Good Reading : August 2010
44 goodreading ı AUGUST 2010 Everything about books www.goodreadingmagazine.com ONLINE word of mouth up close Victoria Cosford, an Australian who spent time in Florence, has written a memoir. But Amore and Amaretti is not a love story, nor is it the story of her transfor ming a semi-derelict ruin into a livable mansion with the help of a colourful cast of Italian tradesmen. It's the story of Victoria's learning to cook in Tuscan restaurant kitchens, lear ning cuisine and Italian from her boyfriend Gianfranco, a Florentine chef. In the past 28 years,Victoria has worked and lived in Italy four times. She started writing this book 12 years ago, just because she considered it was a great story. 'At that time, there were lots of foreigners going to Italy, producing books about their experiences, but not about going to work there,' she says. After her first four-year stint,Victoria retur ned to Australia to find that most of her friends were settling down and starting families, making her wonder if she had 'lost those years'. Life back home seemed to become inconsequential; Victoria was selling advertising space, teaching Italian cooking at community colleges and becoming anxious about the vacuity of her life. So a phone call in 1994 from Gianfranco, who was now in a business partnership with another old flame of Victoria's, inviting her to be assistant chef in their new restaurant in the Chianti district south of Florence, was just what she needed. Not only has Victoria's friendship with her for mer lovers endured for nearly 30 years, but she has retained a place of honour in the close-knit hospitality industry of Tuscany. She has been back twice since then for stints to help out her old friends. But her most recent visit to Tuscany -- in 2004 -- was simply a holiday. Victoria, now happily living and working at Byron Bay, seems like a confident and well-adjuste woman, but she admits in her book that she spent much of her time in Italy struggling with loneliness and poor self-esteem. 'High parental expectations all my life seem to have informed my lack of self-esteem. So I needed any authority figure to appr o v e whatever I did,' she says. 'Restaurants are notoriously stressful and tempers can be short. I was a foreigner living in another country, speaking another language, and this isolation stripped me of confidence. When I went back in 2004 for that short visit, I wanted to know if everything I had felt about Italy was real; not embroidered, embellished, invented or fabricated. And it all proved to be real. I just needed to see it at a distance.' Victoria has written all her life, keeping diaries since she was a child, and in Chianti she kept a kitchen diary. These helped her paint a war m and affectionate picture of a country she loves, with descriptions of its food glowing on the page. 'When I'm not in Italy, the part of me that loves it goes dor mant, but as soon as I retur n it reawakens,' she says. Victoria has been told by friends that her book is 'brave', a description that puzzles her. Perhaps it is because she writes candidly about her lovers and about indulging in the food so much that she became fat. She remembers the elegant wife of a restaurant patron telling her she retained her slim figure by not eating bread or drinking wine, an impossible discipline for the Aussie chef. She includes recipes in the memoir, scattered throughout (with an index at the end), as well as wonderful Italian sayings, such as: La tavola e il letto mantengono l'affetto (The table and the bed keep love alive). This month,Victoria's great friend, foodie Joanna Savill, will launch the book at the Byron Bay Writers' Festival; with the two of them providing 'conversation' at the Festival's literary dinner. It seems highly appropriate that this food writer should now be the leader of Byron Bay's 'slow food' convivium, after being hor rified in the 1980s by the enthusiasm some of her Italian chef friends showed for a new hamburger joint. 'Italians in small villages have traditionally eaten food grown and produced in their area, but everything American is considered glamorous,' she says. 'Even though in 2004 I saw a wealth of Indian, Chinese and even Irish restaurants and pubs, it is still possible to eat regional food in the villages. Tuscany has been plundered by tourism, but you can still find little villages with no tourists.There are many surprises, even now, and that's why people love going there.' Amore and Amaretti is published by Wakefield Press, rrp $24.95. love VICTORIA COSFORD tells JENNIFER SOMERVILLE about her love affair with Tuscany. food Victoria with fellow workers in the kitchen of La Cantinetta, Chianti. Crostata di Frutta (Fruit Tart), one of Victoria Cosford’s specialties.