Friday, October 22, 2010


The Brooklyn Ragazza ~ 2012 "DaVinci Storyteller" Winner

Sunflower patch in Toscana, Italia, 2012

Culinary Roots That Run Deep

The Brooklyn Ragazza
Cathi Iannone is an award-winning, Italian American home cook and blog writer who is  known by her culinary alias, The Brooklyn Ragazza.  She grew up in rural, Upstate New York, between the Foothills of the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes Wine Region, but has called Brooklyn, NY her home for over 10 years, hence the alias (ragazza = girl, in Italian; pronounced, rah-got-zah).

By day, she is a classically trained, artist, designer & fine art investment consultant, but equally as defining, she is, admittedly, a full-blown, obsessed lover of food, wine, and traveling. She describes herself as someone who would, on a whim, "drive all the way to the northern tip of New York State, just because I heard they sell the best hand-made, oil-cured sausages."

Growing up in a close-knit, Italo-American community in Utica, NY, that proudly clings to Depression Era, "cucina povera-style" cooking, her recipes are a peek into the treasure chest of culinary heirlooms from many Italo-American's family generations throughout New York. Growing up in a large family with modest means, she describes her mother, Donnamarie, as "a bit of an alchemist, with a lot of panache," and as someone who could "coax luxury out of random ingredients that are lying around the pantry,"  with the belief that resourceful Italians are artists making imaginative use of whatever is at hand. 

Over many years, her family has been involved in the restaurant biz/food industry in many ways, from small diners to catering; from food carts to fine dining. These inherited influences are strongly represented in her cooking and rustic, photography style, with anecdotal, story-telling. She sees her kitchen as another studio where she creates art, but a different kind of canvas; an edible canvas.  A camera and a mandoline are equally essential tools in her kitchen, as she photographs nearly everything she prepares.

  From Moniker to Blog
Self portrait, acrylic painting by Cathi Iannone

In 2010, she began entering recipe and food photography contests, seeking  fun and adventure, and as a way to share her community's "best-kept secret" recipes with the rest of the world, while making new friends, and winning numerous national competitions along the way.  

She began getting many requests for her recipes. After surmountable inquiries, and as a way to keep up with the requests, The Brooklyn Ragazza identity crystallized and a blog was created as a platform to expand on her love of story-telling, food photography, and romancing the "cucina povera," home-style recipes.

 Adding personal stories and photography was a way to create something that was more meaningful and enduring.  Her narratives serve to anchor the reader, as she gives you a sense of  local color, the people, the inspiration, and creative process behind the recipes as a kind of culinary scrapbook of cherished memories. She emphasizes the delicacies of Italian cooking, rather than the monotony of tomato-garlic-laden dishes that Americans mistakenly come to associate with Italian food.


en route to Katz's Deli in NYC
After obtaining a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature & Teacher Education from Syracuse University (satellite campus), where she was an associate editor for the University's literary magazine, and completing Pratt Institute's esteemed, Fine Art Foundation Program (Upstate, PrattMWP Campus), she began to travel the United States for Pratt MWP, critiquing art portfolios, delivering Fine Art presentations, and recruiting top students for the Art School, and eventually settling in Brooklyn, NY, a perfect backdrop for an aspiring artist and writer.

Within months of settling in to the new pace of NYC, she signed with a talent agency and began doing contract work, as a promotional model and brand ambassador, working on many well known brand campaigns. Additionally, she dabbled into acting  with a feature on the reality show, "Blind Date,"  where she was The Great Throwdini's professional assistant, performing in his marksman act. Over the years, she has booked numerous "extra" and "stand-in" work in productions ranging from major motion pictures to prime time television shows, such as, "Law & Order."

With her passion  for food always in the forefront, she worked weekends at Williams Sonoma's bustling, flagship store in Columbus Circle, and she describes this experience as "more of a paid internship, than anything" as she had the opportunity to work several celebrity chef book signings, and the learned experience of culinary prep-work and skillful techniques.Throughout her employment with Williams Sonoma, she received extensive classroom training from major manufacturers such as, Wusthof, All Clad, Le Creuset, Le Courneau, Nespresso, Breville, Cuisinart and Kitchen Aid, to name a few.

A Culinary Passport

Cathi; exploring the canals of Venice, Italy
 Over the past two decades, Cathi has traveled the world, extensively, spanning four continents, with a recent excursion to Indonesia, exploring the culture and culinary practices of the Balinese people, and learning valuable culinary techniques from Master Chef, Heintz Von Holzen.  

Preceding this adventure, armed only with a copy of Rick Steves' "Europe Through the Backdoor" as her travel companion, and a hunger for old world romanticism, she took a sabbatical and back-packed throughout 13 countries in Eastern and Western Europe, photographing and journaling her cultural and culinary experiences, learning about the land from the locals, the importance of "food-seasonality," while forging great, life-long friendships along the way.  She, emphatically, goes on about Europeans "appreciating  the unifying influences of the family meal and the political nuances of hospitality,"and how American culture has lost this art over the generations.

Throughout this journey, she compiled a fantastic journal of fine food, learning the classic procedures of pasta-making in Naples, and how to stretch homemade mozzarella. She regales about her experience in the hills of Petras, Greece where she picked champagne grape bunches fresh off the vine, and bartered for authentic, Greek extra virgin olive oil with an old pair of Levi Jeans.

The DaVinci Wine "Storyteller Experience" in Tuscany

Making brick-oven pizza for the DaVinci Storyteller Experience
 In 2012, The Brooklyn Ragazza was named the "DaVinci Storyteller" Winner (Culinary Category). DaVinci Wine was searching for 4 "creative types" (writers, culinary afficionados, and visual artists & film makers) to join them in the small, historic, Tuscan town of Vinci, Italy as DaVinci "Storytellers"  to learn about DaVinci wine-making, meet the people who make DaVinci Wine, and experience the Tuscan lifestyle.

As a "Storyteller" for DaVinci Wine, Cathi spent a week soaking up the beautiful, historic Vinci, Italy, and  translated all of the Tuscan inspiration through her food, stories, and photography. She explored the Tuscan Chianti Region, where over 200 wine growers have joined together to form a grower's cooperative committed to producing beautiful, authentic, Tuscan wine.

 She had the rare opportunity to put on a chef's jacket and go behind the scenes in the kitchen at the Dalle Vigne Wine Loft Ristorante Enoteca, a famous restaurant on the Cantine Leonardo DaVinci, where the critically acclaimed, Executive Chef, Fabrizio Gaviano shared some of his treasured recipes.

Farm-to-Fork: Brooklyn Roof Top Style

Unripe vine tomatoes from the garden
With today's trend toward simpler cooking and "locavore living," it is not surprising that people are discovering how rewarding gardening really can be.

Although she describes the Farmer's Market in Union Square as one of her favorite places to buy organic, local produce, she proudly boasts of her own urban garden, right above her very own apartment in Brooklyn, NY.

Having been raised in a family that cultivated an extensive fruit and vegetable garden every year, Cathi saw her urban, Brooklyn environment as an opportunity to get creative, and makes use of her flat, Brooklyn roof top and fire escape as the perfect locations to grow vegetation.
She describes these locations as "prime real estate," as they "get maximum sunlight, and whenever I want fresh basil, all I have to do is to open my  kitchen window, reach out and clip it; it's great!"

 In terra cotta planters, she grows everything from tomatoes, to string beans, hot cherry peppers, baby eggplants, and various herbs, to name just a few.

 Being an advocate of the Farm-to-Fork Movement, many of her posts express the importance of "food seasonality," and she seeks to educate her readers on healthy alternatives, gardening practices and tips, and ancient food production practices.

"Those that knew my family growing up, know that you can not even even think about dropping by my Mom's place without bringing your appetite!  You're going to sit down, you're going to feast, and I guarantee, you're going to fall in love! No questions asked. So, allow me to take your hand and bring you into my family's Italian-American kitchen and I will share with you some of the love we call Italian American cuisine.

From my old, Italian family heirloom recipes, the many diverse, Regional Italian dishes, to the modern twist on an old classic, or the inventive fusion recipes that strike me as I roam these diverse NYC neighborhoods, I'm here to share with you, my friends!

Mangiamo, a tutti! ~ Let's eat, everyone!

 -Cathi Iannone, The Brooklyn Ragazza

Splash Page: 

The Brooklyn Ragazza in Montalcino, Toscana for the DaVinci  Storyteller Experience, July 2012