‘Pizza: when it’s good, it’s really a work of art’ — Kristina Gill

***Rachel Khoo would like to thank all the inspiring people who helped make the Khoollect studio a hive of creativity. Although the Khoollect studio’s doors have now closed, you can keep up with Rachel’s newest adventures on RachelKhoo.com and on Rachel’s Instagram and Facebook pages – and, continue to enjoy the Khoollect website’s stories and recipes, which will remain available.***

Everywhere you look in Rome, food seems to materialise. To your left there’s a child eating a gelato, in front of you a woman walks by with a cannoli in hand, while to your right a family dines leisurely on countless courses for lunch at their local restaurant. Rome’s locals love their food and the eating habits of Romans, from the city’s early beginnings to today, have been shaped by its inhabitants. We wager that few people know more about the Roman way of eating than food writer Kristina Gill, co-author and photographer of Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient CityWe had a chat to this Nashvillian-turned-Roman about her book and love for Italian food:

Tell us a little bit about your new book – Tasting Rome?

Tasting Rome is my debut cookbook about Roman food and how Romans eat today. It explains the evolution of Roman cuisine, what shapes it, and why people eat the way they do. It started out as an idea about what Romans really love to eat based on over 100 conversations I had with Roman taxi drivers. With the help of my co-author, an art historian and food and beverage educator, the text encompasses a wider survey not just of the food but of the geographic, socio-cultural and religious factors that helped form the cuisine and continue to shape the city’s cuisine… and the foods and drink on offer today. Based on my personal passion for cooking and my work editing the ‘In the Kitchen With’ column at Design*Sponge, I developed recipes for and photographed the book, which was very exciting. Ethereal almost!

It’s not every day that you get to have such a heavy imprint on your own cookbook. (Rachel gave me some practical tips on recipe development along the way, as well!)

How did you get your ‘big break’ in food writing and photography?

I proposed the ‘In the Kitchen With’ idea to Grace Bonney, the founder of Design*Sponge, for a column that featured the favorite recipe of creative professionals, and things took off from there. I was pretty heavily into cooking already, but worked on my photography to be able to provide better-than-amateur quality images to accompany the recipes that were submitted. I’ve worked hard to improve my photography since 2008, and am still learning!

Tell us about the most interesting project you’ve worked on (or person you’ve worked with)?

Not related to food, I worked on a project funded in part by Quincy Jones and got to meet him — a life goal. (I’m still trying to figure out how to meet Peter Gabriel!). In the food realm, I’d have to say that producing Tasting Rome was super interesting but also stressful because you’re never sure how your work will be received once you put it out into the world. All firsts are valuable experiences for me, because of the learning curve. The end result continues to be rewarding, especially when people tell me they’ve cooked from Tasting Rome and enjoyed it!

Tasting Rome - Kristina Gill

What is it about Italian food and culture that really resonates with you?

About the food, of course it is the variety. Italy is really one of the most fortunate countries in the world in that its position enables it to grow the very finest of almost everything, and the cuisine utilises few ingredients to maximise flavours. The culture; wow, where to start! There are millennia and endless layers of culture on this peninsula — the various populations which have inhabited the peninsula have been navigators, mathematicians, scientists, painters, musicians, sculptor, inventors, architects, and so forth… I wouldn’t know where to start and there’s definitely no end to the culture. What resonates with me is the staying power. The contributions have been significant, world-changing, and lasting.

I khoollect a few…

The letter ‘K’ (in tiles, aluminum cut-outs, etc.).

What’s your favourite item in your #khoollection?

Hard to call them possessions, but my pets, especially my dog Zizou! If I can’t refer to living beings, I’d have to say my Savoir Bed! It’s so comfortable and dreamy!

Your favourite travel memory?

Bangkok last summer with my husband, or my various trips to Sydney! Great food, great people. In Bangkok we ate at a restaurant called Bolan. It was fabulous. I wish there were a Thai place like that in Rome!

Most inspiring, amazing, or ridiculous thing you’ve captured on camera?

In Sydney one Easter I took a picture of surfers at Tamarama Beach. The sea, waves, and the horizon gave me an incredible sense of freedom. It was very inspiring.

Your most loved Italian food or recipe?

Someone chided me for saying this in the past, but pizza: when it’s good, it’s really a work of art.

Where do you call home?

Tough one. I live in Rome, but I call home Nashville, Tennessee.

It’s where I grew up, it’s where my father lives. At this point in my life, I have spent about the same amount of time in each city! Eighteen years in Nashville, and seventeen in Rome!

Tasting Rome - Kristina Gill

What do you love most about it?

I love that Rome is very centrally located for travel, domestically and internationally. I also love that you could live here for 1,000 years and discover something new in the city every day. Nashville is changing by leaps and bounds, and I’m still reconciling the changes with my childhood memories and what the city is becoming.

Your favourite places for…

Coffee? Ha! I’m not a coffee drinker, but I like Bar Benaco in the Villa Ada area because they make their own pastries. In Nashville, I drink really milky coffee and try out a pastry or savory breakfast at whatever the new place is I’d like to try out when I’m home.

Dinner?Cesare al Casaletto because of the fried baby octopus (moscardini). In Nashville, I had a really great tagliata at City House when I was home in late April.

Taking photos? From any high point in a city looking down, such as the top of Castel Sant’Angelo, and various hotel rooftop bars in Rome. I like getting a view from above, the higher the better, because you can see more of a city’s layout and how it fits together.

What constitutes a good night out in your home town?

For me, aperitif with friends followed by dinner. I like sharing good food in the company of smart, fun people who will make me laugh a lot!

If you could live anywhere else, where would it be?

Assuming a winning lottery ticket came along with this choice, Sydney or LA! I love the sight and smell of the ocean on the horizon and all that horizon represents, not to mention great weather that allows you to have fun outside most of the year. Living in a warm and sunny climate is great for morale.

More?… We chatted up close and personal, watch our ‘On The Couch’ episode with Kristina below:

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Sonya Gellert

Sonya Gellert is a contributing writer and associate editor for Khoollect. She lives in Sydney....

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Kristina Gill

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See what Kristina’s up to on Twitter, Instagram and in her column, and check out this delicious dessert recipe from her book.