This time around one of the contestants is one of our very own. Serena Palumbo, 31 a New York corporate attorney and former ballerina. She taught herself how to prepare food with unusual ingredients while growing up in southern Italy. She currently hosts an online instructional cooking show, “Cooking in Manhattan,” on YouTube and believes the cooking process should be simple and healthy.
Italian American celebrity chef, Giada De Laurentiis, kicks off the show with a two-hour premiere Sunday, June 6th at 9pm ET/PT as finalists get a taste of Hollywood with a trip to Paramount Studios and a six-course lunch for L.A.’s biggest celebrity chef, Wolfgang Puck.
We sat down with Serena to find out more about her Italian American life and culinary expertise.
You’ve been selected as a contender for the Food Network’s very successful show, “THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR,” how big of an honor is this for you?
Being selected to be one of the 12 finalists on season six of The Next Food Network Star was a big honor! I have been a fan of the show since I moved from Italy to the US in 2004 and I followed every season. Just the fact of meeting Bobby Flay, Susie Fogelson and Bob Tuschman, the selection committee is fantastic and this season is really full of surprises, starting with the fact that it takes place in Los Angeles! It is a very exciting adventure and I cannot wait to see the premiere Sunday June 6th at 9PM ET/PT.
First things first! Where in Italy is your family from and could you tell us a little bit about your cultural/ culinary background?
I was born near Salerno, in Southern Italy and I have spent all my summers on the Amalfi Coast – there is no better culinary background, believe me, being Italian and from the South! I do not have a culinary training, as a matter of fact I am an attorney in New York and I am the in-house counsel for one of the biggest Italian Banks operating in North America. But I have seen all the women in my family cooking all my life and they taught me pretty much everything I know about food. Add to the family tradition the fact that I love to travel and eat new dishes and I am pretty fearless when it comes to experimenting in the kitchen and you understand why I am not afraid of the competition!
As an Italian American, do you feel a strong connection to the culinary arts and do you think there’s a fine distinction between Italian and Italian American cooking?
The common denominator is the same flavor combination. I really love Italian food in every way shape or form. My culture defines me so deeply that it really does not matter who is cooking and whether the person lives in Italy or learned from their “nonna” [grandma] like me: if there is respect for the flavors and the ingredients of Italian cuisine, I will surely appreciate the dish!
On the show, what types of dishes do you think you’ll be motivated to create? Italian dishes or do you have a love for other cultural flavors?
My inspiration is usually the Mediterranean diet. I am very fond of Italian flavors but I also love experimenting, so I will probably come up with dishes that have Spanish, Greek and Moroccan influences as well. I have a couple of aces up my sleeve - I am going to make my mother proud of all the hours we spent together in the kitchen when I was a child.
As you progress your culinary career, do you feel that expressing your known cultural background as an Italian American is an important factor to your success?
Being Italian or Italian American in the culinary world means having discerning taste, refined palate and respect for the ingredients and the traditions. I will definitely use these aspects to prove that my skills, innate in an Italian, can overcome the lack of proper culinary education: what I cannot do with knife skills I can do with the taste buds!
With the success of other celebrity Italian American chefs from Food Network, what skills and characteristics will make you stand out?
Cooking is the most important outlet for my creativity. I am a corporate attorney by trade and as such, I do not really have a creative job (actually it would not be appropriate to be creative in my day job), so I convey all my creativity in the kitchen. I love to create new recipes, sometimes tailored to my friends’ requests and needs, and I love to teach people how to cook. I started my very own homemade webisodes about homemade food called “Cooking in Manhattan” and I cannot describe how great it is when one of my viewers drops me a line to say that the recipe was a success!
Who is your favorite celebrity Italian American chef and why?
My favorite Italian American Chefs are Giada De Laurentiis because she is the “Grace Kelly” of Italian food and Mario Batali because his food is honest, rustic and delicious!
Lastly, the show; THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR premieres this summer, June 6th on Food Network—why should the Italian American audience watch? What can they expect from you as their representing Italian American?
I hope the Italian American community will root for me because I am Italian, of course, but also because I believe I represent the real hard-working Italians and Italian Americans that succeed on the basis of their own merits and strength. These are the real Italian and Italian Americans, strong willed, creative, hardworking and charming people who are pursuing their American dream. Sadly they have not been very well represented on television recently. I want to show America what we are really made of!
I would like to thank the Food Network and Serena for this interview! Grazie Serena!Tweet
I saw Serena's videos on the Next Food Network Star and Youtube. Her Italian accent is very heavy, and it is difficult to understand her. I hope she will be able to improve her English pronunciation, otherwise people will turn off the channel when she's on. Good luck, anyway!
She will make us proud. Best wishes!
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