I climbed down the stairs leading from the train platform and touched the sidewalk of The Bronx. I’d never been to this part of New York City and I couldn’t think of a better person to introduce it to me than, Beatrice Ughi. Beatrice showed me how incredible Italian food products could taste, when imported directly from Italy to NYC, through her company, Gustiamo. She also made me realise how quickly things in the Bronx could disappear because of redevelopment. The speed at which the work of incredible graffiti artists, were being demolished, making room for redevelopment, is insane.
Interview with Beatrice
Describe your most memorable adventure as a child.
Shantanu, let's drop this question. Start interview with the next one. I've been thinking and thinking. Nothing comes to mind, unless I make it up. Which I don't want to do. As a child, I was a rule follower. My parents were very strict. I don't think I ever got out of their sight and therefore, I never had a memorable adventure. Dull childhood, in Italy. Sorry.
What would you say was the biggest risk you've taken in your life?
Not only leaving the safety of the corporate accounting world, where I had worked for 20 years; leaving to pursue a start-up. That took serious courage. I am so glad I did it.
How did the idea of importing Italian food start?
By chance. How else do most good things start? I am an accidental gastronome. With regret, I must say that I knew very little about cooking, before I became obsessed with Italy's Best Foods. In Italy, my family and friends saw me as a "Donna in Carriera," a career woman, as opposed to someone who knows her way around the kitchen. Now we know, obviously, you can be both.
What is the best part of your job?
So many things. Of my daily routine, I love when we (everyone working in the office and warehouse) sit down for a family-style lunch, which we do every day. I also love, more generally speaking, how relevant my job is to so many aspects of life. A conversation about food can easily lead to a relevant discussion about politics, geography, history, immigration etc. Also, my job is all the time! If it is related to food, I consider it to be my job. If I'm at a restaurant or buying food in a market, I see it as all part of my job and I take it personally. Whenever I order pasta in a restaurant anywhere in the world, for example, I ask them where the pasta came from. Asking questions like these is important.
When was the last time you were most happy?
In Stromboli. Shantanu, you must meet me next time I am in Stromboli, it is a magical island. I have been going there since I was a kid, there are so many amazing things to photograph. Specifically, when I was in Stromboli in September I invited my friends Vincenzo, Maria, and Franco to come over to cook together. They are all native to Stromboli and wanted to share some of the old Strombolana cooking traditions. Franco showed us how to make a traditional stuffed squid dish as well as Pasta alla Strombolana. Maria taught us how to make Sfinci di Uova pastries and also showed us how to make a very old "poor" egg dish; here is the video recipe for Maria's Uova Niepitiddata: http://instagram.com/p/edB_Pbx_J5/ I was so happy during this dinner because I could see how happy they were to be talking about their beautiful traditions. I was happy to have made that dinner happen. And I was also happy because I was drinking Vincenzo's homemade Malvasia wine!
Describe your most memorable adventure as an adult.
I almost died at sea. Keep in mind, I consider myself to be a seafaring person. I can happily swim for hours and I have taken the overnight ferry from Napoli to Stromboli (which can be very turbulent) hundreds of times and never been seasick, much less scared. A few years ago we sailed from Sardegna to Corsica in a friend's sailboat. The sea was so extremely rough, I thought I was going to die.
If you had to recommend a favourite music album, what would it be?
Lucio Battisti - "Emozioni"