Pasta just got saucier with glamorous Welsh-Italian chef Michela Chiappa
22:29 GMT, 20 July 2012
22:29 GMT, 20 July 2012
What sort of person, do you imagine, lands their very own TV show devoted to pasta, pasta, and more pasta (with extra Parmesan)
A generously padded Italian mamma, surely, of the type always seen in Dolmio ads The much-loved Antonio Carluccio Well, no.
The latest TV chef to arrive on our screens looks more like a Californian model than someone who’s spent their life in pursuit of the perfect ragu.
Michela Chiappa: The latest TV chef to arrive on our screens looks more like a Californian model than someone whos spent their life in pursuit of the perfect ragu
Michela Chiappa is tall and willowy, with the sort of body that you generally get with a steamed-fish-and-daily-gym-sessions regime. Just 30, she’s already something of an international high-flier – but not in the culinary sphere. A PR executive, she’s worked for Nestl and Etihad Airways, and diver Tom Daley.
She also hails from the Welsh valleys – which rather adds to the confusion about why she’s now coming over all expert with a vat of tomatoes. ‘When I was asked to do this, even I thought “Why me”’ Michela confesses.
‘But anyone who knows me knows that a big part of my life has been Italian food. We learned to make tortelloni the same way we learned to walk. Pasta is in my blood. So when someone asked me to make a TV programme about it, I had to do it.’
And who wouldn’t It’s only when watching her programme that you realise Michela could actually be eminently qualified to take on the likes of Jamie and Nigella. Because her programme – although ostensibly about how to cook the perfect pasta – is actually about much more.
‘It’s about family, and about a way of life that’s dying out,’ she agrees. ‘I’m not sure I realised how precious our way of life was until it dawned on me that not everyone lives like us.’
Although Michela and her two sisters were born in Wales, both sides of her family originally come from the Bologna region of Italy and moved to the UK in the 1950s.
‘It’s about family, and about a way of
life that’s dying out,’ she agrees. ‘I’m not sure I realised how
precious our way of life was until it dawned on me that not everyone
lives like us.’
‘My mother was born in Wales, but my father was born in Italy. By the time me and my sisters arrived, there were quite a few of us with uncles and aunts – and 13 cousins. And we all lived in the same terrace, with each house having inter-connecting doors. I thought it was perfectly normal.’
Of course, being Italian, food was a crucial part of family life. All three sisters learned to cook from their grandmother – ‘Nonna’ – and mother.
‘My earliest memories are of us all in the kitchen, shaping pasta dough or making pizzas. At special occasions, you’d get all the generations in the same kitchen, working together.
Even when we left home to go to university, we would all come home in the middle of November to make the anolini – the filled pasta we traditionally have on Christmas Day.’
It was while chatting away about her family and upbringing to some publisher friends at work that Michela was first asked if she was interested in bringing out a book of her family’s recipes.
From there, the idea of a TV series was mooted. ‘It came out of left-field and I just thought, “Wow!” I’ve always been passionate about food – but I thought it was a part of my home life, not my job.’
Once her TV offer was on the table, Michela was charged with asking her two sisters, and parents, if they would take part. ‘My father is still somewhat confused by it all,’ she laughs. ‘He says, “Who would be interested in us” We keep saying to him, “Dad, not everyone lives like us.”’
Michela and her sisters are career women, and much of the show is spent explaining how Italian cooking can be quick and easy.
Indeed, as Michela points out, the way of life enjoyed by the Chiappa family is dying out even in Italy. ‘Maybe it was because we’d left Italy that we were even more determined to keep all those traditions alive. There was a sense of us being more fiercely Italian than the Italians.’
Yet for all its comforting feel, Simply Italian isn’t a sepia-tinged programme. Michela and her sisters are career women, and much of the show is spent explaining how Italian cooking can be quick and easy. ‘We wanted to make it relevant to women today.
'My own family is a good illustration of how things have changed. My Nonna was pretty much tied to the kitchen, whereas my sisters and I have jobs, and busy lives. But we still make time to cook.’
The final programme of the series is a showcase of food and family values. During filming both Michela and her sister Emi, 27, got married – in a joint wedding in Italy. As you can imagine, the food was as important to get right as the dresses. ‘Actually it was more important. We went for simple, rustic food that was quite basic for us – but all our non-Italian guests were blown away.’
Some brides might balk at the idea of trying to arrange a huge wedding while filming their first TV series, but Michela says she had a secret weapon – the third Chiappa sister, Romina, 24. ‘She became chief organiser. And everyone pitched in to help. There are advantages to having a family like ours, and not just when it comes to food!’
Simply Italian, Monday 30 July, 8.30pm, Channel 4.