My Friend, Sinù
Writing this newsletter and reading comments from my readers has inspired me to start an interview series.
It’s a privilege to have you as readers and to have you share your own memories and tales from your life. Learning about others’ food lives and traditions connects us, no matter how disparate our life experiences seem to be.
I thought I’d invite some friends to a conversation about food and legacy. I hope you enjoy it.
Sinù Fogarizzu is an Italian native who lives on the mainland of Venice. She calls herself a former Hare Krishna kid and curious vegetarian foodie.
Sinù worked in hospitality to support herself as a college student. Her extended family includes food purveyors and knife makers.
Nowadays, she earns a living as a mild-mannered PR and Community Manager at an innovation and design firm.
Her superpower? Sinù writes about her food journey, home cooking in a Venetian kitchen, and her goals of living a simple, sustainable lifestyle.
Check out her newsletter: Dash of Prosecco.
What is your background?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Japanese and East Asian politics and economics and a Master’s degree in International Relations. As part of the latter, after graduation, I did field research in South East Asia, working with communities impacted by and grassroots organizations working on the "land grabbing" phenomenon. The work experience I gained in the land and food rights as well as sustainable agriculture and development sector form the backbone of my professional profile and certainly play a part in my interest for food.
I started working as a waitress in Venice, around 21 years old, to support my studies.
Restaurant and bar work is what taught me about Venetian food. And how I learnt to make a fantastic spritz.
I worked in 4 different bars in Campo Santa Margherita, a popular spot for locals, students and tourists, too. Then I worked in a fine dining restaurant on the mainland for a couple of years. We'd serve fish mainly and our customer base was high end including politicians, bankers and lawyers (Venice's mayor, Berlusconi's lawyer, ENI's CEO, football superstars and so on). Cutlery was silver and so were the trays. Those trays were so heavy I ruined my wrists! And there was a tiny wooden staircase I'd have to run up and down to get from the kitchen to the dining room. The walls were carpeted, with gorgeous paintings hanging.
Then I worked in Marghera, a portion of Venice mainland where, traditionally, factory and port workers live. It was located near the port and customers were loud and eager to have fun. The owner would dance barefoot on the bar counter as I made coffee and drinks for the after-dinner party. Ironically, I would serve (almost) the same sort of food that I was serving at the fine dining place. High or low society, Venetians love fish, be it fried or in a risotto, that's what they eat.
I haven't worked on hospitality since late 2017. I promised myself I would not go back to it, mostly because of the toll it took on my health (back and wrists) but I do miss the hustle and bustle... the steamy kitchens and the tables dressed in white tablecloths. Perhaps one day I may open my own place, who knows?
What is your earliest food memory?
I grew up in a Hare Krishna community. We lived in a Venetian villa on an estate in Veneto. We ate our meals in a big communal room. Each person had a specific job. People served the meals. People cooked the meals. I literally didn’t see anyone cooking as a child. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner just appeared on my plate that someone served to me. The plates were those tin ones with different compartments for the food.
One hot summer day we kids were roaming the estate and decided to sneak into the cellar where it was drafty and cool. We made sure no one was around, opened up the doors, and found that the shelves were filled with watermelons. Our eyes were as big as the mountains of watermelons we’d discovered. One of us ran to the kitchen to steal a knife while the rest of us grabbed a watermelon and ran. We ran across the fields to the stables where no one could find us. We sat in the hay bales, cut open that watermelon and attacked it, splashing juice and seeds, having the time of our lives.
What was the first thing you learned how to cook?
When I was eleven, I started to collect recipe cards. I signed up for a mail order service that sent me recipe cards and random books each month. I never knew what I was going to get. Sometimes I’d get recipes, sometimes hot romance novels (don’t tell my mom!), sometimes some Tolkien.
I stored those recipe cards in a big red binder with sections for appetizers, main dishes, desserts, and cookies.
The first thing I tried to cook was a savory vegetable pie. I still adore making those.
Is there a food that you absolutely will not eat?
I’m a vegetarian so I don’t eat fish or meat. When I was a little girl, I hated cumin seeds. I was obedient and didn’t complain, but I picked them all out of my dal, one seed at a time. I was always the last one to finish eating.
What's your go to comfort meal?
I have many! I can snack on "macine" and "sofficini" without any sort of shame (macine means millstone). It's a type of cookie by a very popular brand called Mulino Bianco, the white millhouse, owned by Barilla. They have the shape of a millstone and they're thick and rich, perfect for dipping into a cup of frothy milk with honey. On the bag there's written "with cream" to highlight their rich and comforting nature.
Sofficini are a typical supermarket, frozen, ready-made food inspired by French savory crepes. So, you have these tiny crepes, filled with tomato sauce and mozzarella, or mushrooms and cheese, just to name a few, folded, breaded and deep fried. I wouldn't say it's junk food but it’s close enough!
Now that I've added a few recipes to my repertoire, I find great comfort in a walnut and honey cake* by Mimi Thorisson (French Country Cooking). It's absolutely foolproof and when my dad was in the hospital last autumn, this was the only thing I could cook for months. I was eating it every day, one slice in the morning, before leaving for work, and slice in the evening, as soon as I stepped into the apartment. It kept me afloat.
Favorite takeout food?
Bangladeshi and Chinese. I was never impressed with take out food in my town but lately the restaurant scene has evolved and is now offering dishes that truly remind me of my childhood in the Hare Krishna community as well as my travels in Asia. A new era has started. I hope that immigrant communities, largely present in Mestre, will take up more and more space and increasingly feel safe enough to express and share their (culinary) culture with us all. Certainly, Italians have a responsibility in making sure that this happens.
Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries.
Nigel Slater writes down every meal he cooks. Out of this habit was born a series of three, gently narrated cookbooks. If I had to choose one author for my very personal recipe writing award, that would be Nigel. What others achieve through careful storytelling, photography and intelligent marketing he can condense into a simple, well-written recipe just with a pen. The Kitchen Diaries have, in fact, become my bible - they sit on my bedside table filled with earmarked annotations about the magic this man can conjure through style, cadence, and choice of words. Anyone who's interested in the topic of food writing should study his work by heart.
If you could invite anyone over for dinner, who would it be?
That'd be my grandparents. We weren't able to really get to know each other and I have so many questions for them that will remain unanswered. I wish I could cook with them at least once, observe how they move in the kitchen, perhaps ask them what their favorite ice cream flavor is and buy them some, on a hot summer afternoon.
Prosecco, nice and dry, the driest the better, with very thin bubbles. It has to be cold.
*I made the walnut honey cake that Sinù mentions. I didn’t have the fancy mini bundt pan so I just used a cake pan. The cake is perfect for a slice of comfort with a mid-afternoon spot of tea.
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Thanks again to my friend, Sinù, for taking the time to talk with us.
And thanks again for reading! I care about you. Please don’t forget to eat your greens.