This March, our person of the month is Alessandra “Ale” Gambini. Born and raised in Milan, Ale is a Los Angeles-based Italian food writer, cookbook author, recipe developer, host chef in web series, Italian food advocate, and cooking instructor. Despite having a long career behind her as a professional musician, Ale has always been passionate about food. She learned how to cook and to love good food from her beloved Nonna Fernanda. She now hosts cooking series “A World Of Sweets”, “Baking Bread,” and “A Queen In the Kitchen.” Ale is also a cooking instructor at the IICLA (Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles), the LA Food Bowl, and Eataly Las Vegas. She is the author of two successful books: “A Queen in the Kitchen” and “No Ketchup on Spaghetti.”
Ale, tell us something about yourself and how you went from Milan to Los Angeles following your passion for food.
I was born and raised in Milan. Even though good food has always played a big role in my life (my nonna Fernanda was an extraordinary cook and so was my dad), I was a professional musician for almost 20 years. I had the honor and pleasure of performing on successful tv shows, tours, and studio recordings. At one point my husband (who is a musician, composer, and audio technician) and I felt that Italy was small for our aspirations. It was time to pursue the American Dream. He started teaching at UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) and tutoring big names in the American music industry, and we relocated to LA.
From music to the kitchen: how did you turn your passion for food into a career?
I felt that the love for our extraordinary food culture was stronger than the love for music. I started a blog, then I became contributor for I Love Italian Food, Honest Cooking, Expo 2015; I wrote articles for food magazines, developed recipes for Italian food brands, and started to teach cooking classes at the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles.
You are a passionate advocate of Italian food and traditions. What are the challenges of being an ambassador of Italian taste in the US?
Misconceptions and misunderstandings of Italian cooking are everywhere. I’m privileged because I live in a multicultural city where people are open-minded and willing to learn. During my classes, I noticed that some people knew how to make a carbonara, but didn’t know that Pecorino Romano DOP is not the same thing as the Romano Cheese you can find in the grocery store. They can't tell the difference between authentic Italian food and Italian-sounding food products, and that’s why my second cookbook, ”No Ketchup on Spaghetti,” was born.
Can you tell us something more about the book?
There are thousands of Italian cookbooks. Some are very well written, but only a few are about Italian agricultural food products, so I decided to fill that gap. I would define "No Ketchup on Spaghetti" as an informative cookbook since not only does it include a recipe collection from each region in Italy, but also because it helps the customers identify food products that are 100% made in Italy. I’ve included a chapter with tips and tricks from notable chefs and food experts, pantry essentials for Italian cooking, and some suggestions for cooking and eating like Italians do in Italy.
What recipe are you most sentimentally devoted to?
I would say risotto alla Milanese and octopus salad, both of which are included in my first cookbook, "A Queen in the Kitchen,” the cookbook I dedicated to my beloved Nonna Fernanda. As far as "No Ketchup on Spaghetti,” my most beloved recipe would be classic tiramisu because I'm a tiramisu lover, along with asparagus and burrata lasagna, a lasagna with a my own distinctive twist.
After so many years in the US, have you changed the way you cook Italian dishes?
I try to keep it as authentic as I can, but I’m also open to experimenting with new versions of classic dishes, so long as I stick to 100% made-in-Italy products.
When you go to Italy on vacation, which is the first dish you want to try and why?
As soon as I land in Italy, I stop for a cappuccino and cornetto at the airport. Same thing is true when I leave: I grab a cappuccino and cornetto to say “see you soon.”
What do you miss the most about the Italian way of life in LA?
I live in LA, a city that I love and that allows everyone to live as they wish. We are lucky to have great Italian restaurants, specialty stores, and importers. What I miss the most is Italy in summer time, I can’t wait to go back and enjoy the most beautiful place on earth to its fullest.