This year, 2018, marks the 90th anniversary of San Francisco’s premier Italian cultural club, Il Cenacolo. This impressive and important milestone...
Valentina Cirasola arrived in the Bay Area from sunny Puglia sixteen years ago with a background in Italian cultural traditions, outstanding cooking knowledge, and years of experience at NATO as an international interpreter. Her lifetime dream, however, was a career in interior design.
Valentina combines her artistic career with her love for food, and her fascination for food in history. Over the last years she has published three books: two cookbooks – inspired by her homeland and her maternal grandmother, and a publication that provides readers with information about colors, home interiors, fashion and food: all subjects that are dear to her. What’s more, she has her own show on Blog Talk Radio the first Thursday of each month called Valentina’s Design Universe, during which she discusses design, style, travel, and Italian culture.
On April 12, 2015 she will hold an illustrated lecture about the “Wonders of Puglia” at the Museo Italo Americano in San Francisco. Not only will she present the region she loves and grew up in, but she will also entice the audience with a mouthwatering tasting of traditional Pugliese food and wine.
Valentina was gracious enough to grant me an interview, in order to get to know her and her multifaceted activities better.
Valentina, let’s start with your giving me some information about your origins
I am a native of Bari, in the Italian region of Apulia, considered the land of “green gold” – our delicious, peppery-tasting olive oil.
I was born to a family of artists and food connoisseurs. Needless to say, food is the focus of my life and everyone in my family has developed a discerning palate starting at a young age.
My mother was a fashion designer and ran her tailor shop with the help of 20 collaborators. I have always been intrigued by her work and dreamed of doing it differently – maybe better – than she did.
She used to say: “the needle is very short, but very heavy”. It was her way of telling me to stay in school until I complete my university degree. I was prevented from becoming an artist, or going to a fashion school.
Consequently I ended up attending different types of schools which led me to work in fields that held no interest for me. However, as soon as I had the opportunity of becoming a fashion designer, I took it and retrained to become one.
You are a writer, a designer, and a great cook. How do the three fields interact with one another?
I consider food as fuel to my brain, therefore a necessity. It has been the focal point of my life. In fact, never have I eaten junk food, nor skipped meals. I don’t take appointments during lunch hours and I don’t eat at my desk, in front of the computer. I’ve learnt to observe the colors of food and the benefits each color brings to our health, and wrote about it in my book on the subject of colors: RED - A Voyage Into Colors. This was a book I needed under my belt to confirm my expertise as a designer. Colors have largely influenced my life. I can attribute my positive energy to all colors I surround myself with. Colors are as important as water and sunlight; they can give headache or make someone happy. They can make us look old and worn out, or youthful and energetic.
When did you move to the Bay Area, and how did you find inspiration for your design work and cookbook writing?
I moved to the U.S.A. about 16 years ago. The first few years were very difficult and I was traveling back and forth from Italy anytime I could. Even now, whenever I have the chance, I’m happy to go back. Immigrants coming to this country have the opportunity of growing into a better life if they work hard. After a while they adjust, while keeping and treasuring all of the teachings, beliefs, and traditions of their native country. I apply this concept to all of my activities.
In April you will be in San Francisco to present your latest publications: Come mia nonna - A return to simplicity, and Sins of a Queen. Tell me briefly about them.
Being a newcomer in the U.S.A., I was often asked which part of Italy I came from and, before I could answer, people assumed I was from Tuscany or Milan. My blue eyes and blond hair made them think I was from the North. Upon learning that I am from Puglia they appeared disappointed, as if Puglia had no culture, no value and nothing to offer or to visit. This was very irritating to me and I promised myself I would have written some books about my region at the earliest possible opportunity: I was on a mission. It was important to me to let people know about my region, its good food and its benefits to health. When the last recession hit this country, I didn’t want to lose my momentum, and moved quickly on that decision: I started pounding hard on my keyboard and, in three years, I wrote and published two cookbooks and one design book. I then organized several events, sometimes with the help of local restaurants, to promote my publications. All the restaurants that have allowed me to present my books in their facilities organized a special event related to Pugliese food following the recipes included in my book.
You are very much involved in activities that regard Italian communities. What is your latest project?
My latest project involved the creation of the gateway arch for the newly created Little Italy in San Jose, CA. For five years, I have been part of the design concept team that created the arch. On March 27, 2015 it was inaugurated with a special ceremony and all the people who participated in the making of the arch were awarded with a beautiful plaque: I will definitely treasure mine for the years to come. It was my way of showing love to my motherland and keeping the flag of my culture, language and traditions up high.
Radio show: www.blogtalk radio.com - Valentina’s Design Universe
Lecture: www.sfmuseo.org /lectures