Doing Italy’s Thea Duncan, If you’re thinking of moving to Italy, You will want to know her.

Doing Italy

I met Thea Duncan through my friend Georgette, Girl in Florence.

People are always asking me about moving to Italy. I found the person that can help with all the questions you have. Moving to Italy is a very personal experience, and it is not one size fits all by any means. Although there are some basics that one needs to know before embarking on this life-changing endeavor, Thea can help you.

I thought she would be a really cool person to introduce you to. Of course, you can always ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them. But two heads are better than one, am I right?

I think you will enjoy this interview. Thanks, Thea. xx

A little background on Thea:

Thea Duncan is the Founder of Doing Italy, a company that helps people gain the knowledge they need to move to Italy with ease while avoiding many of the pitfalls that negatively affect most ex-pats when moving abroad.

Trinidad and Tobago-born and Miami-raised, Duncan spent much of her life traveling the globe before Italy captured her heart. She studied for her master’s degree at Milan’s Bocconi University in the early 2000s, later holding roles with some of Italy’s most storied fashion and design houses – including Gucci and Luxottica.

Doing Italy, which began as Duncan’s effort to reconnect with travelers and curate her Milan, now offers individuals the opportunity to get an even more authentic understanding of Italian culture by helping them move abroad. The company offers one on one sessions and group coaching where students dive into just about everything a foreigner should know about moving to Italy. This includes insights into the Italian job market, to why, if an Italian home announcement says an apartment is unfurnished, it most likely means you literally need to bring your own kitchen sink.

I had some questions for Thea:

Q: How long have you lived in Italy?

A: I’m originally from Trinidad and Tobago. My family and I moved to the United States, Miami to be precise, when I was about 6 years old. Miami has a huge Latin American influence, and I’m so grateful that my parents had the hindsight to enroll me into a bilingual school that intensively taught Spanish (and French and German – but I took Spanish). This gave me a very multicultural and intercultural outlook on life from a young age. In fact, in fifth grade, we took a class trip to Spain. To me, that seemed absolutely normal, but I realize now that it’s not most people’s reality. 

Many years later, I met a young Italian man in college, a study abroad student. We started dating, and when his semester was up, he convinced me to come back with him to Italy. It was 2002. 

I ended up doing a semester abroad in Spain, which I absolutely loved, and a semester in Italy, in L’Aquila, a university town in the Abruzzo region of Italy. 

While I had an incredibly memorable time in Spain, Italy stole my heart, and I was committed to figuring out how I could get to experience more of it.

 Q: You are married to an Italian; how did you meet?

A: My husband and I met about a decade after my first trip to Italy. By this point in time, I had returned to Milan to pursue my master’s degree, and then I had returned to the States shortly thereafter. 

 As my husband, Diego, explains it, he saw my photo on a mutual friend’s Facebook page and was convinced that I looked like the Black woman that lived in his building. Evidently, to him, it made more sense to reach out to me on Facebook than to say hi “in real life” to the woman that lived in his building. 

Diego proceeded to Facebook stalk me for months (not in a scary way) until I eventually agreed to meet him in person. During that time, I was working for a company that frequently brought me to Milan, so I agreed to meet him on a work trip. 

The rest is history.

But I think it’s worth noting that I did meet this woman that lived in his building. We look nothing alike. 

 Q: How long did it take you to learn Italian?

A: Only about 8 months. I started studying Italian during my semester in Spain (in a class that was taught in Gallego! lol). Then I moved to L’Aquila, in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Almost no one spoke English, so I was forced to learn and practice. It’s what I call a very intensive Italian school, and I really recommend doing something similar if anyone is really serious about learning the language. 

Q: When did you start your business Doing Italy?

A: You know how people say that when one door closes another one opens…or that when something horrible happens in your life, a lot of times it’s God’s way of point your life in a new direction? Well, that’s exactly what starting my business was for me. 

A few years ago, I had an injury a stupid freak accident that resulted in me being on bed rest for months and in pain for way too long taking high doses of pain killers.

After watching every single episode of Scandal, and just about everything else that I wanted to see (and things I probably didn’t want to see) on Netflix, I decided it was time for me to retake control of my life. 

I decided to spend my time at home learning, so I read more and decided to focus the hours I did spend online on things I found intellectually stimulating. 

One day, I happened upon a woman that was creating these absolutely incredible tours in Latin America. Experiences that were light years away from the cookie-cutter superficial way of doing tourism. I thought, OMG, I have to do something similar in Italy. From my previous years working in travel and tourism, I knew all about those big bus tours where people ate at tourist traps right in front of the Colosseum that sell frozen pizzas to unsuspecting tourists. 

My business was born out of a desire to help more tourists see the real Italy – to travel slowly through this country that I love so much.

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Q: How has Covid changed your business in the last year?

A: Then Covid happened, and obviously, travel and tourism was out of the picture. I spent the first few months of the pandemic, when we really didn’t know what was happening, praying, meditating, and cooking. Then one day, I thought, “I wonder if people want help moving to Italy”. And so I decided to test that hypothesis. I created a program and sold it to my audience. I am so blessed and happy to say that they loved it! Helping people with Master Classes on How to Move to Italy has been amazing.

And oddly enough the whole process felt so incredibly easy. Yes, there were so many things I had to learn and do along the way. I spent quite a few nights up until 2 or 3 AM, and a few times until 6 AM. Plus, I worked just about every single weekend to get it done…

But somehow it still felt easy. Like all of my experience in Italy collided for this perfect moment. For example, I’ve held several very different jobs in Italy – from being a private English teacher to working in the corporate communications department of Gucci. And since I’ve lived in so many different places in Italy – from the small university town outside of Rome, to Pescara the seaside town in Abruzzo, to the internationally acclaimed city of Florence, to the bustling city of Milan — I feel like God has uniquely positioned me to help people navigate the ups and downs of moving abroad and more specifically to moving to Italy. 

I realized that over the years, since when I first visited in 2002, I had gained so much experience on what to do, and perhaps equally important, what not to do. 

 Q: What does your business do?

A: I created an online course that helps people move to Italy. It’s the sum of everything I and lots of expat friends wished we had known when we first moved to Italy. And while my knowledge of ins and outs of moving to Italy is extensive. I don’t know everything, so I have incredible (if I do say so myself) guest speakers (immigration lawyers. tax accountants, and real estate professionals) come on, who also share their experience and know-how. 

Most recently, my team and I have also started offering one on one Move to Italy Coaching and Consulting. We have two programs, one for individuals/families that want to move – for example for people that want to retire in Italy. The other is for people who want to start a business in Italy – either as a freelancer or even a product-based business. 

I was very fortunate that I married a very capable project manager (by profession and mental configuration). We also have a very capable network of friends and professional acquaintances. Trustworthy people that we have been able to lean on and ask for assistance over the years. Not everyone has that. 

We have expat friends that made horrible decisions when it came to setting up their partita iva (their freelance business structure). Or another friend who was going through the hassle of redoing her permesso di soggiorno (permit of stay) every year because she didn’t know that since she’s married to an Italian the procedure for her was a bit different. 

Plus, from doing the course I realized that some people have all their ducks in a row, but they just need someone to metaphorically hold their hand and say, don’t worry it will be okay. This feels like a big leap but lots of people before you, and after you will do it. And you can do it too. 

So the one and one consulting brings together these two aspects professionals they can trust to help them with the bureaucratic difficulties of moving abroad, plus they get more personalized access to me. I kind of see myself as your knowledgeable friend on the ground who you can call and send WhatsApp with questions. The friend that will listen to your problems and help you find solutions. 

 Q: Any future plans or events you’d like to share?

A: I have so many thoughts, ideas, and plans in the works, but for now, you guys are going to have to follow me on my social channels. I’m “Doing Italy” just about everywhere but I especially like hanging out on Instagram these days. That way you can see all the things that my team and I have cooking up. 

Doing Italy: Guidebook Part I

 

 

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William Abranowicz’s new book

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I couldn’t go this month without telling everyone about Bill Abranowicz’s new baby. Some of you already know that I adore him. He is one of the finest humans I know. Not only is he incredibly talented, but he has an enormous heart. Not only is he a fine photography instructor at La Fortezza Workshops, but he is also a social activist and uses his talents to spread his message. His latest endeavor is This Far and No Further, a book that documents the voting rights movement in America.

Beautifully captured this is a book that should live on your shelf.

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I hope you pick up a copy and come to La Fortezza Photography Workshop with Bill in September. Spaces are going fast, and as I like to say, it’s worth the flight just to hear his lecture, and this year we will make sure he talks a bit about his new book. Bring your copy, and he’ll sign it for you. Congratulations Bill, it’s truly an honor and great pleasure to know you. x

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The Twisted Soul Cookbook

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Dare I say that Chef Deborah VanTrece is my Rizzoli soul sister?!  Well heck, I am going to say it. I am so excited for the latest Rizzoli NY cookbook from a local Atlanta chef. This cookbook is not only a visual treat, but it is also an amazing collection of recipes that infuse Deborah’s vast travel culinary experiences and her Southern soul. Her restaurant, The Twisted House Cookhouse and Pours is a landmark in the community. I was excited to meet her in person at her cookbook photo-shoot in Atlanta last January. We share the same Rizzoli NY cookbook editor, which makes us sisters for sure, right? I was invited to meet her and appear in her cookbook while enjoying a meal. Needless to say, trying a multitude of her recipes all in one sitting was a treat.

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My 5 questions for Deborah:

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Do you have a favorite recipe in the book?

There’s no particular recipe I favor more than another in this book. Each recipe has a personal meaning to me.

Tell me a bit about the inspiration for the book, and the recipe.

This book is inspired by the great soul food cooks of the past and present. It expounds on old traditions by exploring new combinations of ingredients by interchanging cultures and techniques. It is intended to uplift the idea of “comfort food” across all cultures and showcase the impact of the humblest cuisines in our souls and our hearts. 

When did cooking become a passion and then a profession? Was this your path, or was it different? 

As far back as I can remember, I have always been intrigued by food and the fellowship around it.  Being an only child, sometimes I felt so alone.  It was always celebrations, that included food and drink, that erased my feelings of loneliness and created an atmosphere of joy that I wanted to last forever.  Because of this, I developed a passion for cooking, often sharing my creations with friends and family.  I became an international flight attendant, and the exposure to other cultures only increased my hunger for learning how to create new dishes. I finally enrolled in culinary school and my professional journey in the food world began.

How have you been able to pivot your restaurant during Covid?

My pivots with Covid are an entire book within itself. I have adjusted my business model several times to keep in line with safety protocols, as well as government mandates. It hasn’t been easy, but we are still standing, and for that, I am grateful.

Who most influenced you in your cooking?

My family has been most influential in my cooking. From my mother and father to my aunts, uncles and cousins, they have all helped in constructing my culinary foundation. Good food is a part of my history and recipes handed down through generations are so important to my story. These recipes showcase the existence of my ancestors and motivate me to continue the story by adding recipes of my own.

 

Thanks so much, Deborah! xx

 

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The Truffle Hunters Movie

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Many years ago, I happily achieved one of the life goals on my bucket list. I went to the White Truffle Festival in Alba, Italy. For many years I hoped to attend, and when I finally did, it truly was a highlight, an experience that I will never forget. I had been to Alba many times the Piedmont region as it was close to where we lived in Alassio. I would always walk down the main street and visit one of my favorite stores, a tiny very chic boutique Tartufi Ponzi. They carry all sorts of truffle-infused products along with beautiful fresh white truffles which are all displayed under lock and key in the front window. One of my favorite products is their truffle potato chips. Always perfect for aperitivo.

As most of you know, I am obsessed with truffles, and truffle hunting, and the business of truffles. I was able to return to Alba a couple of years ago when I took the La Fortezza Workshop team, the chef, Philip, and the guest liaison, Rachel, to the 2018 Slow Food Festival in Bra, Italy. The city of Bra is right next door to Alba. Of course, I had to take the team to visit my favorite truffle store in Alba Tartufi Ponzi.

As luck would have it, that evening Gianfranco, the owner, was in the store. He was delightful, telling us all about his business, the wholesale/manufacturing business and the retail store started by his parents. One of the charming stories he told us is that when he was a kid, he was not thrilled about this family business. He told us that kids would tease him and say that they could tell he was coming because of the smell of truffles that preceeded him. We all laughed when he told us the story.

We talked and shopped for an hour. In passing, I asked him where he would recommend we have dinner. He was so kind and made us a reservation at his favorite restaurant in Alba immediately. He joined us at the restaurant when he closed up the store. We had the most delicious truffle-infused meal. Of course, the truffles at the restaurant were supplied by Gianfranco. In fact, he is a bit of a rock star in Alba as you can imagine. I felt I had made a new friend. Gianfranco and I have indeed become friends we keep in touch; he’s just the nicest guy and I hope to see him this year.

Speaking of this year, some exciting news is that Gianfranco was the fixer and on a new movie/documentary called The Truffle Hunters. I asked Gianfranco a few questions about how he became involved, and what his role was in helping make this movie happen. I am so excited to share this interview with you.

Q: How did you participate in the film, I remember you telling me that you helped with arranging the activities and organizing the truffle hunters that appeared in the movie?

A: I actively participated in the film. I was what they call a fixer, the liaison between the filmmaker and the truffle hunters in the Piedmont. I am very connected in this world given my decades of experience in the world of truffles. I helped connect the filmmakers with my friends and my relatives, these are the people I work with every day in my business. I helped the filmmakers unlock our world, a world that is little known and sometimes secretive. I loved being part of introducing the world to our world. A place filled with the natural beauty around us. The world of white truffles cannot be studied in books. Truffle hunting is a skill passed down verbally over generations. I was fortunate to be born into a family of truffle hunters. My family taught me everything that I needed to know.

Q: How did you meet the filmmaker?

A: I met Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw during the annual White Truffle Festival. They came into my shop and from there we started a wonderful collaboration. It was amazing that I could even stop to talk to them. This is a time that there are tons of people in our shop. We were all busy selling truffles. It was a tough time for me and my family as well, my Father was very ill and I had to manage the store and help my Mother. The highlight was the filmmakers asking me to help with this project. It gave me something to look forward to during this challenging time. We communicated, and I got an idea of what they were looking for. Once they arrived to film, I had everything arranged for them. So many wonderful people allowed themselves to be filmed, I was so grateful.

Q: Who do you sell your truffles to in the US?

A: Thanks to this new world of technology, it is much easier. Our website has connected us to the world. Currently, we are working on our online store. But most of our customers contact us by e-mail or by phone. Our clients include serious foodies and chefs. We sell to some of the best restaurants in the world. Our mission is to select the truffles with care the best quality white truffles. We pack them the day they come out of the earth. We ship them in refrigerated packaging, so they arrive fresh. Each order includes instructions to better enjoy our “Gold of the Langhe”.

Q: How has Covid-19 affected your business?

A: At the beginning of 2020, we never thought that a virus could change our lives so much. In the first months in lock-down, we did not have white truffles. Then summer came, work resumed and in September the white truffle season finally started. Then another lock-down arrived. We had to assess how we would make our business work, like so many.  Our truffle hunters were out hunting, so we were able to ship every Monday and Tuesday until the end of last year. Lucky for us, we had customers that were ordering although business was definitely affected. We are so grateful for our loyal customers. We are hoping to welcome everyone back this fall. It was a big adjustment, but we are tough and we will be alright.  I believe all of us will be alright.

Q: How has this film impacted your business?

A: The Film was viewed at a few film festivals in 2020. It will be distributed in 2021; look for it online in May. We were lucky that in October  2020, they were able to organize the White Truffle Festival and people from neighboring regions were able to travel.  A Swiss girl in front of my shop recognized me from the film and was thrilled to have found us. She saw the movie at The Zurigo Film Festival. I was very pleased. So the film is slowly starting to circulate. I am sure that once the film is readily available to view, we will enjoy some notoriety. Which obviously I look forward to since it will be great for business.

Q: How did the film impact the people featured in the film?

A: It was all so surreal, the stars of the documentary are humble people from our countryside. They have always lived a simple and quiet life and suddenly they were thrown into the spotlight. Yet I was not surprised they did a great job sharing their rich lives with the filmmakers. It was fun to hear our villagers speaking in dialect during filming. It is such a real slice of our daily life. It is an authentic view of how we work here in the Piedmont. The documentary really highlights the struggles and victories of the truffle hunters and their friends and family. I feel it has never been seen before. The documentary is a beautiful memory for them to pass on to their children and grandchildren.

Q: How long have you been working in the Truffle business?

A: Since I was a child, I have always had truffles in my hands because my mother and her sister started the business with a restaurant that shaved truffles on pasta and risotto. My aunt opened a company of truffle products. My mom started the shop in 1987; she started selling truffles and my aunt’s preserved products. The world of truffles has evolved, and we have as well. Now I run a truffle boutique that is highly successful. My cousins have since taken over running the company that develops and manufactures truffle-infused products. As you can see it’s a family affair. We distribute fresh truffles all over the world, and fresh truffles are sold in our shop as well. I’ve been living on truffles for almost 40 years. As a child, my breakfast was biscuits and truffle milk. Every morning my mother and I went to the truffle hunter’s house to collect the morning truffles, and we would have the freshly picked truffles in the fridge.

Q: I was curious when he said truffle milk so I asked Gianfranco “What truffle milk was?”

A: He told me that in the early years, they had just one refrigerator in the house. So all the truffles for the shop were stored in that fridge. All the food in the fridge became infused with truffle flavor, the eggs, the cheese, and the milk. So when he would drink milk it tasted of truffles. Wild, I love it.

Q: Tell us about some of the special products in your store.

A: The products are constantly evolving year after year. We study new recipes, new colors, and we are always improving to keep up with people’s requests and needs. For some years we have embarked on the path of organic products, gluten-free products, and some vegan, always maintaining the taste and aroma of our truffles. We have created a line of freeze-dried truffles, that is truffle flakes ready to be re-hydrated in hot butter and consumed as fresh almost as good as fresh. I must say that this new line is very popular. We sell most of this product to America, China and Japan. You can eat white truffles at any time of the year by purchasing our dehydrated or preserved products. Our best sellers are white truffle salt best on meat and fish, white truffle powder that can be used on everything, as you would use spices, organic white truffle butter, and white truffle cream. Available online.

My favorite products are the white truffle chocolates and the white truffle potato chips and the dehydrated truffle is crazy good, let’s face it I love it all…except maybe truffle milk, hahaha.

Thank you Gianfranco ci vediamo a presto, can’t wait to see you again. x

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Gianfranco and I in front of his shop

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Me at the Truffle Festival for the first time

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White Truffles for Sale

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the most incredible, 40 egg angel hair pasta heaped with white truffles.

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Gianfranco’s daily haul of white truffles

Here’s the trailer for The Truffle Hunters. I hope you enjoy it.

Look for The Truffle Hunters streaming by mid May 2021.

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AJS Tackles the TikTok Wrap

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Hi Everyone! It’s Nicole, Annette’s web-manager and friend. I am excited to introduce today’s post featuring the now-viral TikTok wrap. If you haven’t seen it, the basic concept is to make a 1/4 cut on one side, divide a tortilla into 4 quadrants, fill each quadrant, fold, press on a hot skillet to warm and enjoy. It took off so well that even the New York Times got involved!

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After giving the concept a try for myself, filling my wraps with everything from eggs to chicken tenders, I recruited Annette and our new La Fortezza chef, Chef Rachel Feinberg, to develop their own recipes. Find both of them below!

Up first, meet Rachel:

Hi Everyone,

My name is Rachel, and I’m excited to share a recipe with you that’s not just easy and affordable but also elevated and flavorful. After nearly a decade in catering and food styling, I’m pursuing a Master’s in Public Health Nutrition, where I’m focused on food justice and health equity.

As you can imagine, the shift from working chef to grad student has impacted the contents of my fridge. This recipe utilizes pantry staples and specialty items I always keep on hand, pleasing both my student budget and my chef palate.

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While I’m not on top of what’s “trending” and I don’t have a TikTok, I am a huge fan of leftovers, so this challenge was right up my alley. The four components I used are detailed below:

The main component of this recipe, the tuna salad, has a lot of room for flexibility. You just need a bean, canned fish, and some greens. No chickpeas? Try white northern or cannellini beans. No tuna? Canned salmon or sardines will work beautifully. No arugula? You get the picture. I always have at least one can of tuna, chickpeas, and artichoke hearts in my pantry. This week I had a container of arugula that was on its last leg. Adding it to the salad gives the greens new life, offers a colorful component to the salad, and rounds it out. Add drained chickpeas, tuna, and arugula to a bowl. Mix it with olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, some lemon juice if you have it, and salt and pepper to taste.

Another staple I like to keep in my fridge is marinated artichoke hearts. Simply drain a can of artichoke hearts and put them in a Tupperware or jar, and pour enough olive oil so that the artichoke hearts are covered. Add a garlic clove, some fresh herbs, a lemon rind, or chili pepper if you have it, and there you go. These are an excellent addition to sandwiches, salads, charcuterie boards, and are great on their own straight out of the jar.

I imagine that eggs are a staple on most non-vegan grocery lists. They’re the kind of item that I don’t even need to add; grabbing a fresh carton is instinctive. At any given moment I’ve got two cartons of eggs in my fridge, 12 fresh eggs in one, and a few remaining from the previous carton. The latter goes straight into some boiling water. Not only do I love having some hard-boiled eggs handy (the possibilities are endless), but older eggs are easier to peel. So the cycle of eggs continues.

The last quadrant of the wrap is spread with a hearty helping of Calabrian chili paste. Calabrian chili paste is the “fancy” item I continually splurge on. Simply put, it is my favorite spicy condiment, and I put it on everything. However, this recipe is all about utilizing what’s on hand so any hot sauce you have will add a perfect kick to your wrap.

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Rachel’s TikTok Wrap: Calabrian Chili Tuna Salad
You will need:
– Tuna salad (tuna, arugula, chickpea, olive oil, red wine vin, s + p)
– Hard boiled egg, sliced
– Olive oil marinated artichoke hearts
– Calabrian chili paste
To prepare:
Divide your wrap into quadrants and make one cut towards the center.  Top each quadrant with each of the above. Fold each quadrant over the other and place in a hot skillet with oil. Once brown, flip and brown the other side.
Annette’s TikTok Wrap: Kale Pesto with Prosciutto Wrap
Below, I use my kale pesto recipe, a spoof on my basic pesto recipe by substituting kale for the basil. Overall, this recipe is simple and delicious, and perfect for a quick, healthy meal! I hope you enjoy this twist. It was delicious.
You will need:
– 3 tablespoons of kale pesto
– 3 tablespoons baby kale
– 2 tablespoons pickled onion
– 3 slices of prosciutto
– 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
– 1 burrito size flour tortilla
To prepare:
Using a dry skillet, heat the skillet and grill the sandwich for at least 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
The cheese will melt even after you remove it from the skillet, so no need to get the cheese melted.
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