Light Tellers – What Italy Is interview with Irene Berni and Giulia Scarpaleggia

This month What Italy Is met two strong and enterprising women, who through their work and the way they communicate it, express some of the most beautiful values of Italian culture.

We are talking about Giulia Scarpaleggia, known on social networks as Jul’s Kitchen, born and raised in Tuscany, Giulia still lives in the family home where her grandmother and father were born. She is a food writer and food photographer, teaches cooking classes, wrote 5 cookbooks and holds a blog, Juls’ Kitchen, born in 2009. The second protagonist is Irene Berni, on Instagram Valdirose, like the name of the enchanting B&B of which she is the soul, together with her husband Paolo. Irene defines herself as a curious and enthusiastic person, who loves novelties, but the characteristic that distinguishes her is to know how to find new stimuli in everyday life.

 If your life had a soundtrack, what would it be?

I: Probably a ‘Ricchi e Poveri’ song, 80’s and démodé: the songs of my childhood that well represent the joy that bring the little things and the desire to have someone at your side to sing with when you are happy.

G: Although my favourite singer is Bruce Springsteen, if I have to think of a soundtrack I would simply say the background noises of a country village: the rooster who sings in the morning, the neighbor who uses the tractor or the chainsaw, the noise of a car in the road that runs alongside the country. Then there are the noises that enter seasonally, such as pheasants in the field in the early summer evenings, crickets, deafening cicadas, birds that are looking to migrate in autumn….

If you had to enclose the essence of Italy in a dish, what would you choose?

I: Garlic oil and chili pepper pasta. That of midnight spaghetti.

 G: For me, bread and oil, how much poetry in these two simple ingredients? So much history, so much culture, so many traditions!

You are both from Tuscany, a land that is very loved also by foreigners. Is there anything yet to be discovered or to enhance about your region?

I: You just never stop to discover and to enhance what you love, so the answer could simply be yes.

 G: Of course, and that’s what I’m interested in working on. I like to go beyond stereotypes, beyond the most tourist towns and the most popular areas, to discover areas where everyday life is not yet affected by the tourism flow. I live in Val d’Elsa, an area near Chianti , I like to work with producers, artisans and peasants who have chosen an honest work life, and I like to tell these kinds of things: my butcher, the family-run dairy, the farm holiday that is still a real farm.

Tell us your 3 flavors/perfumes of the heart

I: The scent of my daughter. The perfume of morning coffee. The flavor of the first fruit of the season.

 G: For me the smell of wood burning in the fireplace on early autumn evenings, the smell of rain and the freshly baked bread.

 What is the phrase that your parents always said to you when you were a child?

 I: “Keep a little bit quiet…”

 G: Truth always pays off. Be honest, with yourself and with others. It’s a lesson that I always carry with me.

 Think of yourself 5 years ago: Did you imagine to be where you are now?

I: No, honestly.

G: Five years ago I had just started my career as a food writer, food photographer and cooking teacher, I was alone and full of enthusiasm. I had many expectations, I’m an optimistic person, but certainly I never imagined that I would start working with Tommaso, with which now I share not only work projects but also life projects. I had one big hope: that of not losing the fun in cooking, even if I was transforming it into a job, and fortunately this fun remains intact, indeed, it’s increasing more and more!

What if we did a leap forward: in 10 years, how do you see yourself, how do you see your land?

I: Any forecast would be limiting I’m ready to become everything, in order not to change, and I hope so for my land as well.

G: The work that I do now surely has evolved: ten years ago it didn’t exist, who knows in ten years what I will do. I’m sure that it will always be focused on food and gastronomic promotion in my area. Tuscany has to face many challenges related to tourism, in order not to remain crushed. For our part, we will always try to give voice to the less known areas, which maintain a poetic authenticity, and to the work of those who every day help to create what we love the most: honest food.

What is your favorite thing about each other?

I: I admire Giulia because she knows what she wants to do and become. I love her persistence in pursuing her goals.

G: I’m always fascinated by Irene’s ability to find beauty in small things, even in the most obvious ones. She manages to give new life to pots, baskets, sieves and pieces of wood that in her hands become objects with a soul and a story. Once we took a walk along a field street looking for flowers to decorate a table: the more I looked around and the more desperate I was to see that there was nothing. I turned and Irene had a bundle of branches, flowers, shrubs and berries in her hand, in which only she had seen the potential. Needless to say, she created a wonderful table after that.

 The concept “I’m leaving, I’m going abroad” is making a big comeback. Why did you stay here, why did you choose to grow, invest and build here?

I: I can’t imagine myself far away from Italy, from my family, from my friends. I invest in Italy also for gratitude: for the values and traditions that gave to me.

G: I was tempted when I decided to invest everything in my passion for food and turn it into a job. On the one hand, I admit I just didn’t have the heart to take that step, on the other hand, I recognized that I had such deep roots in this Tuscan countryside and so strong relationships that allowed me to transform my dream into reality. I owe a lot to Tuscany, its people and its food, and every day I’m more and more convinced that I have made the right choice to stay.

 What photography means to you and how this passion start?

I: Photography allows you to show to the others’ ‘things’ in your own way. Photography rather than a passion for me is a necessity: I now communicate in that way.

G: For me, in order of time, it was the last of the interests to be born. As a child, I was famous for taking horrible photos during my trip. My parents were ashamed to bring about developing the roll: senseless photos, people with no head or feet, hanging buildings… let’s say I wasn’t really much. The blog gave me the impetus to learn, to improve and to get passionate about photography from a particular perspective, that of food. I studied for years the photos I liked, browsing through magazines and blogs, to get slowly to my style, simple, rustic and clean. I feel comfortable with food photography and continue to try, try and try and practice to improve, to understand how to get what I want.

If I asked you to recommend an Italian place to take pictures, what would you say?

I: I would advise everyone to photograph their village or a beloved glimpse of their city. Beauty can be around the corner.

G: I would say the Val d’Orcia in autumn, so as to be able to capture the fog that rises from the main square of Bagno Vignoni, the quiet streets of San Quirico and Pienza, the undulating hills that have all the brown nuances.

What is Italy for you, out of the clichés?

I: Italy, for me, is good mood.

G: Home, and everything is linked to this: family, roots, the possibility of doing what we are passionate about having the support of those who love us, and a table set around which it’s beautiful to find ourselves.

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