Signora Cucchiara, half of television Germany has known you since her appearances on the cooking show “Kitchen Impossible”. You actually run a small grocery store in Munich, an Alimentari, how did you end up in a duel with Tim Mälzer? Tim Mälzer and I have been friends for many years. We've known each other since 2013. Back then I took part in "The Taste" and Tim was a judge. Of course he kicked me out!
Yikes?! He said at the time that I was a diamond in the rough and shouldn't let this little spoon bully me. I think he didn't want me to change the way I cook. Well, at some point he called me and said, "How come I never thought of you for 'Kitchen Impossible'?" So I became the original chef and star chef Sven Wassmer had to cook my Vincisgrassi. The following season I was Tim's opponent myself. I enjoy being in front of the camera. It doesn't matter whether I win or not.
You describe Tim Mälzer and Jamie Oliver as your idols. Why the two?Jamie Oliver's cooking shows taught me to cook the way I cook. That was long before I had Alimentari and Jamie Oliver was still very young. Like him, I simply looked at what ingredients I had at home and played around with them. At some point I just cooked like that. And then I met Tim Mälzer at “The Taste”. I thought to myself: Okay, Jamie Oliver will always be my idol, but I'll never meet him, so I'll go with Tim Mälzer. Well, five years later Jamie Oliver actually visited me in my Alimentari.
Both chefs are known to have a special love for Italian cuisine and call Gennaro Contaldo their culinary foster father. You too are mainly associated with classic, traditional Italian cuisine and are considered a true Italian. You were born in Argentina...A lot of people in Argentina are Italian or of Italian descent. There are Italian roots in my family too. It was normal to cook a lot of Italian food at home. My grandma cooked best and I learned a lot from her. In Italy I improved and refined my cooking skills in Germany - after all, as a so-called Italian, I had to be perfect.
You have worked as a music therapist and as a graphic designer, but you are not a trained chef. When you were almost 50, you still gave up everything to open the Kochgarage in Munich - a kind of cooking school. Why? My life is a single spontaneous decision based on my gut. At the time I was newly divorced, had a bit of money and this cool location. I also have the great talent of being able to sense what people need. By chance, a television team was with me for a workshop at the time and I was able to watch how the people grew together into a team. Then I said to my sister: This is exactly what we have to do! At that time, as far as I know, there were no such team building offers and coaching by cooking anywhere. However, the cooking garage was not a real cooking school, but rather a location for cooking events.
And there you gave the people what they needed? What was that? The motto of my last 20 years of work: cooking like at home. It's therapeutic for people when you make them feel like that little kid in mom's kitchen again. In our cooking garage they didn't have to adhere to any etiquette, they could be completely free - we were very successful with this concept. Until the pandemic, the largest national and international companies came to us - from Deutsche Bahn to Telekom to Apple. That was unique. But such events take energy. You don't just cook, you coach and put on a big show. After ten years I was tired.
You have already mentioned it, your style of cooking is very special. You don't really believe in fixed recipes, do you? I don't have a real cooking style, it's most likely an improvisational style. I open my fridge and look: what's there? What fits together? Which direction do I want to cook? I have the gift of being able to interpret and store flavors in my head and know which ingredients go together. My palate recognizes whether a dish needs more acid. Then the only question is whether I choose limes or lemons or cedros.
Are you telling me you always have limes, lemons, and cedros on hand? My world is full of food. You know, others go shopping, buy a necklace, a bag, shoes. I buy groceries. If I have to improvise something, nothing is missing. I always have to make an effort to empty my fridge before I go on vacation. I don't throw anything away, so sometimes I have to take something with me.
In your new cookbook "Mamma mia: Italian Recipes with Heart" you say that you even use the olive oil in which the artichokes were marinated. Oh yes, I have a lot of filled jars and bottles. I recently harvested white, tender leaves from young chard in my garden. My plan: create a vegan version of “Sarde in saor”. The chard leaves served as a substitute for the sardines. The leaves have a metallic bitter taste, combined with olive oil and an Aceto Balsamico Bianco Crema they taste ideal. I only had two or three leaves, so it was actually more of an amuse gueule. But that was so cool! I'll try to write down the recipe. But sometimes that doesn't work.
Why? The feeling that I can't pass on my passion. In the catering industry, a lot of cooking has been done according to lists and plans for several years. A Jamie Oliver and a Tim Mälzer did not work according to lists at Gennaro. It was a different way of cooking.
“It doesn’t have to be lobster, my heart beats for honest mom cooking,” you say in the book. What are the dishes you chose for “Mamma Mia”?The distribution is classic: antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci. Otherwise, I chose the dishes across the board. Mom's kitchen without chi-chi. There are also many old Italian recipes, for example "Cáciù all'argintéra". This is a typical Sicilian dish. In my recipe, Caciocavallo cheese is prepared with fresh Trapani red pesto, fresh tomatoes, garlic, almonds and mint. The cooking is like at home. I also didn't want to have a food stylist for the book. The dishes should look exactly the same in the book as they later appear on the plate - otherwise people will be disappointed.
Is there a favorite recipe in the book that you should definitely try? You should try the vegan dishes. These are traditional old recipes such as the "Panino cinque e cinque" - "Cecina", which is a kind of flatbread based on chickpea flour, with fried eggplant and a spicy topping of fried fresh pepper and garlic. This is a classic street food from Tuscany, in Liguria it is called "Farinata". I think it's really cool. It's soft, it's crunchy and it's umami. And it's a dish from my childhood. Back then I ate it in Buenos Aires. “Farinata” was available in the pizzeria around the corner.
Multi-cultural diversity in the kitchen has always been important to you. Is this also reflected in the cookbook? No, the book is exclusively about Italian cuisine. Now I only cook Italian down at the Alimentari, where I am a public figure. But up at my house I cook exotic food – with rose water and all such ingredients. For me, cooking is traveling, getting to know cultures, religions and traditions. I then mentally travel to the area where the dish comes from and imagine the flavors. In the cooking garage I cooked my way through the world's cuisines. I still miss that.
The Kochgarage fell victim to the corona pandemic, and instead you now operate the aforementioned Alimentari. You will also build a self-sufficient farm in Puglia. Others would have retired long ago. What drives you? I'm too active in my head to be able to relax. I always have to do something. But sometimes it was also necessary to open a new door. I'm not rich, I'm not a millionaire, I have to work. However, I am lucky that I can decide for myself what work I do every day. Besides, my Alimentari will be torn down at some point. This is the last old farm still standing in Munich. I've been lucky so far, but demolition will come. This is also why I bought land in Italy in 2018. I would like to retire there at some point. At least partially, I need both: the city of Munich and rural Italy.
You have a lot going on. What are you planning next? I just took part in ZDF's "Besserwisser". I'm also already working on my second cookbook. Aaaand I'm waiting for Tim Mälzer to call me again. Because this time I will be persistent - I already told him that.
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