Sunday, April 18, 2021

FoodHacker ...from #foodporn to #foodlove

I have the pleasure and honor to be  participating in an extensive investigative project that began nearly a year ago. The theme Food, data and influencers in the era of the pandemic will be presented in a format which includes  5 video episodes and accompanying articles that investigates how the relationship between food and digital is changing in the era of Covid, created by RuralHack in the research / action programs carried out with the Department of Social Sciences, University of Naples  Federico II.

The format includes an introductory episode followed by 4 thematic episodes on:

·         digital food and lockdown,

·         Mediterranean Diet,

·         food quality and its communication and,

·          a further episode dedicated to the theme food influencer marketing.

FoodHacker intends to "hack", to recombine the concept of #foodporn by trying to understand if some parts of his grammar can be used for food of quality by restoring a relationship of love between food and interconnected audiences.

The issues are therefore treated from different points of view, by operators in the sector and by food  influencers, to offer a vision of the phenomenon that is now part of the social network, of marketing, of life online but also off-line, in a moment definitely particular like this one - the pandemic.

Question. Can digital media and these figures that move in the infosphere influence lifestyles and eating habits, redesigning the meanings of quality, transmitting values ​​and concepts related to food?   With this format, with all the research behind it and its future development, this project will try to understand if the information highway can help in marking the transition from #foodporn to  #foodlove in a meaningful and innovative way.

 The players for this first edition, besides myself, are some of the main food influencers of the web, all very different from each other but chosen on the basis of their peculiarities turned out to be very interesting:

Luciano Pignataro, food and wine journalist, founder of Luciano Pignataro Food & Wine Blog and author of numerous books on the culinary tradition and wine from Campania and Italy in general.

Sonia Peronaci, founder of Italian food bloggers, cook, writer and TV presenter, she is known for being the founder of Giallozafferano, among the first food blog full of recipes.

Flavia Corrado, better known as Zia Flavia foodn’boobs, food blogger Neapolitan transplanted to Milan.

Valentina Castellano, sociologist from Campania, specialized in communication and marketing, currently holds the role of social media manager, responsible communication and events at various facilities in the food sector.

So, beginning  April 21 and for the following 4 Wednesdays, an episode a week will be visible  on RuralHack as well as the various partners and protagonists social outlets, as well as an in-depth study article on the AgriFood Today website.


FoodHacker is a format created by RuralHack in the programs of research / action carried out with the Departments of Social Sciences at the University of Naples Federico II, in partnership with AgriFoodToday, Museo Vivente della Dieta Mediterranea, Identità Insorgenti, La Nuova Ecologia, Osservatorio Giovan and with the support of Europa Today, Napoli Today, Societing4.0 e PIDMed.



Sunday, April 4, 2021

#Pastieramood - Taverna Estia, Brusciano (Na)


Weekend- 27/28 March 2021.    Myself,  like many,  spent the morning scrolling through Facebook feeds and  Instagram stories. That's when I noticed a story by Chef Francesco Sposito of Taverna Estia, 2 Michelin stars. This story was a little different than his usual ones that he had been posting over the last couple of weeks.  Posts and stories dedicated to the hard work and devotion that he and his team had been dedicating  Colomba cake production.  This was different because…because he gave a hint to what was coming soon.  A teaser, if you will, hinting to the fact that h was about to begin producing a limited quantity of pastiera pies.


decided at that moment to write the chef a DM.  

‘Francesco,  Azz (wow!!), are you going to make some  pastiera pies??!!!??’ 

He answered back after a couple of minutes, ‘Yes!’.

That is when I decided right away to reserve one.  I hadn't read any reviews or seen any pictures and/or selfies from  who have tasted Sposito’s pastiera, but that did not matter.   I know the chef, I know the family, I know their two Michelin star restaurant .

I called the restaurant immediately  and spoke with Mario Sposito . Mario and I made an appointment for the following week - Thursday to be exact giovedi Santo for me to pick up my pastiera . One thing you have to know about this particular pie is that it is made to be eaten 2 or three days later  due to the fact that the ingredients need to meld, forming a firm, not hard filling that is pleasing flavorful and aromatic. . 

Thursday Santo/Holy Thursday , at about 11:15 I arrived  at Taverna Estia . Obviously sad to see the restaurant closed for normal business, but happy to have a chance to sit down and chit chat with Francesco Sposito about pastiera and things in general. While chatting Mario slices us a piece of pastiera. Francesco mentioned this was made this morning it's going to take taste a little different than one that is made that is one destined for the Easter lunch table . No problem, we tried it anyway-  fluffy flavorful aromatic . Telling stories about not only about pastiera and  its citrus flavours but a little about the Sposito family, Brusciano – where the restaurant is located -and their traditions .

I could not wait then to bring my pastiera home.   Feeling the duty of a blogger - maybe incorrectly - as soon as I got home, I took the obligatory photos of the bag,  of the box. 

,  that box. That box that I was so excited about - the fantastic design on the outside, that mistakenly, in my haste,  I dropped the box causing the pastiera to fall .

Pastiera - day 1

@@##!!! I thought! What kind of photo am I going to take with a pastiera that has a cracked filling!!I had a slice, I took a ic... Later that afternoon I confessed to the chef. Francesco,  your pastiera day one is fantasticaaa,  however I dropped the box, managgia!!'

Sposito didn’t seem to mind …in fact he laughed a little and told me -Karen, you are the the one who gets to eat it…

He was right. He was right,- he knows that what counts about this pie, this pastiera, is its taste.  Its flavors. Its story.

Flash forward to Saturday afternoon, April 3, 2021.   I opened the box again, cut a slice, poured a tazza of caffè, and tasted that pastiera.  The flavors, as he mentioned a couple of days before, would blend, would meld, the filling would firm up at room temperature.   The aromas were there… and so was the memories of that afternoon… of that family recipe…  of that Easter feeling tradition/tradizioni…friendship/amicizia.

All the perfect ingredients for a#pastieramood.



Saturday, April 3, 2021

#Coffeebreak - Pastry Chef Tommaso Foglia

Chef Tommaso Foglia

Oh, how I love my coffee breaks!  Like a recent one I shared - virtually - with Pastry Chef Tommaso Foglia.  Foglia, currently the Executive Pastry Chef of San Barbato Resort in the Basilicata region, but his curriculum has taken him in various top restaurants in Italy, London, and Dubai.  Foglia was in the area a couple of weeks ago and amongst his many errands, one stop he made was to deliver personally his Colomba Easter cake to make my coffee break a little sweeter.   

And with every coffee break, there is a little chit chat ... and to keep with the theme, we decided to talk about Colomba cake.  Spoiler alert - I've tried Foglia's colomba in many ways;  warmed next to the fireplace, toasted and topped powdered sugar, and al naturale.  With each slice, I hear Tommy's (Foglia) laugh, see his smile, and feel the warmth of a friendship that goes back nearly 7 years.

Ciao, Tommy! Have you always made Colomba cakes  for the Easter season, or is it something you have been doing more and more in the last couple of years?

Hi Karen, I've been producing this great leavened product for a few years and in all honesty it fascinates me a lot. It is a dessert that requires a lot of attention in all stages of preparation and gives so much satisfaction for the sacrifice it requires.

I know they are available in many varieties.  Which is the most popular?

I think the most popular Colomba is the classic one. The perfect combination of orange, vanilla and almonds.

Ok, so what is your favorite flavor?

I love chocolate but at the same time I also love candied fruit, so I could tell you without a doubt the dark chocolate and apricot Colomba.

Tommy, I'm  curious how many hours you spend per day when you are in the production period?

That's a good question! During full production I can spend 16/18 hours in the laboratory. The production of a large leavened product starts first from the care of the lievito madre/sourdough,  then the selection of the raw materials and then to all the various phases of mixing and kneading the dough.

What are the challenges in making this particular cake?

We are now in the alveoli/air pockets era!

Therefore I believe that the most interesting part is to create a product that is balanced in acidity and softness, but at the same time presentable.

What do you find satisfying when you prepare this cake?

First of all I would say the baking process! Seeing one's Colomba literally stand up and take flight in the oven gives me a deep sense of satisfaction. And then observe the expression of the customer who appreciates its characteristics, be told about the taste sensations. On the other hand, those who choose this job do it to satisfy others through their creations.

Like all coffee breaks, they eventually must come to an end. I thanked Tommy for his time, and hoped that soon, when all 'this' is over, we can have a coffe break come si deve...

 Have you ever wondered what coffee is? Coffee is an excuse. An excuse to tell a friend you care.- Lusciano De Crescenzo


Friday, April 2, 2021

#Coffeebreak - Pastry Chef Michele Cannavacciuolo

Chef Michele Cannavacciuolo

Over the past few weeks, I've noticed that my coffee breaks have become a special part of my day.  Sitting on my balcony in the sun after a full day tied to my computer teaching elementary and middle school math lessons, I look forward to that  tazza of espresso.   That little cup, paired with a  sweet treat is my way of relaxing.   My latest coffee break was this week with Chef Michele Cannavacciuolo. I've been a following Cannavacciuolo's work for quite some time.  The chef, known and respected Campania-wide from his work at Hotel Capo la Gala, La Torre del Saracino, numerous pastry consultant jobs, and pastry courses which focus on viennoiseries is extremely busy this time of year preparing for the Easter season.  He's busy preparing, alongside other precious baked goods, the Colomba - an Italian Easter cake.  This past week the chef sent me his chocolate version which gave us a chance to have a virtual coffee break while I enjoyed every last bite of his airy, light, soft and chocolatey cake.  

Michele, have you always produced Colomba cakes, or is this something that you have taken up recently due to the increase demand?

I've always made Colomba  cakes, but obviously in this period I studied a lot more I had more time to perfect many little things.Leavened products have always been my passion, working and making mistakes, above all, fascinates me even more.   It is not a product to be taken for granted, it changes constantly and the most fascinating thing is that yeast, with the right attention and treated with love always gives you something wonderful. 

What is your favorite Colomba?

The classic with lemon and orange candied fruit is the top for me.  Timeless classic aromaas cannot be replaced with anything -citrus fruits totally make a difference. 

How much time do you spend a day preparing Colomba cakes?

It is difficult to say because you have to give time to obtain a quality leavened product.  You are working with sourdough, lievito madre - so sometimes the dough rises in 3 hours, sometimes 4, other times, 4 1/2.  You have to stay on top of it practically, and before you know it the day flies by.

It sounds challenging, challenging but at the same time, satisfying. Giusto?

 The most beautiful challenge is to see people happy and to be able to convey the message that a great leavened product takes time, patience.  It is extremely satisfying.  like watching a child.  You see him/her when they are small, and you take them in your for them.  That is what also fascinates me about croissants, pain au raisins and brioche. Like  during the courses I teach.  They have a different charm....The other day, a man for northern Italy, Piedmont, had a chance to try my classic Colomba cake.  He said 'Oh, so it is not true that in Naples there is only Gomorra (mafia).  You have a product that the north may not have tasted yet.'  This gives me so much  joy and  it also gives me more stimulus to do even better when said by someone who really understands what is behind my work.

Like all coffee breaks, they eventually must come to an end.  I had a few errands to run, the chef had to get back to his  cakes, like this mini -panettone.  

Hopefully our next coffee break can be da vicino.  Like the quote by Neapolitan writer, film actor, and director Luciano De Crescenzo states - Have you ever wondered what coffee is? Coffee is an excuse. An excuse to tell a friend you care.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

F & B Cooking Lab - Distance Learning with a Gastronomical Twist

I'm a maths teacher and I love to look at numbers, data, statistics.  Example - internet usage.  According to DataReportal.com4.66 billion people around the world used the internet in January 2021, up by 316 million (7.3 percent) since this time last year.  And social media? There are now 4.20 billion social media users around the world. This figure has grown by 490 million over the past 12 months, delivering year-on-year growth of more than 13 percent. The number of social media users is now equivalent to more than 53 percent of the world’s total population.

One of the reasons for this increase in usage is due to the fact that access to the Internet is made much easier by less expensive mobile devices.   not to mention the worldwide pandemic that hit around 12 months ago. 

How does this affect the restaurant and food business?  If you are a cook or enthusiasts/foodie, the pandemic has not squelched your desire to learn.  On the contrary, it has opened a door -via social media - to travel the world and connect with professionals ‘face to face’.  

It is in this environment that the market for high end cooking classes on a professional level increased significantly, giving birth to schools such as  F & B Cooking Lab. F&B Cooking Lab is a totally online cooking school with an ever growing schedule of masterclasses and webinars.  Founders Daniele Bracuto and Tommaso Foglia's mission for the lab is to convey innovative techniques and processes shared by  experts in the industry who will prepare dishes and share recipes. The primary objective is the dissemination of skills in order to increase proficiency through debate and online dialogue. 

We are reaching out to the  new generation and to those who, despite having a solid theoretical and practical base, want to increase their skills. We are having considerable feedback from abroad, with Italian chefs and young people who are away for work reasons. We are pleased to make them feel a little at home!  - Daniele Bracuto

They offer all accredited students the opportunity to review the recorded lesson, as many times as possible, by connecting to a site with a personal password.

The first class is scheduled for April 12th and will feature Chef Francesco Sodano, (Il Faro di Capo D’Orso, 1 Michelin star).   Info on the course and cost can be found here.

Topics covered in the future will include baking, pastry, and dining room, presented by some of the biggest names in the Italian gastronomic scene.  

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Confessions of a Cesto Convert - Cesto Bakery, Torre Del Greco (Na)

I feel the need to confess, and as they say, confession is good for the soul.
I guess you can say that  we met online.  Cesto Bakery and I...And for me it was love at first sight.  It started off innocently enough, following their instagram page every morning.  Enticed by pictures and short video clips of  croissants, and pandoro and panettone Christmas cakes.  After a couple of weeks, I eventually reached out.  I ordered a pandoro online.  The couple of days of anticipation nearly killed me.  When my package arrived, it was hard to hide my excitement.  One of the best pandoro cakes that I have ever tasted.  I was curious, I wanted to learn more....
It was time to meet Cesto Bakery in person.

Cesto Bakery is located in Torre Del Greco's historic center.  It is about 45 minutes from my home and when I arrived, I patiently waited my turn in line outside the storefront on Via Salvator Noto.  Once inside, I was overwhelmed by the aromas of breads, pizzas and breakfast pastries.  As I was making up my mind, out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar face.  That face, that smile, that voice from Cesto's ig stories.  It was him, Catello Di Maio, the man behind the bakery.
Catello Di Maio
(photo courtesy of Cesto Bakery)

We had a coffee, a croissant and a quick chat.31 year old Di Maio is passionate about his bread making - he has been baking since he was a child, practically growing up in his father's bakery. Di Maio, with a smile, can tell you everything you want to know about bread, yeast, sourdough, and if your lucky - a little bit about Neapolitan history.  I was lucky.  We had this conversation as Di Maio led me from Via Salvator Noto to Via Falanga - Cesto's second storefront.  Here, I was treated to a tour of the bakery as Di Maio and his team were at work.Here I got to see up close loaves going into the oven, knowing full well, that though they may cost a little more than the average loaf in the supermarket, it will last me 3 times as long and will taste sooo much better.  Fun fact - on Sundays, Di Maio and his team bakes loaves that are 2 meters long!


The more I listened and observed, the greater my admiration and respect grew for Di Maio and his operation.  His knowledge of baking is impressive and after purchasing several products on several  occasions - I'm hooked.  

No - wait - I'm converted.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Pastiera Mood -7 Young Pastry Chefs - 7 Mouthwatering Memories


I’ve lived in Italy for nearly 28 years.  Yes, I’ve called the Campania region my home since 1993.  Since that period I have learned to appreciate the traditional cuisine found in this part of the boot.  One dish in particular is the Neapolitan Pastiera.  It is a pie made with ingredients such as cooked wheat berry, ricotta, and candied citrus fruit.  Served traditionally during the Easter season, but can be found year round.

Over the last couple of weeks, I developed a craving for this popular pie.A pastiera like this one by the highly respected Pastry Chef Antonino Maresca.  The aroma of this freshly baked pastiera got me thinking. Wondering.  During the nearly 40 minute drive in my car from Ro World, where the chef works,  I developed a craving for the stories behind it. The mouthwatering memories. I decided to contact 7 of Campania’s top young pastry chefs.  Those who were very young when I had my first bite of a pastiera pie. Why seven?  Because the original pastiera recipe calls for 7 main ingredients and 7 strips of dough baked on top. 

I was curious about 1) their first memories,  2)who taught them how to bake a pastiera, and 3) what, in their opinion, makes a pastiera perfect.

Here are some  mouthwatering memories  that will definitely put us all  in a  pastiera mood.

Pastry Chef Andrea Marano
( Jose Restaurant )

My first memory of pastiera is linked to work - my grandmother (at the time) and my mother are not very good bakers! (hahaha)  So passion that I have today wasn’t handed down to me, instead  it came from within, which perhaps gives it an added value.

I learned how to make pastiera from the first pastry chef to whom I was a commis. He was an older gentleman with no formal training , but who had working in a pastry shop since he was 10 years old. A life among sweets, let's say.  He explained to  the fundamental points for a "perfect" pastiera.

     1)  Ricotta first of all -strictly sheep's milk

      2)  the perfect balance of aromas of orange and Neroli, and

.      3)  cooking process, which must give the right moisture to the pastiera to create the ideal balance.

Of course every pastry chef has his own recipe that he modifies and "perfects" to his liking .... those with blended wheat berry and those without candied fruit ... well ... every recipe is right.   It tells the story in itself and who creates it.


Pastry Chef Ferdinando De Simone
(Ristorante Lorelei)

Pastiera is unquestionably the sweet prince of Neapolitan pastry, typical of the Easter period (spring). It is not just a myth, but a real family tradition handed down from generation to generation, but like all myths it is difficult to codify a recipe capable of putting everyone in agreement on the ingredients and preparation. During the Easter period, in every Neapolitan family, pastiera is made with the recipe left by distant relatives and well it goes without saying that everyone thinks that their own is the original recipe.

I can tell you mine…

I was little, I was about 7 or 8 years old, but I still remember it clearly.  During  Easter week,  I would accompany my grandmother to the shop outside the alley of our house to buy wheat berry to soak for the pastiera. We’d put the wheat to soak in the evening and in the morning it was cooked with milk, lard and orange and lemon peels . Mamma mia, what an aroma!

It is thanks to those scents and flavors that year after year my curiosity grew and during Easter it became routine to help my grandmother to try to learn as many secrets as possible - even if alas, today, after almost 10 humble years of trying, I have never been able to make pastiera like my grandmother.

Over the years I have tried to standardize the recipe by finding the right combination between the different ingredients but I only understood one thing  - besides the finest quality and authenticity of the ingredients that grandmothers and Neapolitan housewives mixed perfectly without being fixated with the exact measurements to the extent to which we "modern pastry chefs" are accustomed, love, devotion, respect for the raw materials of the land and fidelity to traditions are essential. These are the elements that make a perfect pastiera. For my part, from a technical point of view, I would recommend, regardless of which recipe you use, to use fresh but very dry ricotta, to dose and balance the smells well, to preferably use natural candied fruit and lastly not to overdo it with the eggs.

Neapolitan pastiera is a dessert that I care a lot about. I connect the memories I have just told you about. I think it is a dessert that contains a little bit of the essence of the Neapolitan people and of the south in general.   Extremely poor ingredients  which represent flourishing and rebirth (a characteristic concept of Easter and Spring).


Pastry Chef Laura Cosentino
(George Restaurant)

Almost all of my best childhood memories are linked to conviviality and food because in Naples, cooking is a gesture of love. Just as that of the pastiera is linked to my mother, to her hands, to the small fingers with the two gold rings, intent on kneading the pastry, trying to convey the value of those gestures to me. I don't remember the moment of tasting, but I remember the moments that precede it very well.  My mother taught me to prepare it, although as a child I could not appreciate it, but then one grows, one’s tastes change and evolve and today it is one of my favorite desserts. Over time, the recipe has become a little more personal but never going far from the original.

I do not believe that the perfect pastiera exists. Everyone conceives their own recipe as tradition requires, no Neapolitan would think of distorting, the pastiera is a heritage of humanity, a family image.

Each pastiera is perfect if done with love and, for me, better if tall, moist, and fragrant.

Pastry Chef Cesare Casoria
(Ro World)

My  pastiera memory is 12 years ago when my mother made it.  It was the first one that I ever saw!  My mother taught me how to make it, and over time, I improved it my own way, tweaking it here and there.

What  makes a pastiera perfect?   Love and the passion that a person puts into making it!


Pastry Chef Sara Sciotti
( former pastry chef Palazzo Petrucci)

Pastiera is one of the traditional desserts to which I am most attached, both because it is a classic dessert very rooted in the Neapolitan culture, and because it is typical of the Easter period, so it inevitably brings back memories of when I was little and I watched my mother preparing it for the whole family.

It is no coincidence that it was she who taught me those little secrets that make pastiera special:

the respect and quality of raw materials and the amount of aromas, which “play” a very important role in the creation of a perfect pastiera.

I also think that the key trick to making a good pastiera, in addition to the right balance of ingredients, is knowing how to mix experience with love and passion for what you do.

Pastry Chef Carmen Peluso (Il Mosaico, Ro World)

On Good Friday, Easter cakes were traditionally prepared at home, a day spent in the hands of my grandparents at home, they had a nice wood-burning oven. The sweet casatiello was prepared, the Lenten cookies and obviously the pastiera was the host. It was a hectic and tiring day but also one of the best days I remember from my childhood.

Growing up I could never have imagined that pastry would be my great passion and today my job.

In December 2018 I had the opportunity to taste chef Antonino Maresca's pastiera and learn his concept of the perfect pastiera. A rich dessert, characterized by the fresh scent of orange blossom, with a soft, compact,  but at the same time,  creamy filling with the right amount of pastry at the base and the 7 strips on the surface as legend has it.

The secret to a perfect pastiera?  Creating the right balance between the ingredients that make it up: wheat, quality ricotta, all enhanced by the orange blossom water that releases its characteristic scent.


Pastry Chef Fabio Del Sorbo
(Molino Dallagiovanna)

Pastiera is one of those fundamental desserts in my life.  It is one of those desserts that shorten the difference between me and my birthplace. And naturally, it is one of those desserts that makes me feel at home.  I can when remember, during the 'production period', I would be the one placing the strips of pastry dough on top of the pie towatds the end of the preparation.  It was something fun and magical, because it was the chance to do something geometrical while completing the pastiera - this was fun.  I can thank my mother for introducing me to the pastiera.  When the Easter season was approaching, pastiera production became something 'spiritual', 'magical'.  We made a lot.  I remember that we made an average of about 40 to 50 pies. These pies ended up as gifts for everyone in our neighborhood.  We used, and still use today, a wood burning oven.  I remember that at the time, I wasn't a big fan of desserts made with ricotta.  The only one was that I enjoyed was pastiera. That's because that combination of cooked wheat berry, orange blossom water, and ricotta was really something magical.  So, my first teacher was my mother.  Since then, I have advised many clients to include different types of chocolate, different types of fruit, and even dried fruit.  In my opinion, however, he classic recipe is unbeatable. What makes a pastiera special?  That combination between ricotta, orange blossom water, and wheat berry.  Today, many pastiera producers use wheat berry that is already cooked.  I advise  my clients to try to begin from scratch...meaning to but the wheat berry, cook it and add aromas.  In this way, one can create a product that is special and has the characteristics that one believes in.

And if those stories don't put you in a pastiera mood, I do not know what will!