During the twenty-two hours of flight I slept little, but I fantasized a lot. The Jetstar Airways aircraft landed at Melbourne’s Tullamarine right on time.
After a thorough baggage check by the airport authorities, I finally go to the exit and the first thing I see is Carmela D’Amore’s dazzling smile. We meet for the first time. First look, first smile and great sympathy.
– Where do we go?
– To Sorrento, to my house.
– How strange, a town in Australia called Sorrento!
– We are in the state of Victoria, Sorrento is a delightful tourist town on Port Phillip Bay. You will see, you will like it.
– I’m sure.
The Australian adventure begins. Before leaving Melbourne we go to Brunetti’s for something to eat. When we enter Brunetti’s I have the distinct feeling of being in the realm of gluttons.
Lots of display counters full of sweets, the triumph of Italian pastry-making. A cannoli and a coffee are my breakfast in the land of kangaroos.
We leave that paradise of delicacies and enter a multi-lane highway, I think five. The landscape is beautiful, from a distance I can see the snow-capped peaks of the High Country but we are on the coast.
We leave the highway towards Sorrento. A few minutes and we are at Carmela’s house. I immediately feel at ease.
– Would you like to cook something together?
Carmela takes vegetables from a huge fridge. The kitchen worktop is coloured with the purple of the aubergines, the red of the tomatoes, the yellow of the peppers, the green of the courgettes and celery, the orange of the carrots and the pink of the onions.
She looks at me smiling.
– All these colours remind me of our land.
I launch my proposal to prepare a rustic Sicilian lasagna and Carmela shows off one of her dazzling smiles and agrees.
I smile back and show confidence. I confess to myself the fear of having to cook with a very famous international chef, but I’m not saying it.
We start cleaning the vegetables and chatted like two friends who haven’t seen each other for some time.
– Where is your family from?
She smiles again and her eyes light up. Thus begins what was supposed to be a dialogue and instead is a monologue.
– Back in the distant 1954, my parents Sarina and Salvatore came to Australia from Milazzo, a town from Sicily. They were young, they had little luggage, but many dreams. My paternal grandparents also came to Australia fleeing wars and famines.
This distant, unknown and immense land was for them a peaceful tomorrow, a safe job and a long-dreamed good life.
Grandfather Stefano, my mother’s father, was a Rais (lead fisherman) from tonnara di Milazzo, my grandfather and my great and great grandfather were too.
My maternal grandmother was a cook, the daughter of a cook, everyone in the maternal family were cooks, I could not be anything but a cook.
I looked at her proud in telling the story of her descent, between Rais and the cooks the pride of a Sicilian, far from her land, shone. She stopped talking and started peeling the onions.
– You know, I grew up in my parents’ restaurant amidst the tasty and fragrant food they cooked. They always took me with them, when I was a baby of a few weeks, my mother would put me to sleep in a basin.
As you can see, I grew up in the midst of food. I have always cooked the ancient dishes of the women of my family so as not to forget and above all, not to forget Sicily. I have always seen recipes, dishes and desserts as if they were long and robust roots that bind me to that distant land so loved.
Carmela remained silent for a few seconds, only the sound of the knife on the cutting board where I am slicing the carrots can be heard. Then she resumes speaking in a shrill voice and overwhelms the noise of the knife.
– After the death of my parents I suffered a lot, but it was also a time of growth and great decisions. I kept the recipes of my family’s female cooks and decided to tell the story of poor Sicilian cuisine.
My first book “Carmela’s Poor Kitchen” was born from this idea. At that time I joined the Federation of Italian Chefs and I was President of the Lady Chefs.
I learned to love all those dishes and to think about the great cultural heritage they brought with them. Then I wrote my second book “The Heart of the Table”.
I am part of an organization of women who aim to promulgate Sicilian culture through cooking to keep traditions alive, so we periodically organize cultural trips to Sicily for the new generations.
From this experience my third book “Unstoppable Women of Faith” came to life. Women who have suffered and who through faith have fought that pain, transforming it into a source of support for those who suffer.
Then, for those who couldn’t cook, I wrote “101 Ways to Transform the Way you Cook”.
In my restaurant we eat Sicilian and I am delighted with what I cook because my guests like it.
All of a sudden she stops telling her storyand invites me to cook this lasagna.
– Marco will come shortly, my husband, he is from Palermo, he will appreciate this dish.
I watch her move with speed and skill, between the pans, the pot and the pastry board where she is spreading the lasagna.
As I listened to her story, I thought of a little girl in a foreign land who speaks only the Sicilian dialect, facing and overcoming many difficulties.
I close my eyes and try to imagine Carmela’s family. The women are cooks and the men fishermen. Everyone had left in her the seed of the deep roots of Sicily.
Carmela has a sociable and collaborative nature, the result of the great values instilled in her by her splendid family. As a great chef she has written some very interesting cookbooks, where in addition to food she emphasized the infinite love for the land of her ancestors.
Carmela D’Amore lives in Australia, but she knows the secrets of Sicilian hospitality and is doing her utmost to ensure that the new generations do not forget their roots.
I watch her as she is putting the lasagna pan in the oven and ask her:
– Carmela do you have a dream in the drawer?
– Yes, like everyone. I would like to live part of the year in Sicily, cook Sicilian like my ancestors, build the foundations for an invisible but real bond between my generation and young people through food.
A good smell comes out of the oven, the Sicilian rustic lasagna is ready. Two women and one lasagna.
Australia and Sicily.
Carmela, the great chef who dreams of cooking their ancient and poor recipes in the land of her ancestors.