MORE STUFF! Cannon Green's Amalia Scatena on Italy
Finding deep-rooted passion and struggle overseas.
February 4, 2016
[MORE STUFF! is home to all the little nuggets we stuffed in our pockets months or weeks or days ago because we liked the way they read, or looked, or sounded. It's kinda like finding a $20 bill in your pocket. Here, the chef of Charleston's Cannon Green recalls the time spent in Italy early in her career.]
I’ve wanted to be a chef ever since I was little.
It's all I've ever done; I grew up in San Francisco, we moved to Virginia when I was in high school, and I decided to go to school in Italy.
I got there, and had two roommates. One was from a small town in Texas, had never left the state. The other girl was from Canada. Three of my closest friends were from El Salvador. One of them was from Indonesia. So you're in Italy, but you are surrounded by all these different cultures, understanding food and traditions from them. There's a couple dishes from my El Salvador friends that I'll still always have on the menu somewhere.
I think there were probably 15 of us in each class. The teachers were all super Italian. But, being a female was not totally well-received. Before I went to school, I worked for a female chef who was the best. She really inspired to me to go at it, so I wasn't really aware of any type of gender issues at all. It was in Italy, where the guy's in there smoking cigarettes making ragù like he has been for a million years, that I felt it.
We had to do an internship every semester, and the first one was very intense. They just felt like there was no place for a female in their kitchen. It bummed me out, but I didn't quit. I kept going. They were speaking a different language, so I would pick up on bits and pieces of it. The obvious eye roll, the laugh, the huffs. They were mad all the time, and it was uncomfortable. But my next one was at a bakery; they were wonderful and I had no problems. It just depended on where you were.
We traveled a lot. We learned a lot. It's very different than schools in the US, which I appreciated—not so technical, but from the heart and very passionate. [That passion was] what I was looking for. That was my upbringing, and what connects me to food. My dad is an Italian family guy, and we grew up in the kitchen with him.
As a result of all of that, there’s a strong Italian push in my food. Showcasing the product, the seasonality of the ingredient. It's not super fancy. You won't find a tasting menu here. It's a crudo with basil and radish, and the best Ligurian olive oil and sea salt. Think a seaside town in Southern Italy or Nice. Cioppino is a big thing here, it's been on the menu since we opened. [Some cooks] want to know the amount of salt to put in the sauce, and it's like, it just doesn't work that way. I'm hands on, so I'll just make it with them until they get it. That's all I can really try and do. Some people drink the Kool-Aid and some people just don't, it's really up to them.
I'm a storyteller, so I hope that they are inspired by some of that like I was.