The Eaters Among Us: A San Franciscan With A Taste For Italy… And A Sweet Tooth

Meet Mari Mazzucco, a sophisticated and trend-savvy senior at the University of San Diego studying Art History and English. She enjoys San Diego’s foodie culture, but nothing compares to her native San Francisco, a city she describes as a brilliant mosaic of taste and culture.  She spent the Fall ’10 Semester studying in Florence, Italy and returned with a deepened appreciation for long meals, good wine, and great conversation. Read more about her favorite foods, Royal wedding inspiration, and lessons learned since freshman year.

Kelsey Brown: What do you remember about the food you ate as a child, what did your mother or father make best?

Mari M: Whenever I’m looking to create a comforting and wholesome meal, I always look back on the crisp, fall evenings of my childhood when my family would gather at the kitchen table and share our day over a steaming bowl of soup. My father’s specialty is a hearty lentil soup, rich with vegetables and pork sausage. My mother’s go-to soup recipe is classic and crisp tortellini. Torellini soup is simple, always satisfying, and the home-cooked meal I requested when I departed and returned from my time living and studying in Florence, Italy. As an Italian family, it’s a Sunday tradition to spend the morning slow cooking a large batch of tomato pasta sauce. I loved watching my parents add each ingredient as the aroma throughout the house intensified. When the sauce was near completion, my brother and I would take pieces of fresh bread and dip it in the pot acting as taste testers.

KB: Favorite Food City?

MM: I’m a born and bred San Franciscan, and to me there is no better place to enjoy an incredible array of diverse, creative, and just plain good food. I think it’s beautiful that the personalities and culture of San Francisco are often times reflected in any dining experience in the city. If a friend is planning on visiting San Francisco and requests suggestions for what to see or do, I always find myself creating an extensive list of cafés, restaurants, and farmers markets. Of course, the art historian in me would never forget to put museums at the top of the list, the DeYoung and MOMA to name a few. Some restaurants that make the cut are The Slanted Door, Pizzeria Delfina, Rose’s Café, Blue Bottle Coffee Co., and Café des Amis. Oh, how the list could continue!

KB: How do you navigate the menus of these fantastic restaurants in SF?

MM: Whenever I dine out, I always make it priority to be adventurous and to expand my palate. My best friend and I created a rule for ourselves to avoid ordering the chef’s least creative dish, most commonly the “roasted chicken.” But at the same time, I’m a firm believer in the “less is more” philosophy. A dish prepared with care and fresh ingredients, such as a simple grilled fillet of wild Alaskan salmon with sautéed vegetables, makes for one happy girl.

KB: What’s your guilty pleasure food?

MM: When I’m home, it’s always ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery. My two favorites are honey-lavender and salted caramel.

KB: What’s your favorite health food?

MM: I love any kind of berry, and there is nothing better than adding them with some low-fat greek yogurt as a mid-afternoon snack.

KB: What was your dining hall go-to freshman year? Has that changed today?

MM: Being a freshman is such an interesting experience. For the first time you are living on your own and managing your own time, you no longer have the luxury of coming home to a prepared meal after a long day of schoolwork and extracurriculars, and have to rely on the dining hall if you’re like most who don’t have a kitchen. I had always been a healthy eater, but freshman year I found myself foregoing the fruits, veggies, and protein for the convenience of bagels, sandwiches, and café lattes. With time, some added effort, and self-confidence, I got back to basics and re-evaluated what and why I was eating what I did. I realized that growing up includes a process of seeking balance in all aspects of your life, including nutrition. Nonetheless, the dining hall was a great place for friends to congregate, especially as a first year student. If I decide to eat there today, I skip the pizza line and go straight to the salad bar. It’s always fun to get creative when making a salad.

KB: It’s late at night in the library. What are you craving?

MM: Coffee or tea, hands down. If I’m in the mood for something to nibble on I’ll have half a banana with a spoonful of almond butter for a sweet and salty energy boost.

KB: What is your drink order when you go to a bar?

MM: I’m a wine or champagne type of girl. Ever since the royal wedding I’ve found myself becoming an anglophile, so recently I tried Pimm’s Cup, which is a delicious gin cocktail made famous in England and often served at cricket and tennis matches.

KB: Best hangover cure?

MM: Herbal tea, plenty of water, and someone to commiserate with.

KB: Back to sweets… Favorite dessert?

MM: The midnight petit gateau, or a raspberry-rose macaron from Citizen Cake or a traditional cannoli from Stella Bakery in North Beach. Can you tell I have a sweet tooth?

KB: Where do you get your cooking inspiration?

MM: I think the best place to get inspiration when cooking is to research what produce is in season and to go from there. By doing that your dishes are almost guaranteed to be fresh and economical, but also allow you to be creative by mixing staples with food you may have never tried before. Of course, I’m always inspired by my Italian heritage and the recipes that have been passed down in my family. I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook “My Father’s Daughter,” and I love it because it has superb recipes and showcases the significance of family time in the kitchen.

KB: If there is one thing you’ve learned about cooking or dining since college, what would it be?

MM: Cooking and eating is not about momentary satisfaction, or simply to fulfill a requisite to be “full.” Cooking and eating should be a complete experience. One to enjoy, share with friends and family and to more importantly, nourish the body.

Kelsey Brown is a senior at the University of San Diego where she met Mari sophomore year. She writes about healthy hearts, tummies, and minds at Happyolks.com.

Originally posted on Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

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