But I had always dreamed of a bigger world. So immediately after my high school graduation, I found myself on a plane to Florence, Italy to study cooking. I was the first of my family to fly commercial, the first to have a passport.
I was enchanted by Italy! I loved the open-air markets with fresh produce, the daily jaunts to the fishmonger, wandering through the herb garden – touching, feeling, smelling. It inspired me. The culinary school I attended was all about creating, exploring your talents as a Chef. I had the time of my life.
Heading back home after two glorious years of wonder, I knew that I could no longer fit into the confines of my small town life. I found myself in New York City, not knowing a soul but determined to forge a path. Theater and the Arts seemed to be calling. I started doing backstage work building sets, cleaning, painting. My wanderlust finally led me to Los Angeles and a job in the film industry. Every film set I worked on, I found myself cooking meals for the crew, having dinner parties weekly, inviting my nearest and dearest – fifty or so people – over. At Christmas, I would make hundreds of gift baskets, full of sauces, tapenades, & pasta, and deliver them to the doorsteps of co-workers, friends, and my growing worldly family. Back home, my brothers and my friends insisted I should be selling the baskets. But I resisted every suggestion that I make a business out of it. Feeding those around me was just my nature.
Eventually, I became a wife and a mother of twins. My husband and I decided to move to a small mountain town in Colorado. I loved the slower pace. I adored being a mom. I had found my way right back to my roots
I cooked for my toddlers and their friends & classes. I would invite the entire kindergarten out and teach them how to clean, prep, and cook little meals. Some of the children didn’t understand that French fries actually came from potatoes. They had no idea what Swiss chard or beets or real carrots (not the prepackaged nubs) were. Finally, my time in Italy, my love of food, had collided with the actuality of the life I was living. The root of what would become Gina Cucina had been seeded.
Another set of twins and 12 years later, Gina Cucina was birthed. My love of feeding people, using ingredients out of my very own garden, led me to begin in earnest doing what my brothers and friends had urged me to do 20 years earlier. Farmers Markets – reminiscent of the open-air markets in Italy – had popped up all over, giving me a direct outlet for my products. I started jarring my soups, then one day I talked to my favorite farmer and asked if I could share some of his space at the market.
One Saturday in July, I crawled out of bed at 5 a.m., loaded up the car, and went to market. In one hour, I had sold out! One hundred jars of soup, non-GMO, organic, locally handcrafted with love and goodness. The following week, I came prepared––165 jars. I sold out of soup in the first three hours -- in JULY. I knew I was onto something.
After selling out at the market, I would buy vegetables and fruit from the other organic vendors, take them to a friend’s commercial kitchen, and create soups, gazpachos, tapenades, & sauces for the following week, when I would sell them in mason jars with beautiful slips of fabric explaining the ingredients. Each week we sold out. I was having a blast. I had found what I was meant to do in life, and I’d never felt more alive.
That’s when the wild ride began in earnest. We are still a seed-to-shelf business. Everyone helps – labeling, branding, chopping, working the markets, driving delivery trucks, doing dishes. Back in Idaho, my older brother and my family have planted thousands of heirloom, non-GMO, organic seeds and built a commercial kitchen in the tiny little mountain town I was raised in. In turn, it’s brought a slew of jobs to a community in need.
Every step of the way has had its difficulties, and every step of the way I have questioned my sanity, as has my brilliant & patient husband. Through every challenge, every “NO” I heard, and every misstep, I have never given up. I hope you taste the joy, love, and hard work in every bite!