SPOT LIGHT INTERVIEW
featuring:Maria Liberatia author of
“The Basic Art of Italian Cooking
RJ) Today we are thrilled to have the opportunity to visit with
Maria Liberati, former international supermodel, turned celebrity chef and
best selling author. Maria will be talking with us today about her new
book entitled, “The Basic Art of Italian Cooking” and the charity that
will receive a portion of the proceeds, as well as, telling us a little
Maria – thank you so much for joining us today, for Saturday Morning
[Maria L.] Thanks so much for having me it is so nice to be
doing an interview here since I have heard from many of your bloggers
already. They are such an eclectic and talented group of bloggers!!
[Rj] Transition from modeling to cooking? The two worlds seem to be almost
at odds with each other, as shown by recent headlines – Was this a
difficult transition for you?
[Maria L.] You mean from- fashion diva to kitchen diva…. Well, I always
tell everyone that food is related to fashion and style. The vibrant
colors of fresh foods- red tomatoes, fresh lemons, fresh basil, berries
and radicchio and so many others have such beautiful colors- albeit
created naturally by nature. The style in the way the food is presented
from the plates, silverware and table linens. I found the kitchen
another way of expressing my love for fashion using foods. And oddly
enough my cooking style reflects my fashion style- uncluttered, high
quality, simple yet elegant.
[Rj] That’s true – even the simplest of family get-togethers are centered around the
food & the presentation of the food. Sophisticated simplicity.
The stories throughout the book are beautifully written and heartwarming – Tell us a bit about
[Maria L.] While I was modeling in Italy, I also began studying my family history.
I spent time at my family’s vineyard in the mountains of Italy when I
was on vacation. At the vineyard (that was started by my great
grandfather) my family produced and sold wines and cheese typical to
that region, fruit and vegetable preserves, sweets and more. I began
studying with my family there the production of the different things
they made. Everything was always made from the freshest ingredients
grapes produced there, fruits and vegetables grown there. And producing
foods in Italy from cheese, to wine, to breads is really an art.
Everything-foods, methods of production have a history to it that is
related to the ancient Romans or the monks that began civilizing and
teaching growing and producing of foods to the Europeans. It really
I began attending a culinary school, and then also began researching the
recipes of one of my great aunts who was a personal chef to members of the
royal family. She had to earn a living to support her and her sister. Her
parents (my great grandparents) died when her littlest sister (my
grandmother) was only about 4.
I never met my great aunt Angelina- she died before I was born, but
after reading her hand written recipes I feel really close to her and
enjoyed ‘feeling her presence’ through her recipes. It is hard to
describe but Italians can be so sophisticated but yet so earthy and have
a complicated but yet simple approach to things. They always have a way
of making something special out of something simple.
For instance in some of her recipes, because way back in the early 1900’s
people didn’t have the luxury of an electric timer to time things- so in
some of her recipes you are directed to sing a specific number of bars of
a song to time the cooking of an item-probably a more accurate way of
timing then the modern appliances of today.
But something else you felt in those recipes was a love and a passion for
the special recipes she created. I worked through the recipes with some
and brought them up to modern ‘speed’.
But back to my story.. I set up an office in the mountains of Abruzzo for
writing and researching and compiling- and I began writing. Stories about
my life about beautiful experiences that happened while modeling, learning
to cook and just my daily life in the mountains of Abruzzo. One thing led
to another- I was asked to sit for a painting by a famous painter in
Italy- his name is Sergio Terzi but his moniker is Nerone.
He has painted portraits of Luciano Pavarotti, (International recording
artist) Zucchero and some other Italian celebs.
As Italians are always concerned about food and hearth and home, I was
invited to spend time there in the little town he is in – right near
Parma- where they produce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. So I ended up
studying with an artisan cheesemaker the process of making
Parmigiano-Reggiano on days I wasn’t needed-it was like studying another
art and it is really an art. They still use today almost the very same
process invented by the monks back in medieval times to produce the
cheese. So this became another chapter in my book.
Upon returning back home to Abruzzo- I began working on perfecting my
cooking method. Word spread like ‘wildfire’ in our town and I soon had
people in Italy asking for my recipes-that was when I knew I had something
. I began getting requests from different vineyards and farms to design
cooking programs for their tourists- especially the tourists from Germany,
England and Japan-since I speak both Italian and English and most of these
tourists do also speak English.
And from the popularity of the programs overseas I was asked to do some
programs and special appearances at food conventions, events here in the
States. And then came the book series that was developed from my cooking
approach and finally trademarked. Many national and international
magazines have featured me and/or my recipes and get emails from all over
the world of people asking for recipes or tips on cooking. I was so
honored that 2 well known chefs endorsed my book- TV chef- Jim Coleman and
Executive chef- Michael DeGeorgio of Il Cortile restaurant in NY City.
The cooking method that I developed, aptly titled Maria Liberati’s The
Basic Art of Italian Cooking ™ became a trademark just recently. My method
of cooking emphasizes making something special in a simple, uncomplicated
way. Easy enough for the novice cook but special enough for any level cook
to be intrigued.
[Rj] It’s always interesting to readers to learn how the author develops a
book. Some say that they know exactly what they want from a book when they
begin – while others start with a basic idea and flow from there…. When
you began working on the book, did you know what you wanted it to be? Or
did it evolve as time went on?
[Maria L.] It is something I really never expected but something that all of
a sudden seemed to just fall into place-you know the overnight success
after 20 yrs of hard work.
It is something that almost seemed effortless but not because it was- but
because I am so passionate about it that it never really seemed like hard
work. But it really is hard work –all made up of things that I love. It
also afforded me the opportunity to learn about my family’s history in
Italy- which I am still researching.
I have always believed that if you are passionate about what you do that
the rest will follow. This career combines many things that I
love-writing, foods, cooking healthy foods that promote a healthy
lifestyle, Italian travel and writing about living in Italy and writing
really about who I am.
It is so tedious to your mind and life to do something that you are not
passionate about. But it has really taken me a lot of hard work to get to
where I am at. I consider myself fortunate to be able to do that.
Everything I do in my life revolves around and enriches my career. I get
to live in Italy for approx 6 months out of the year. My office is high in
the mountains of Abruzzo. I can look out my window and see the bell tower
of the church in the town and have a beautiful view of the mountains. If I
want to take a break I can go to the elegant coffee bar right next to my
office or take a walk around the corner to my favorite pizza oven (sort of
[Rj] That sounds beautiful. Your passion is translated beautifully in the book.
You’ve probably been asked this question a thousand times – but
everyone wants to know, a few of your personal favorites…
[Maria] My favorite recipe is Fresh Fruit Macedonia, my grandmother always made
this as an ending to every dinner. And I love fresh fruit and just can’t
finish a meal without having a piece of fruit for dessert-so I am thankful
for my grandmother and my mom for getting me in the habit of eating fresh
fruit after dinner.
When I was growing up, and it wasn’t in vogue to have an extremely
sounding ethnic name-like Maria Liberati or eat meals and dishes that they
do in Italy- I was always fascinated by the things my grandparents did and
couldn’t figure out why we did these things but my classmates in
elementary school were doing ‘normal things’-like having apple pie for
dessert and I would talk about having this wonderful fresh fruit type
salad or Macedonia for dessert. So I always stuck out-whether I liked it
or not-whether it was my very ethnic name or doing things that seemed
foreign to my all American suburban classmates- like bringing Italian
style pannini’s for lunch to school instead of bologna and cheese on white
bread and Italian homemade cookies instead of the prepackaged lunch cakes.
[Rj] A quick summer recipe you would like to share with our readers….
[Maria L.] Anyway, this is a really healthy recipe, perfect for summer picnics. You
can mix any fruits you want in it- but fresh fruits are best and organic
are even better. With summer fruits like berries and melons and peaches
it makes a great, refreshing summer picnic dessert. In winter you can also
enjoy a mix with fresh apples, pears, kiwi, bananas, etc as well. The most
important ingredient in this simple recipe is the lemon. Lemon is a
natural food enhancer. It enhances the flavor of the fresh fruits. You can
also accompany this with a small scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream.
This recipe is on page 100 of The Basic Art of Italian Cooking, (copyright
2005-2006, art of living ,PrimaMedia,Inc.) it also includes a story about
Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ house.
Fresh Fruit Macedonia
(you can substitute other fresh fruits that are in season)
*1 ½ cups fresh strawberries-hulled and halved
*1 cup fresh blueberries
*2 bananas (peeled and cut into ¼ inch round pieces
*1 fresh cantaloupe with skin and seeds removed and cut into ¼ inch cubes
*Juice of one fresh lemon (seeded)-preferably organic
*3tbsps to ¼ cup sugar or brown sugar (dependent upon your taste-fruit
should already be sweet, so you should not need a lot of sugar to enhance
it only to counteract the tart taste of lemon juice)
*Fresh mint leaves for garnish
Combine all fruits cut as directed in a decorative bowl. Cut lemon in
half, squeeze both halves of lemon on top of fruit eliminating seeds.
Sprinkle sugar on top. Stir fruit gently, so that lemon juice and sugar
coat each piece. Place two lemon halves on top of fruit, cover bowl and
place in refrigerator for 2 hours to marinade. Serve in serving dishes and
top with fresh mint leaves.
[Rj] I understand a television show is currently being developed…. can you
tell us more about this new venture?
[Maria L.] We just finished the pilot for two series- one is based on The Basic Art
of Italian Cooking method and is called Maria Liberati’s The Basic Art
of Italian Cooking ™ and is an instructional cooking show that uses
recipes and cooking techniques from my trademarked cooking method.
The other pilot- Taste and Tour will have us touring places that make
foods in an artisan way-(a style of producing foods that is slowly coming
back into ‘vogue’) and then creating recipes with those artisan foods.
[Rj] It is wonderful that part of the proceeds from the sale of your book –
“The Basic Art of Italian Cooking” will be donated to “Gilda’s Club”… Take
just a moment and tell everyone about Gilda’s Club, what type of services
they provide, etc?
[Maria L.] Club New York City was named for Gilda Radner, the brilliant
comedian and one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live. For
years, she made us laugh with memorable characters like Baba Wawa, Emily
Litella and Roseanne Roseannadanna. Gilda was diagnosed with ovarian
cancer in 1986. She learned to live with cancer with help from a support
community she found in California, where she felt she could express what
she was really feeling—an experience she described in her autobiography,
It’s Always Something. It was her dream that anyone touched by cancer
would be able to receive the kind of emotional and social support that she
had found. Following her death in 1989, Gilda’s husband, Gene Wilder and
her cancer psychotherapist, Joanna Bull started the Gilda’s Club movement.
In June, 1995 GCNYC opened its signature red door – Gilda’s legacy to
everyone living with cancer.
Since opening, GCNYC has offered a place where men, women and children
living with cancer – and their families and friends – can join together to
build social and emotional support as a supplement to medical care. New
Yorkers touched by cancer embraced the opportunity to join our free
support community, and by 1997, GCNYC had over 1,000 members. The success
of our flagship prompted the formation, in 2000, of Gilda’s Club
Worldwide, an organization dedicated to developing a national network of
Most everyone has been touched by cancer in some way. In my family a young
cousin of ours just lost her battle to cancer and left behind two young
daughters. My fiancé’s father has been battling cancer for the past two
years, and he has been winning thankfully.
Everyone at Gilda’s Club is so appreciative of any help that it is such a
pleasure to spread the word about what they do through my book and also be
able to donate a portion of the profits to them.
I have always been taught that the more you give the more you receive.
From when I was growing up- both of my parents had to work to support
their family-so we were not from a celebrity or ultra rich household. My
mom would always make sure that we took time to go through the house a
couple times a year to see what we could donate-clothes we outgrew, to
small household items, toys to orphanages, families less fortunate,
Salvation Army and others. So anyone can always find some way to help or
donate to a great cause. And there is research that shows that giving and
helping elevates your self esteem and is also therapeutic for the donor.
So you really do get something back.
I feel so fortunate that God has allowed me to make a career out of
something that I love and I want to give to back something for that. But
you know you don’t have to be a celebrity to give of your time, money and
resources to help others less fortunate than you.
Everyone has something –no matter how insignificant it may seem to
others-to be thankful for. And you should always give back for anything
that you have been blessed with and be thankful for what you have.
Aside from the great feeling I get from helping such a wonderful cause.
They have also given me a gift. The gift of learning to appreciate every
day, and adopting the philosophy that if you think of each day as a gift
that has been given to you- you will treat each day in a special way. So
if you begin to think of your life in this way you will realize that you
have many gifts to be thankful for..
Each year Gilda’s Club raises $10,000 (at their celebrity auction held at
their annual gala at the Pierre Hotel in NYC) for a private dinner package
that I donate. The person that purchases the dinner can invite up to 6
guests and gets to choose from menu choices in The Basic Art of Italian
Cooking and the dinner is held at their home.
To visit the Gilda’s Club website just click here – www.gildasclubnyc.org
[Rj] What’s next for Maria Liberati?
[Maria L.] I am working on two of my next books:
*Spaghetti at Midnight- the title comes from an old tradition (in Italy)
of eating pasta at midnight at get togethers or special holidays like New
Year’s Eve. But the book will include all types of pasta recipes with
menus and more stories about my life and travels in Italy. I am especially
excited about this project because a well known Italian
architect/artist-Mariano Moroni has contacted us about providing the
illustrations for this book. I will be meeting with him when I am back at
my office there this summer.
*The Basic Art of Italian Cooking –The Italian Kitchen
This will be more recipes, menus and more information on ingredients,
cooking tips, techniques for the Italian Kitchen including preserving
fresh vegetables and fruits.
*I will be hosting a 10 day culinary tour in September to Tuscany, Rome
and Abruzzo-it will include visits to some wonderful hidden vineyards,
olive groves and cooking classes at some of the best organic farms there.
Group is limited but you can still make reservations to join us. You can
call the office at 1-800-581-9020 x100 and ask for Giovanna-or email Sue
* My first food line under Maria Liberati’s The Basic Art of Italian
Cooking ™ is Sapori D’Italia is a new spice blend that I developed in
Italy. This line will be comprised of different spice blends that are
reminiscent of different regions in Italy. Each blend is all natural and
includes no cereals or fillers-only herbs spices and sea salt. So they
have a very intense flavor. The first blend we are releasing is the Tuscan
Picnic Blend. It is reminiscent of the flavors of Tuscany and can be used
to make Tuscan roasted Chicken Tuscan roasted potatoes, and a Tuscan style
Bruschetta and many other recipes. Each bag comes with a mini cookbook of
about 8 recipes that the spices can be used for. Right now they can be
ordered from my website at www.marialiberati.com They will be available
ion some retail outlets in 2008. The next 2 blends I am working on will be
a blend of herbs reminiscent of Naples that will include hot red
pepperoncino (pepper) and a Riviera Blend with fresh dried lavender.
*Companion dvd’s to The Basic art of Italian Cooking cookbook series will
be released at the end of 2007-the holiday menu and the picnic menu will
be available by Dec 2007 in retail outlets and online.
*Opening a restaurant that combines my philosophy of food with art,
beautiful, yet simple architecture and design. It is in the works and will
be designed by a team of Italian architects in Italy but we will open here
in the US-Las Vegas or Atlantic City
* I also want to mention that I also save time in my schedule to volunteer
with some of my favorite charities- Gilda’s Club, International Red Cross.
But I am also working on creating an organization to promote the
sustainable agriculture and sustainable architecture- all to preserve our
[Rj] Thank you for joining us today Maria and giving readers this wonderful
opportunity to get to know you
[Maria L.] Thanks so much for having me and I hope to
hear from everyone and don’t forget to vsit me at my website
We want to thank Maria for taking the time to stop by and talk with us
this morning. Be sure to drop by Maria’s page here on BWA and say hello –
you can also visit Maria’s website Don’t forget to get your copy of “The
Basic Art of Italian Cooking” and share a magical cooking experience with
3Rs -Short & Sweet Review: The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria
Liberati has everything a reader could possibly ask for – from the heart
warming personal stories Maria shares throughout, to the detailed recipes,
everything has been well organized, professionally presented and is easily
understood. And with the terminology index, the reader has all the tools
to not only prepare a fine meal, but pronounce the beautiful Italian
language properly. Which for the cooking enthusiast, definitely adds a
flair of sophistication to your dining experience. Whether you’re a
seasoned chef or an amateur in the kitchen, you will enjoy “The Basic Art
of Italian Cooking”. The recipes and memories that will be created as a
result of this book, will surely be cherished by all! I look forward to
many delicious offerings from Maria Liberati.