As one of the only Italian female chefs ever to be awarded a Michelin star, Cristina Bowerman’s storied career spans almost twenty years and two continents, with her modern approach to Italian cuisine drawing heavily from her bi-costal roots. As Rome’s foremost foodie address, Chef Bowerman’s Glass Hostaria churns out inventive, delicate dishes that combine seasonal ingredients with traditional Italian elements to surprise and delight adventurous diners. From the coffee shops of San Francisco to AAA Four-Diamond ranked restaurants in Austin, Texas, to the heart of the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome, Chef Bowerman has honed her highly original cuisine to integrate various cultures into one plate. Always on the hunt for her next endeavor, Cristina opened fast-casual concept Romeo Chef & Baker in 2012, renovating a former Alfa Romeo factory (seriously, does it get more Italian than this?). Romeo Chef & Baker spawned multiple spin-offs, from an ice cream truck to Romeo at Testaccio Market, a pop-up shop offering high-quality Italian snacks and ingredients (read: all the cheese). We managed to pin down this globe-trotting culinarian for a quick Q&A this month, where she shared some of her most career-defining moments, favorite dishes, and how she eats her way through Rome, one cappuccino at a time.
1. Where and when did you get your start?
After graduating with a degree in law and working for a law firm in Bari, Italy, I traveled to the United States on vacation and fell in love with the country and its amazing people. I loved it so much I ended up moving to San Francisco and enrolling at University San Francisco. In the attempt to integrate myself as much as I could in society, I started working at Higher Grounds, a crêpe and coffee house where I unexpectedly developed a passion for cooking. Cooking brought back great memories of when I was a child, my grandmother’s cooking and my parents’ passion for food. But sometimes the road of life is not always straight and I ended up working in design for the following 10 years. I moved to Austin and in 2000 I decided to switch careers again to become a cook. I enrolled and graduated in Culinary Arts at the Texas Culinary Academy. My first experience in established kitchen was with Chef Bull at the Driskill Grill - I fell in love with food and cooking for other people! During those years, I developed discipline and technique, working a lot on sharpness, definition, and concentration of flavors.
2. What is your favorite dish to make?
There is not one dish in particular…I love cooking any kind of pasta, especially spaghetti. And I love grilling (it's the Texan in me!)
3. What was your favorite childhood dish?
Pasta with peas. My grandmother’s pasta and peas, to be more precise. Still today I think it is my favorite dish - my grandma used to prepare it just for me and it still is in my taste buds’ memory.
4. Who inspired you to be a chef?
I have several chefs I refer to as role models. Thomas Keller inspired me probably the most not only for the professional approach but his cleanliness and concentration of flavors. He has definitely influenced me like nobody else. I would have never changed my mind (and my previous career) had I not read Elena Arzac’s interview on going to cooking school. And not only my cooking but my life is forever changed by the never-ending inspiration from Alice Waters.
5. What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
I am not sure, but probably a photographer. And I still haven’t given up on that, that’s going to be my retirement hobby!
6. What advice can you give an aspiring chef?
If you dream of something, go for it and don’t let anybody else stop you. Especially to women, have the courage to express aloud your own desires and needs and make sure to stress your merits. You can be a professional, a mother and a wife simultaneously.
7. Describe a perfect day eating in Rome.
Morning breakfast at Bar Barberini in Via Marmorata. They make the best cappuccino and pastry served by very happy waiters in a busy bar. I probably would then go to the Testaccio market - I enjoy strolling through and popping into the many little shops in this very old and traditional part of town. At the market, I would probably stop at the Emporio di Sicilia, a Sicilian stand opened by a few friends - grab their pita with eggplant caponata, it's the perfect lunch snack. Lunchtime is dedicated to Roman tradition - I would go for a Gricia at Flavio al Velavevodetto, (Via di Monte Testaccio, 97, 00153 Roma, 06 574 4194). Aperitif - you can't go wrong with a bottle of Franciacorta on a bench at the Gianicolo looking at the sunset. Nothing else compares. For late night dinner, I would probably choose a modern Italian restaurant, (and yes, there is such a thing as modern Italian Cuisine!) Try Il Pagliaccio, by Anthony Genovese, Via dei Banchi Vecchi - it's divine.
8. What’s your favorite cooking trend this year?
I am all about pizza and grilling this year for a casual meal. My other goal is to work on high-end vegetarian dishes. Fermentation and extraction techniques applied to the amazing Italian vegetables can create very interesting flavor profiles.
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