AAR Fellows

AAR Fellows

Jennifer Scappettone, FAAR'11:

Culture and agriculture: the two literally never losing sight of one another here, as library windows face the garden of sustenance, or orto, and vice versa. The Rome Sustainable Food Project provided much more than an exquisite abundance of nourishment, day in and day out, for my year as a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome. It also surpassed the goal of uniting a brilliantly eclectic group of people over conversation, setting the stage, pace, texture of dialogue through an ever-changing nutritive palette.


Under the leadership of Mona Talbott, a self-described “narrative cook,” the Project created a rich intellectual context for our work as scholars, artists, and citizens that was at the same time grounding—touchable, tasteable. Unpedantically, through rhythms of shelling, pasta-sculpting, chopping, and gathering that transgress the bounds of the kitchen and become ambient, shared in garden and courtyard, Mona, Chris Boswell, and team connect the transient members of the Academy community with a tradition rooted in centuries of labor cycles. Talking through the seasons with them taught me about systems in the surrounding landscape in ways I never would have anticipated—about ancient Roman aqueducts and granaries, Roman Jewish and papal cuisine, and the balance between work and family in monastic living. Visiting the farm of Giovanni Bernabei together dramatized at first hand the principles of permaculture that tap the collaboration between seeming pests and “dialects” of greens, and reveal the fallacy of weeding.

Beyond being consistently delicious, RSFP meals are researched, produced, and presented according to concerns that are historical, geographical, biological, political, economic, aesthetic, even psychological. They are not indulgent, as abundance graces important and ordinary gatherings alike, registering in a historically elite space as a bit of Robin-Hoodery, or at the least, as radical egalitarianism. That a critical mass of those who arrived expecting merely to progress in our individual practices have returned to our homes across the Atlantic intellectually nourished and changed at a more fundamental level—infused with the desire and will to return to a slower, regionally and seasonally responsible, more communally oriented table: this is a testament to the creative and social power of both food and its visionaries. This is a quotidian ideal to hunger for and celebrate well after our residence in that charmed place has come to a close.

Yotam Haber, FAAR'08; RSFP Intern December 2008-February 2009:

I came back to cook at the American Academy because I knew I wanted to return in some way or another to that extraordinary place, and working in the kitchen felt like a road less taken, a way of seeing the Academy in a new light. During my fellowship year as a composer, I was constantly drawn to the kitchen, certain that what was being done there was just as rigorous, exciting, and full of promise as anything the Fellows were doing. It turned out to be true. Every dish, day in day out, involves reaching out to the Italian community, researching, experimenting, and creating things that palpably change us. As I plunge my hands in cold water, cleaning greens that were still in the ground earlier that day, I am struck by a thought: this is exactly how every Rome Prize fellow wants their experience in Rome to be.

Marina Rustow, FAAR'07:

I was a fellow at the AAR the year the Rome Sustainable Food Project was founded. It made a tremendous difference in our lives individually and collectively. I worked more productively and had more energy because I was eating healthier food. I developed a connection with my surroundings—with Rome, Lazio, and the garden at the AAR—and learned more about the region because I was eating locally. More than anything, the difference the Project made in the communal atmosphere changed our experience as fellows. We spent more time talking to one another at meals, sharing our ideas and our work. The kitchen and the bar turned into the warm hearth, the center of the space and what made it home, while before it had been a somewhat forbidding place with a force-field around it. We were excited about helping to create something new, and for that, I remain immensely grateful to Mona Talbott and her team.