Next Generation of Italian-American Cooks: a conversation with Cara Di Falco
By Mary Kovach, Ph.D.
Originally published in ItalyUSA Magazine
Cara Di Falco is a proud Italian-American and self-made entrepreneur. Understanding the intricacies of broadcast journalism paired with her love for her Italian upbringing, she created Cara’s Cucina, an Emmy-nominated YouTube channel on all things Italian cooking!
Her family originated from both the Piemonte and Abruzzo regions of Italy. She spent time in both regions and continues to connect with family, with the blessing of making pasta with her great aunt in Italy! Inspired by her Italian heritage, coupled with her background in integrated nutritional health, Di Falco is pioneering the next generation of Italian-American cooking in the United States.
In our interview, Di Falco shares her love for her Italian upbringing, her entrepreneurial success, and how she’s reinventing methods to deliver her brand through virtual cooking classes and pop-up dinners.
Kovach: You had a successful career as a reporter with the traditional TV morning news, and you transitioned into an Italian-American cook on a multi-media platform! What inspired you to make that change?
Di Falco: I love broadcasting and being on-camera. I love informing and inspiring viewers by telling a great story. So it was actually pretty easy to go from broadcasting stories about the news of the day, to stories from the kitchen table! Cara’s Cucina really was intended to be a "side hustle" for me, but as you know, when life gives you lemons, you make limoncello! I've been so blessed to watch my little brand grow to include cooking classes (virtual these days), kids Summer cooking camp, and a culinary tour of Italy! It really has become a culinary lifestyle brand with elements that I couldn't have dreamt about!
Kovach: You have YouTube’s first and only Emmy-nominated cooking show. What do you think is the secret to your success?
Di Falco: I think the channel has an edge because of my professional broadcasting background, and I stay connected to it. The basic elements of storytelling remain the same across all mediums. Having that training and experience proved to be a really important element of the show. As more and more people move to streaming services to consume content, I think they're looking for that "broadcast" quality versus a kid with a selfie stick. I feel that Cara’s Cucina really fits into that space of a short-version cooking show on a streaming platform with a broadcast quality look and feel.
Kovach: You have a certificate in integrated nutritional health. How is that advantageous when you cook or work on a recipe for Cara’s Cucina?
Di Falco: Attending the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (INN) was absolutely fascinating. The program takes a holistic view of food and health. The two overarching messages I received from it are that 1) we all need to learn to pay closer attention to our bodies and really tune in; and that 2) cooking anything for yourself is going to give you an improvement. I believe in Hippocrates' saying "let food be thy medicine," and through IIN, I was able to find ways to put that into practice. In terms of cooking, I really use what I learned to create meals that are overall better for me. I often use the example of fried chicken - something we all believe to be a "bad for you" food. But when you cook it for yourself, you get to make changes. Let's say you purchased a humanely raised chicken, maybe you use a gluten-free flour, and you add in some warming, anti-inflammatory spices. Perhaps you bake the chicken instead of deep frying. So now, by simply cooking at home, you've taken this "bad" dish and elevated it in quality. I find that so compelling and empowering to know that I have the ability to take whatever I feel like eating, and turn it into something that benefits my health tremendously! I try to always convey that in the show as well - that cooking is really a simple but an incredible change we can make for ourselves. I often encourage people to look at foods not in such a black and white, or good for you/bad for you way, but rather on a sliding scale; because it can all be adjusted.
Kovach: You are a proud Italian-American. How has your heritage played a role in your life?
Di Falco: My heritage has really touched every aspect of my life because it's so much a part of who I am. From the food I eat, prepare and love, to the way I speak (with my hands!), to little quirks I picked up from family, to the way I celebrate holidays, and the way I generally view the world - it's all filtered through that Italian-American lens. Overall, I think my heritage gives me a greater sense of understanding others. Italian-Americans are not only the blending of so many of Italy's different regional cultures but we have that added, distinctly American, layer as well. It's a truly unique thing and I consider myself lucky to be a combination of the beautiful aspects of two of the world's greatest cultures!
Kovach: As Italians, we have so many family traditions. What is your favorite dish (or dessert) to make and is there a special significance to it?
Di Falco: My favorite dish to make is fresh pasta, specifically gnocchi. I have so many wonderful memories of making pasta with my grandmother and great-grandmother; even my great aunt in Italy! We made it before all the big holidays, and I remember laying out trays and trays of fresh pasta on my grandmother's guest bed. I remember my great-grandmother making me roll and re-roll the same little piece of dough for what felt like forever because she wanted me to get the shape JUST right. I remember my great-aunt happily making them with me late in the day while I was studying abroad because I simply asked if we could have some (not intending that they be homemade!).
Kovach: October is a special month for Italian-Americans. Are you doing anything special to celebrate National Italian Heritage Month in October or Columbus Day?
Di Falco: Yes, I am! This year, I donated a special “Dinner for 10” to the Columbus Citizen's Foundation for their scholarship fund auction. Obviously, the dinner itself will have to wait until we can safely gather again, but I'm excited to be a part of that fundraising experience!
Kovach: Right now, the world is still working through what it means to live through a global pandemic. What do you have in the pipeline that can we expect to see from you in the coming months?
Di Falco: I hosted my first pop-up dinner in September and hope to do more as long as we can, safely. I hold virtual cooking classes via Zoom, so you can pick the date, time, and menu. We set it up together so everyone can gather virtually and cook right along with me! We also have the Italy trip ready to roll in 2021, and there are a couple of tickets left! I encourage anyone who may be interested in a culinary tour of Italy to take a look and grab your spot!
Kovach: Your culinary tours in Italy sound so exciting! Can you tell us about them and how someone can participate?
Di Falco: The culinary tour is my favorite part of Cara’s Cucina - for obvious reasons! The tours are amazing 10-day journeys through a specific region of Italy, exploring the culture through the cuisine! I think they're such an amazing way to experience Italy because it's not touring all day to take the photo for social media that you miss the real food because you're eating at the Americanized trattoria right outside the Colosseum. Yet, it's not so focused on the food, that you miss the Colosseum! I really aim to find a balance - if you've never been to Italy, you'll see the sites for sure. If you've been 30 times, you'll see something brand new! I think the best example for this upcoming trip is our day around Vesuvius. We will start with the ruins of Pompeii (something everyone should see), then travel to the other side of the volcano to a farm that grows their grapes and olives in the rich volcanic soil and taste their products. I feel this gives people the other side of the story - the destruction the volcano caused, but also the life it can bring. It explains why people still live ON an active volcano! …And it showcases what makes the food of that particular region (Campania) special and unique in all of Italy. The best way to participate is to subscribe to my e-mail list. Subscribers receive a 2-week advanced notice when tickets become available, and they receive $100 off their trip! The trip is, of course, open to everyone. Readers who are interested can visit caradifalco.com/travel and register. My tour operator will reach out to you to finish your booking.
To watch an episode of Cara’s Cucina, check out some of her recipes, sign up for emails, and more, visit www.caradifalco.com and follow her on various social media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.