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Best of times, worst of times: Stefania Sautto

Categories: Behind the stalls

The likes and dislikes of Stefania Sautto of Tartufaia

Fantasy job
It is not so much a job as a lifestyle. I would love to run a bed and breakfast, either in the English or Italian countryside as they are both beautiful. In Italy we have something called ‘agriturismo’. This is where you have a farmhouse and surrounding land and grow what produce you can.

You then cook what you grow for visitors staying at the house, together with produce from the local markets. I love meeting and cooking for people, so I would enjoy looking after the guests.

Favourite city
London. That’s why I am still here. I was finishing my degree in catering and hotel management and had discovered that I liked languages, so I came to London to learn English. It was the 1990s and mobile phones were a real luxury where I came from, so I used to arrange for my mother to ring a particular phone box where I would be waiting outside. It was difficult at times, but I made friends here, and there was something about the city that really spoke to me.

Worst job
I concentrated on hotel reception work during my degree, but the first time I worked on reception in real life I realised it was really not the job for me. In some ways it wasn’t that bad in the long run, but it did make me think I had completely wasted my studies!

Favourite book
A French novel called the Little Prince. I first read it as a teenager and I have been travelling with it all my life. It is about an alien’s child who lands in the desert and the way he learns to live in the strange world he has found himself in. I don’t read as much as I used to, but when I do I like people like Jane Austen and books set in the countryside.

Best film
I am a real romantic so two of my favourite films are Love Actually and Dirty Dancing.

Worst film
Any big budget 3D movies. I refuse to pay money to see them.

Favourite music
At heart I am a rock and roll girl, but I love all types of music: reggae, jazz, classical, blues. At the moment I am listening to a funk band called The Meters—Mario, who runs Tartufaia, introduced me to them.

Favourite childhood dish
I do not remember having a favourite in particular—there were many that I loved. I was born and raised in Milan, but my mother is from Puglia and my father from Naples. The food I grew up eating was a beautiful fusion of food from both places.

Signature dish
Minestrone, which funnily enough I hated as a child. My mum cooked it a lot and if it was on the table, you had no choice but to eat it. But I love cooking with vegetables and now it is one of my favourite dishes. I have added some of the things that I’ve discovered since being in England—courgettes, aubergines, beans, leeks and parsnips—which give it a bit of sweetness. I also like to use coriander, but it is very easy to use too much and then the dish tastes like soap.

Worst kitchen disaster
I was working in an Italian deli when a regular asked me to house-sit for her for a week. It was a beautiful Victorian house. It was a bit cheeky of me, but I organised a small party. She had one of those stovetop espresso makers—a very big one which would make coffee for perhaps 12 people.

While I was using it, it exploded! You can imagine the mess. There was coffee-stained water and coffee grinds everywhere—it was horrendous. The owner was not very happy. A friend who was at the party said that on my tombstone they will write: “Stefania, the girl who makes explosive coffee.”

Happiest childhood memory
I grew up in a large apartment block with perhaps 40 families, and all the children played outside together. It was amazing growing up in such a close community.

Favourite subject at school
I really liked civil law. It was more a study of citizenship—how to be a good citizen, how to live well within the society—but it did also include some study of the local laws. There was a moral aspect to it: how to interpret laws from a moral standpoint.

Dream destination
That is easy—Africa. It is such a huge continent with so many people and places to discover. I love the style of the clothing that you see on television and the colours that they wear. When I see someone from Africa in their national clothing walking down the street, for me it’s amazing. There is much to see, but I think I would really like the centre and south of the continent.

Tipple of choice
It depends on where I am and the mood I am in, but if I had to say I’d probably go for a gin and tonic.

Hangover cure
Full English breakfast.