Roma Progetto Alimentare Sostenible


Photo by Patrick Kelley
Photo: Annie Schlechter
Photo: David Bordow, RSFP Intern 2010-2011
Photo: Annie Schlecter
Photo: David Bordow, RSFP Intern 2010-2011
Photo: Marie Dolcini

RSFP Testimonials

Some observations from those who have contributed to and benefitted from the Rome Sustainable Food Project.

Adele Chatfield-Taylor, FAAR’84, President:

For the last 20 years, we have tried various experiments to improve the food at the American Academy in Rome. It was an urgent need for many reasons, particularly because the community gathers at mealtime daily, and the cross-fertilization among the fellows, for which the institution is known, cannot occur unless they are made happy and nurtured by being there. All experiments failed until we asked Alice Waters to get involved. She replied that she would do it if we would support a complete culinary revolution, because she was not interested in simply upgrading the menu. We enthusiastically agreed, knowing that this was the only way to go, and that Alice was the only person who could devise the plan. She recruited Mona Talbott, without whom the next two years would be unimaginable.

Mona is our talented, tireless, and inspired executive chef. She found and put all the pieces in place—with advice from Alice along the way—and since February 2007, our life has been transformed by the Rome Sustainable Food Project. The numbers of people campaigning to be present for lunch, Monday through Saturday, have tripled. Invitations are now met with glee. Our workdays have been energized, our conversation enriched, and our health improved. Mealtime is no longer a mundane ordeal but a joyous and delicious occasion among friends.

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.

RSFP Interns

Nick Beitcher, RSFP Intern, 2008-2009 and 2011:
In the spring of 2011, I had the incredible opportunity to work and live with the farmer Giovanni Bernabei and his family in San Giovanni Incarico, a quiet hillside village in southern Lazio, and immerse myself in the daily rhythms of a household and culture whose relationships with food are at once bewilderingly complex—with two-thousand years of cultural, political, and geographical footnotes annotating each dish on the table and every minute gesture in the elaborately ritualistic procession of a home-cooked Italian meal—and at the same time sublimely, hauntingly simple.

Giovanni is a 68-year old farmer who has devoted the past thirty years of his life to cultivating vegetables according to his own exacting version of organic permaculture [and is a primary supplier to the RSFP kitchen]. The four months I spent with Giovanni and his wonderful family made an indelible mark on how I relate to the culture, rituals, and human interactions that surround growing, eating, and sharing food, and I would recommend this experience to anyone interested in learning from a tremendous man--the cantankerous, brilliant Italian grandfather you never knew you had or needed, a master practitioner of organic agriculture and the Italian way of life.

Francesca Gilberti, RSFP Intern, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010:
From those first months at the Academy, the cucina family assumed a place of critically formative importance in my life. Never before had I been exposed to such a high concentration of talent in a group of individuals whose passion for food mirrored my own: as remarkable teachers, they welcomed me into the delicious world of la cucina biologica. Throughout my life I’d spent countless hours in libraries and lecture halls, but the cucina taught me the beauty of learning and producing with your hands. Sharing in the collaborative project that is the nourishment of the Academy is an experience that never ceases to inspire me, be it in Rome each summer as an addicted returning intern, or wherever else I’m hungry for pasta.

Valerio Biorgianelli Spina, RSFP Intern Fall 2008:
My internship at the Rome Sustainable Food Project was a truly amazing experience. As a native Roman, I have always enjoyed gastronomy and cooking, but ironically enough, I learned to cook in a truly Roman style from the Americans! The sustainable approach to preparing food is now a part of my values, and I cook trying to find the magic balance between an analytical approach in mixing tastes and a spontaneous enthusiasm in working with the best ingredients.

April Word, intern, Spring 2010:
Living in Rome and cooking at the American Academy was a dream come true for me. I had no prior experience in a professional kitchen and from day one I appreciated that I was an integral part of daily operations. For three months I was able to develop my skills as a cook while working with the best ingredients Italy has to offer. I learned that it is necessary to be creative when cooking with locally produced, seasonal food and that simple preparations made with high-quality ingredients are satisfying and delicious every day. I am appreciative of all that I learned from the chefs and my fellow interns and glad that I had the opportunity to spend an extended amount of time Rome.

Brian Bligh, RSFP intern, Fall 2009:
In the cucina of the Rome Sustainable Food Project, I was given the unique opportunity not only to cook, but also to touch, taste, and understand the way local Italian ingredients are grown. The food is the result of a ‘conscientious-style’ of cooking, using local products and techniques, and observing seasonality which ultimately makes the food delicious. This awareness gave me confidence to trust my palate and grow as a cook.

Ashley Morford, RSFP intern, Fall 2008:
The Rome Sustainable Food Project feeds off of collaboration. It starts with the growers, artisans and producers and flows into the kitchen. I discovered early on that the key to absorbing new knowledge about the products is to be open – open to varied perspectives, open to the surrounding cultural paradigm, open to mistakes and open to the power of collaboration.