Rosetta Costantino on bringing Calabria to California

I was lucky to land a spot in one of the frequently sold-out Cooking with Rosetta classes in Emeryville last weekend-- and between all the slicing and dicing,  Rosetta Costantino agreed to answer a few questions for Became Today.
Rosetta has a palpable passion for what she does, so it was really fantastic to hear a bit about the path that's brought her here.

Although for many years her primary focus was elsewhere-- she earned a degree in chemical engineering and enjoyed a successful career in Silicon Valley-- cooking has always been a big part of Rosetta's life. "My mom and grandmother always allowed me in the kitchen," she said. "I remember being like 4 or 5 years old, and I couldn't even really reach, but they'd tell me, 'Well, you can put in the garlic, you can put the basil in.' And I always loved it. It was never like a chore."

It wasn't until 2001, when she walked away from corporate life to focus on raising her two children, that Rosetta thought about turning her lifelong passion into more than just a hobby.

Rosetta held her first Italian cooking class in 2004-- mostly for fun, she says. But thanks to a glowing article in the San Francisco Chronicle and rave word-of-mouth reviews, Cooking with Rosetta quickly became a huge success. Today, many of Rosetta's classes are sold out weeks in advance, and she has completed a cookbook, My Calabria, slated for release by publisher W.W. Norton in November 2010.

"I thought, 'Oh, I'll just do a couple classes, initially.' And it sold out! And it kept on selling out. So I'm still at it."

Rosetta moved to the Bay Area at the age of 14 from a small town in Calabria, Italy. Though she quickly became fluent in English and adjusted to many aspects of American culture, her family, who had always eaten mostly home-grown Mediterranean style meals, wasn't so keen on adopting the standard American diet.

"When we came in 1974, it was shocking," she said. In terms of food, "the Bay Area didn't look anything like it does today. There was no Acme Bread-- there was no good bread! There was no pasta from Italy, there were no Italian cheeses."

Rosetta's parents did all they could to maintain their way of eating: Her father, who had been a vinter and cheese maker in Calabria, planted a vegetable garden at their new home with seeds he brought from Italy; her mother snuck her family's bread starter into the US in her purse after one of her trips back home.

"If we had been willing to adapt, and eat Wonder Bread, you know, and put Thousand Island on our salads, then we would have been perfectly fine," she said with a laugh. "But we wanted to keep everything we had."

Today, Rosetta sees her cookbook and classes as her own way of keeping her family's traditions alive. "When I stopped working, I really wanted to share the food I grew up with," she said. "A lot of people used to think that was peasant food, but it's amazing how it's all turned around. Now, people want to learn how to make their own bread, how to preserve things, how to grow their own vegetables, how to eat simple."

"And that's what I grew up with. I think the timing is perfect."

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