Table Talk with Ciao Italia’s Mary Ann Esposito

Ciao Italia's Mary Ann Esposito (by ciordia9)

[Charlotte Shout]( culminated it’s month long September activity list with a [culinary arts showdown]( One of the guest chefs for the event, Mary Ann Esposito of [Ciao Italia]( Mary Ann and her daughter-in-law / scheduler extraordinaire Jennifer Esposito met with me for a lunch at [Ratcliffe on the Green]( The conversation coursed around [Slow Food](, world views, horticulture, and more; making for one of the best discussions I’ve participated in of the year.

If you’re a cook, a chef, or a watcher of our [public broadcasting station]( you have to have heard of Mary Ann Esposito. [Ciao Italia]( has been on the air for almost two decades teaching the Italian way of cooking. She’s produced volumes of books, and is steeped in the Italian culture that was her grandmothers heritage.

Mary Ann has seen the division of cultures from American to Italian. As well being a Slow Food member who has enjoyed dinner and discussion with Slow Food founder [Carlo Petrini]( this wonderful woman is honed when it comes to food choice understanding. She spoke of our cultures lost nature and how we’ve inadvertently let companies build our culture for us.

“We’ve lost respect for our food; many don’t even understand where food comes from.”, said Mary Ann. Her thoughts of change rest with our children, the seeds of the future. By bringing food back into the education system we bring attention from the beginning. That’s not all though we should be gardening for ourselves. Mary Ann and I reminisced on the Italian way of life where most if not all homes had some form of a garden from edible to herb. There is profound learning that comes from tending and toiling in the soil.

Mary Ann also talked of the breaking of the modern family unit and how bringing it back together started with meal preparation. It is an often asked question “How do two working parents and kids that are zinging around to after school programs have a normal dinner?” Ms. Esposito’s response was that the responsibility doesn’t fall to one individual, it’s the duty of the family as a whole. Let everyone participate. Book yourself for dinner, let it be an activity for your children. Children love to be put to work and explore; stage it so they can. Family meals require a little preparation and life is made easier if you use the three cupboard’s your house has; the pantry, refrigerator & freezer.

A funny moment happened when Ms. Esposito made a sweeping gesture when speaking of the “Stress for Thanksgiving”. She explains that we go through these giant gyrations to cook this once in a year meal when the reality is a [Thanksgiving]( meal is not really that different from any other meal. It’s the homes lack of general cooking that makes it such a stressed day. To which we with quick humor broke down the meal into fowl (or pork), casserole, bread, dessert. In a general sense that shouldn’t freak anyone out, right?

Not us foodies!

One thing on the mind of a local [Slow Food]( member dealt with the difference in agriculture zones and how should a Northerner deal with a shortened growing cycle compared to their southern counterparts. Mary Ann, while wishing she could plant earlier than May said we had to become more mindful of our regional foods. If the area has a longer winter the area must learn to conserve more. Canning and the harvesting of root or hard vegetables that can be stored for long periods of time. I can attest from holding winter squash an entire year (without preservatives heh) before turning it into a gratin that it’s possible to keep a crop. We also skimmed over food miles, gas usage, and the decay of the rail lines. I did mention that this woman has her chops up didn’t I?

On a softer note I asked her if she would ever publish children’s books. To me if we can’t get into the school system right some might see early readers or parent read books as a wonderful segue to it. Mary Ann said that she had a love for stories and that she had included a few in her book Celebrations, Italian Style. Her biggest roadblock seemed the publishers which is no surprise. Luckily publishers are having a harder time keeping afloat while self-publishing is rising fast. It’s my hope that Ms. Esposito will distill more of her love, history, and culture of her own into books for the little ones.

Before I reluctantly let Mary Ann and Jennifer go I asked how she stays motivated. She responded that she eats, thinks, and sleeps food. She loves to cook and pushes that out in every direction she can. It was an honor to break bread with these women and I hope I can spend more time with them in the future. If you would like to watch her in action [check here]( for your local PBS affiliate. If they don’t have her on in your area let the station know your interest!