The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday March 27th

Q&A with Frances Mayes

Author of the New York Times best-seller “Under the Tuscan Sun” and international best-sellers “Bella Tuscany” and “Every Day in Tuscany,” Frances Mayes is now sharing another art with readers: cooking. Her most recent book, “The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from My Italian Kitchen,” comprises more than 130 traditional Italian recipes. Mayes co-authored the cookbook with her husband, the poet Edward Mayes.

Every third Wednesday of the month, Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina, or CHOP NC, hosts a keynote speaker at Flyleaf Books to talk about cooking and its cultural significance. As a part of this series, Mayes will be talking about olive oil Wednesday. Mayes spoke with staff writer Jaleesa Jones about her new book and her Flyleaf discussion.

attend the event

Time: 7 p.m. tonight

Location: Flyleaf Books, 752 MLK Jr. Blvd.


Daily Tar Heel: “The Tuscan Sun Cookbook” is your first-ever cookbook. What was your motivation for writing it?

Frances Mayes: After a couple of decades of feasting in Tuscany, the cookbook simply evolved.

We’ve always cooked with friends there, so all we learned from them, and from our local restaurants, and from our own active kitchen just went straight into the book.

DTH: What’s one of your favorite traditional Italian meals?

FM: For this time of year, I love polenta with wild mushrooms, Tuscan ribs, fennel and orange salad and plum crostata.

DTH: Are there any recipes that you have played with or tweaked?

FM: All of them. A recipe is just a starting point. That’s the fun — playing around. With baking, I do stick to the measurements.

DTH: Cookbooks tend to be very straightforward and pedagogic. Yet yours is described as having “lyrical introductions and headnotes” that put us in the kitchen with you. In what ways is your cookbook more conversational?

FM: Cooking in Tuscany is highly improvisational and spontaneous. I wanted those qualities to come through. I addressed the cookbook to someone who might be coming to visit — and we have lots of visitors.

Tuscan food is easy, so I wanted that to shine through. You can’t even buy measuring cups and spoons.

DTH: What can we look forward to from your CHOP NC appearance?

FM: I’m so happy to visit CHOP NC. I’m going to be talking about our recent olive oil harvest and why that is the most misunderstood ingredient in the American kitchen.

DTH: Moving beyond the kitchen, how do you think food can reflect culture and everyday life?

FM: Food in Italy is culture, never cult, as it sometimes is here. I think you can learn everything about a culture by how they bury their dead and how they serve food at the table.

One meal at an Italian table and you’re aware of some of the qualities inherent in Italian society — deep generosity, hospitality, sense of fun and importance of taste. I’ve never heard an Italian friend complain about preparing dinner. Food is as natural an act as taking a shower. It’s life.

DTH: In what ways can food be a comfort and a means of bringing people together?

FM: The pleasure of sharing something great creates instant bonds. In Italian homes, there’s usually a long table.

That indicates so much.

Pull up another chair or two, throw on another handful of pasta and the extra guest is welcome. Great-grandpa, the cousin’s baby and someone met today in the piazza are all welcome.

And that you are welcome means everything.

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