Food for me has always been very meaningful. When I was very young, I was influenced by Italian culture and food. My mom was a single mom, and by default, because I wasn’t in school yet, she would drop me off at my grandmother’s house, and pick me up after work. Being at an Italian grandmother’s house it was food food food all day long. Morning until night, it was her duty, joy, and passion to feed me as much as she could. And that’s Italian culture for you. That’s the way life is for Italians. It doesn’t matter if you’re a child, a mother, a grandmother, teenager, that’s what they do. Their lives revolve around food.
Come to think of it, all my memories around being a young boy were delicious. I was intrigued by it all, but I don’t think that all the other family members got it like I got it. I was very young when I was exposed to it, and I was very easily influenced then. And because I was being taken care of by my grandmother, I was able to watch her in the kitchen. I always wanted to be there. If she was making pasta with one of my aunts, if she was making gnocchi, if she was in the garden harvesting something, I would be there. When the apples and pears were falling off the trees I was there. I can remember seeing plums all over the ground at my grandmother’s. Seeing all the mulberries there as well, and being covered in black from being in the tree eating them all. That for me, made me grow up always being excited about food.
Food is in everything we do. It’s in our social environment, it’s in being healthy, but most importantly it’s in happiness. What person doesn’t enjoy a food experience? People might think differently about that but I don’t know, I don’t see it like that. Food is primarily about happiness and enjoyment. Of course many people will say that we only really need food to survive. But if we had food that didn’t taste good or had nothing to it, and we were just eating to live, would we really relate to it the way we do today? Imagine the depression that would kick in.
Food is about engaging your senses. It’s about the enjoyment of tasting, smelling, feeling, and hearing food. And when you have these enjoyable experiences, it creates memories. And as far back as I can remember, I have memories that evolve around food triggered by a smell or a taste. And it usually brings us back to a place of comfort and happiness. Particularly for me because that’s what created the path to where I am now. It’s the memories and experiences that I had around food that made me who I am. Even to this moment, a simple pasta pomodoro, a gnocchi, the smell of raw veal, or the smell of tomatoes in the garden, all have vivid memories of my life attached to them. Food connects it all. Lots of people don’t know that, and a lot of people don’t see that. But it’s a lot more important than people think.
Rob Gentile - Chef Director at King Street Food Company