NY-MI: one way
Could you please introduce yourself?
Newyorkese by birth and Milanese by adoption. I'm a food, wine, and travel writer, blogger (A Signorina in Milan), and host of The Milanophiles podcast. I also offer food tours in Milan for foreigners who travel here. I like to say that I’m the fiercest champion for my adopted city you’ll ever meet–-I think Milan is Italy’s best unkept secret, and I want everyone to love it as much as I do. To book a food tour of Milan with me when you’re in town, you can visit the food tours section of my blog.
Do you think there's anything in common between Milan and New York’s culinary scenes?
What are instead trends or peculiarities that characterize and differentiate them?
I believe there are more similarities than one might think. Yes, they’re both international cities and Fashion Week cities, but it doesn’t end there. Residents of each hustle, bustle, and walk fast. They’re both hard-working, fast-paced cities and the residents are curious and open- minded. Though, everything in New York is always executed on a grander scale–too grand at times. Milan is known for fashion and design, but its food scene remains overlooked and undervalued. Regarding international food, New York definitely comes out ahead, but Milan absolutely plays host to great international restaurants. I think Milan’s “problem” is that it gets overshadowed by Italy. People generally say they’re
going to Paris, London, or New York, and everyone more or less knows what to expect from each city. If someone advised you to try a Lebanese, Thai, and Indian restaurant in one of those cities, you’d seriously consider it. If someone recommended a Chinese or Japanese restaurant in Milan, you’d likely say, “Why would I go there? I’m in Italy. That’s the wrong place for that cuisine.” And they’d be wrong to do that, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. It doesn’t fit the mold for most people’s preconceived ideas of Italy, so they’re quick to dismiss it without giving it a chance. Travelers need to change their approach and think of Milan as Milan (not Italy) in the same way they think of New York as New York (not the U.S.), Paris as Paris (not France), or London as London (not England).
Domestically, everyone knows Milan is where it’s at. Michelin-starred chefs from all around Italy have a presence here, like Niko Romito and Norbert Niederkofler. But on a global level, I think Milan warrants more attention. If it gets the attention it deserves, I also think it might pique the curiosity of chefs around Europe and even the world to check it out and perhaps even ponder a presence here for themselves. Innovation abounds here, and the food and beverage seen grows more exciting by the day.
In your opinion, cooking is: a trend, a tradition or culture?
Great question! It’s a tricky one to answer.
While cooking encompasses all three, I believe it’s rooted in tradition. But trends and culture certainly factor in. Cooking traditions shape the contemporary and historical culture of any city or destination. A cooking trend could be the idea of contemporizing an old-school traditional recipe. For example, look at riso al pesce persico from Lake Como. This simple dish goes back centuries and represents the lake’s culinary traditions. You can find it in its purest form or interpreted with a twist at restaurants around the lake today. The fundamentals of the recipe can
serve as the basis for more playful or elaborate riffs, such as arancini, a full-on risotto (maybe with some bitto?), and even deconstructed as a perch filet with some rice and other adornments.
There’s also overlap between culture and trends. Is it “trendy” for chefs to add some oomph to dishes rooted in La Cucina Povera? It could be, but trends can help shape food culture. So, I guess they’re all leaves on the same tree! But I will say that I do think that trends are fleeting–tradition is constant, and culture is constantly evolving.
Which are the elements for you that transform a meal away from home (breakfast/lunch/dinner) into an experience?
The quality of food and beverages definitely factors in, but I think people make the experience. There’s nothing worse than a superb meal in lousy company! But not only dining companions, as people dine alone all the time. This also extends to the staff. If you go to a restaurant with excellent food, but the service is terrible and the staff isn’t hospitable, you’ll never return. But you might go back to a restaurant, where maybe the food was just okay, not sensational, because you liked the staff. Hospitality is so important – especially at places where you’re a regular. It’s nice when the staff remembers you and keeps track of your order and interests so that you can feel welcomed and at home. There are so many restaurants people can choose from – the best staff are aware of this and are genuinely grateful to the guests for choosing the establishment. This emits a warm vibe and adds a magic touch, helping to make the experience unforgettable.
And I’d like to add that Europe, Italy in particular, gets a bad rap for aloof service. Still, I think several food establishments in this country do a superb job on the hospitality/service front at making you feel at home. I notice it a lot in Milan; countless restaurants understand just how vital the service element is. You find it even at informal restaurants. Many chefs, restaurateurs, somms, and servers have worked abroad and/or for some of Italy’s finest restaurants. Perhaps
those experiences helped shape their hospitality approach. But it’s not just in Milan. Off the top of my head, Feel in Como, Materia in Cernobbio, and Marcopolo 1960 in Ventimiglia are just a few places providing service that’s just as memorable as the food.
You manage a blog, social media accounts, and a podcast. Which communication channel is most congenial to you and which is the most difficult to manage?
Admittedly, I could do a better job managing them all! I think the blog has been beneficial because it’s prompted people to contact me and brought me many opportunities. I go through ups and downs with social networks – I’m currently limiting my time. I think they’re very effective, but I’m not a fan of the algorithms that lure you into spending as much time scrolling as possible.
I’m relaunching my newsletter this fall. Things had been so hectic that I slacked on it, but it's coming back. I really enjoy it. It’s an effective platform that has brought me opportunities and has allowed me to keep in touch with clients.
The podcast is fun–it’s a lot of work, too. More than I imagined, but I’m not complaining! I’m putting together the second season now and trying to manage my time so that I can dedicate the effort it deserves once the first episode drops.
Podcasts have existed for years; why do you think they became so viral only in the last period?
I’m averse to wasting time, so I love podcasts because they allow me to use my time wisely, multitask, and learn. I always have a book on me, so I’m not idle when standing in a long line, sitting in a waiting room, or killing time between meetings or appointments. Even at home, if I’m cooking or cleaning by myself, I listen to one while I work. In Milan, I walk everywhere. Obviously, you can’t read a book when you’re walking. But whenever I’m out and about, I usually listen to a podcast or an audiobook to maximize my time.
Podcasts appeal to me because they’re generally not a big commitment–episodes don’t usually exceed an hour or two. Plus, you have a vast audio library at your fingertips for free on any topic under the sun. You can choose to listen to the latest episode of a podcast you like or an episode from a random podcast about something you’re interested in. Unlike live radio, it’s also fully autonomous–you’re not tuning into a channel that can’t pause or pick up again later in the same spot you left off. Nowadays most radio shows have podcast supplements where you can download any episode you missed, but there’s just something about podcasts that’s a little more accessible. You can search and find something that appeals most to you.
What's the most important thing for a brand, a shop or a restaurant: quality or a very good communication strategy?
I support both, but quality trumps communication. A good communication plan comprises various facets. Restaurants that take themselves seriously want to get the right people in there to create buzz–and there are ways to do that off the socials (writing solid press materials, PR outreach, and media invitations). Still, I’m going to touch on social media right now.
Nowadays, I think social media steers many business decisions and I think prioritizing social media is a bit short sighted if that’s where all the energy is focused. Some places are designed purely for the sake of social networks but might not consider other crucial factors like quality and consistency–who cares how this burger tastes? As long as it looks good on Instagram…
I understand that social media is the way of the world these days, but it shouldn’t be the North Star. If that burger tastes like crap or is styled differently from how it appeared on Instagram, you will have disappointed the clientele.
I think brands clearly need to identify who/what they are and their audience precisely, and they shouldn’t lose sight of that. Of course, social networks can be vital for building visibility, but establishments shouldn’t treat them as the axis around which everything evolves. It’s essential that the staff are happy and treated well - they’re dealing directly with the clientele, so they must only emit good vibes. You don’t just want to get people there—you want them to come back and to spread the word.
At the end of the day, quality speaks for itself. You can get anyone to the restaurant with a good communication plan, but if the quality is subpar, people won’t return, and they’ll spread the word. People will also spread the word if you offer quality, even if you don’t have a communication strategy. Quality is part and parcel of building a business that endures in the long run. But without quality (both on the food and service front), you won’t incentivize the clientele to spread the good word.
Three fundamental characteristics to do your job.
Perseverance, curiosity, and consistency
What's your favorite dessert?