Holly Ebel: From Tuscany, with love
By now, a good many of you have heard of, read about, even tasted some of the recipes from the book “Love in a Tuscan Kitchen.”
If you haven’t, you soon will, because word-of-mouth and the efforts of the author are turning this treasure into a best-seller.
A cross between a cookbook and a memoir, it was written by Sheryl Ness, a Kasson native. It details the author’s search for “something,” which she ultimately finds, fueled by chocolate cake, in a Tuscany kitchen.
Feeling restless after 30 years of working as a nurse at Mayo Clinic, Ness seized on an opportunity to go to Italy. So with a friend and as part of a small tour group (they were the only ones, it turns out), they took off to explore the people, the country and the cuisine.
So taken was Ness with the country, Tuscany especially, she returned to the area twice more. “I felt this connection, almost a pull, to that area,” she says.
Her third time was a life-changer. On one of her final days in the town of San Gusme, Ness went into a restaurant she had been to many times before. This time, however, she ordered chocolate cake, a specialty there, as dessert. She describes it as a hot, decadent chocolate cake. It was so good she had to get the recipe, so she went into the kitchen and met its creator, Chef Vincenzo Giangiordano, the owner. There was an immediate connection between them.
As they got to know each other, they would both take dictionaries to find the words they wanted — he spoke very little English and her Italian was marginal at best. Even though she was back-and-forth with her Mayo responsibilities, the relationship grew and they were married in 2010.
She totally immersed herself in the culture of the town, from the daily life of the people to their celebrations, the countryside and the food — even cooking with the local women and earning the title of “The Chef’s Wife.” (Adds Sheryl, “they couldn’t pronounce my name.”)
All the time they were there, she kept a very detailed journal. Those notes form the basis of this book.
Especially of interest to lovers of Italian cuisine (and who isn’t?) are the 38 recipes, all authentic and going back generations, including some from Vincenzo’s grandmother and mother. Chef was making gnocchi with his grandmother from the age of 9, and that fueled his interest in cooking.
He trained at a traditional Italian culinary institute, Villa Santa Maria, and from there worked in restaurants and high-end hotels throughout Italy before opening his own, La Porta del Chianti. He has the recipes of everything he has ever cooked. (Another book perhaps?)
The couple returned to Rochester in 2015 for several reasons, one being Ness’ family is in the area and she wanted to be closer to them.
The other factor was that Vincenzo was wanting some additional culinary experiences. Since publishing the book last year, the couple has been involved in marketing it. Working together, they have done author’s talks in and around Rochester, including at 125 Live.
The two recently traveled to San Francisco to do a talk at Ominvore Books, a unique bookstore specializing in cookbooks. Other speaking engagements are in the works.
They also have done pop-up restaurant dinners featuring foods from specific regions of Italy. There is one planned June 24 at Misplaced Magnolia in Kasson. Cooking classes and demonstrations are also being offered.
Ness has also partnered with Amy and Linda Lorber, the mother-daughter team behind Gardenaire, the local business specializing in spice mixes, syrups and shrubs. They have even made an herb blend called Love in a Tuscan Kitchen and sell the book at their farmers market stand.
While Vincenzo is the man behind the pastas served at Terza, Ness describes him as a human pasta machine. Is there any chance they might sell some of their original sauces and other creations at the farmers market? Likely not, as they do not have a commercial kitchen. They are hoping to find one eventually.