upon graduation from high school, I decided to take time off and to pursue my dream of a more adventurous life, full of traveling and new experiences on my own, like one of my aunts – on my father’s side – had done in the 50s.
My opportunity came in 1980, when I accepted a one year position as “au pair,” in a household in Washington D.C. The family was made up of an Italian husband, his French wife, and their two children, respectively four and nine years old. Their father was worried that they would have not learn Italian. Therefore, my main task was to teach them the language, but also to look after them.
Initially, the children rejected my attempts to speak Italian. I felt useless and asked their mom what I could do to help. She suggested me to set the table. The day after, she asked me to fix some dinner. Ironically, that was my first time working in the kitchen, an activity that would become a key element of my life.
How did you end up in L.A.?
As a teenager abroad for the first time, I felt a profound cultural shock. At first, I had no intention to stay permanently in the US.
However, my fate took a different turn. While in Washington D.C., I chanced upon my soon-to-be husband, a young man from Belgium who was completing his Master’s there. Upon graduation, he worked in D.C. for the following two years, while at the conclusion of my one year overseas, I went back to Italy to attend Law at university.
We traveled back and forth a few times to see each other. During his visits in Rome, he became more acquainted with my family and, eventually, we got married and moved together to Brussels, Belgium.
After three years there, the bank – my husband used to work for – relocated him to Italy, first Milan, then Rome, where I graduated in Law. Afterwards, we moved back to Milan, where I took a second degree in Export Management.
At that point, my husband decided to leave his job and to switch into a diplomatic career. His first post was in Rome, where our daughters were born. Eventually we moved to Washington D.C., where it all had begun lots of years earlier and, finally, Los Angeles, where my husband served as Consul General of Belgium from 2008 to 2012.
At the end of the term, my youngest daughter was so adjusted to life here, that we all decided to stay .
It was then that I decided to reinvent myself and start out my new business.
“Think Italian.” How does your typical agenda as event planner looks like?
I didn’t feel attracted to a nine to five job as a lawyer. Instead, over the years, I had cumulated precious expertise in planning big events for my husband.
At first, I thought of focusing mostly on the event planning side, rather than food preparation. Los Angeles, with its rich non-stop offer of events, seemed like the perfect venue for my business.
However, people started to ask more and more for my services as personal chef. Eventually, that side of my business revealed to be the most successful.
Food always manage to cheer up the spirits. There is something magic, perhaps an ancestral component in it. People of different nationalities and from the most various walks of life are able to socialize around a table.
I think my added value is that I prepare food with passion and love and this aspect shows through.
There are very few clients who know exactly what they want. Most of them completely trust in my expertise. During my first meeting with a client, I ask a few questions about how he or she envisions their event. Then, they ask me how I would do it if I were in their shoes. We end up organizing the party hand in hand.
Do you usually prepare food on your own or do you partner with catering companies?
At times, I partner with others to cater food, but, most of the times, people trust my cooking skills, so I wear multiple hats.
I specialize in Italian food, but I always try to accommodate the requests coming from international clients. Thanks to my extensive travels, I’m familiar with several cuisines from around the world.
Time ago, I supervised a VIP event to present a new model of zero-emissions Honda car.
More recently, I’ve arranged a holiday party for sixty guests, held at the showroom of Bulthaup Santa Monica, an upscale design firm from Germany. I cooked myself and supervised an eight-people team, made up of cooks, servers and so on.
My favorite aspect of this job is that it is multifaceted. Each time, the single elements of the event are different and that represents a challenge, but, at the same time, it gives you a constant adrenaline rush.
I love the large amount of problem-solving and creativity, involved in the process. I feel like the captain of a ship, giving instructions to everyone. For the first few hours, you feel under high stress, then, at the end, as everything comes into place, without anyone realizing the problems you had to deal with, you feel very satisfied.
You hold cooking classes as well. Is there anything you particularly stress out when you teach?
I offer cooking classes on Italian food. I love teaching, particularly the interaction with the students that comes with it.
After two hours of hands-on cooking, I set the table and we all sit down and share the food, like we would in any Italian family.
The biggest satisfaction comes when I see the sparkle in the eyes of people, who realize they can actually make their own food. My clients love this experience.
I am driven by passion and the pleasure to see people discovering that an alternative, healthier lifestyle is possible. I feel like I’m able to touch the heart of people who, after my class, change their attitudes towards food.
Are you in contact with the L.A.’s Italian-American community? Are you member of any organization?
When I first got here, I looked for an organization that would be the right fit for me. I couldn’t find it, so I created it myself, together with other people.
The idea was a club just for Italian women. D.I.V.E. (Donne Italiane che Vivono all’Estero – Italian Women Living Abroad) was born and today counts one hundred members.
We meet at least once a month, and organize a vast range of activities, mostly with distinguished guest speakers. The best part is that I get to see and exchange experiences with my fellow members and friends.