more than just milk

Latteria – from latte, means a place that sells milk, making it the Italian equivalent of a milk bar back in the day when milk bars sold milk and a few other milk related products. Over time Roman latterias morphed into bars (that sell coffee – but that’s another interesting story) or little grocery stores, and there are still plenty of gems from the 1950’s around Rome like the Antica Latteria on Via Gallo; that pivot you back to the era of the dolce vita, or more recently to the 1980’s when students from nearby Liceo Virgilio would skip class to go there for coffee.

When I looked at the run down space on Via Ponziano just over a year ago, I was told by the agent that it was a former latteria, and an old telephone sign hanging outside over the pavement was a reminder of those days when you could also make a phone call along with picking up a liter of milk.  After photographer Marie Sjoberg and I had painted counted layers of white paint over the dark timber panelling (the space had subsequently become a bar and then a faux english pub) we decided, quite unoriginally, to call it latteria studio.

MCPL9147photo: Mark Chew

I had been longing for a space; a kitchen, a workplace, a spot where I could teach and share, collaborate and create, for some time.  One year since all that white paint dried and the marble slab bench was lowered over a second hand kitchen table and latteria studio is becoming all of this.

If you were to walk in off the street, as people do all the time; elderly locals interested in what is going on, hip young things from the ad agency up the hill asking when the new locale is opening, you might find us cooking and taking photographs for the pages we contribute to the monthly Alice Cucina, sitting around the table eating what we have just shot, or scrubbing the floor in preparation for the next day’s cooking class.  It has become a place where something is always going on.

Over April talented young Canadian chef, food stylist and artist Haley Polinsky, who travels the world and has recently worked at Seven restaurant in Fez and at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in Italy, did a one month residency at the studio.  During her time she hosted three outstanding events and cooked food I am still thinking about (particularly the Bastille she learn’t from a Moroccan grandmother), photographed and helped style an article for Alice Cucina magazine, as well as designing the beautiful labels for our Neighborhood Oranges project.  Elisabetta Busini joined the family at about this time working on both our photography work as well as assisting with lessons and events.

Last week the wonderful Vanessa the hungry chook Miles was in Rome and apart from bowls of gnocchi, market visits and scouring the markets together, we hosted a South East Asian workshop and dinner; for those of us that love Roman food but long for the smell of vietnamese mint and fish sauce every so often.

I became friends with Carla Tomasi, the cook of all (and for all) cooks, through Rachel Roddy and the international cooks network otherwise known as Instagram.  Carla asked me last year if she could join me in my annual pre christmas pop-up kitchen, we then asked Sofie Kure Wochner and Sagher Sethar to join and we had four cooks from different corners of the globe and a room full of customers eager to fill their baskets with chutneys and pickles, mince pies and cinnamon buns.  Carla at once became a culinary point of reference for me.  What mix of flours do you use for your fresh pasta Carla?  Which made me learn more about flour and experiment with mixes in other things like my shortcrust pastry.  The first course Carla led at the studio was an introduction to preserving; her great love.  The participants leaned in around the table as she shared her wisdom.  I was pottering but my ears were open ‘don’t use old fruit to make jam, use the freshest, the best‘.

Sometimes I also just call Carla to hear her infectious chuckle.

Earlier this year Carla, Rachel and I started planning courses we could run at the studio and came up with the idea of a special calendar of appointments for food lovers visiting Rome called Market to Table.  The first market to table was held last month and Lucy from Olives and Lucinda wrote a beautiful post about it that you can read here.

The idea of Market to Table, and other bespoke cooking experiences that can be booked at the studio, is to celebrate the best of Roman produce, because more than anything Roman food is about vegetables, and the daily markets where Romans’ shop.  From the market up the hill in Monteverde Vecchio I can walk down to the studio with the morning’s shop hanging from my shoulders, from the bustling Mercato di Testaccio the studio is a hop over the river and over the tram tracks on Viale Trastevere.  The next Market to Table is slated for Thursday 16 June.  Contact me if you would like to find out more.  We will then break for summer and recommence on Friday 23 September.

So there is quite a bit going on, and more to come.

MCPL8984Photo: Mark Chew

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