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How Valentina Castellani, a Film Producer from Italy, Eats in America

Valentina Castellani-Quinn is from a Florentine family that owned the Teatro Verde (Florence’s opera house) for generations. Fascinated with all aspects of theater, Ms. Castellani studied fashion design in Florence and finished her degree in New York. Afterward, she moved to Los Angeles to begin her career in film. She is now an award-winning producer and President and Chairman of Quinn Studios Entertainment, which continues the legacy of Academy Award winning actor Anthony Quinn. Ms. Castellani has produced many Academy Award nominated films that are internationally recognized and distributed. She is the recipient of the prestigious US Congress Award, the Human Rights Award, and the English WIFTS Award as a “Visionary Producer” together with former Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, and actress Gal Gadot. Because of  her ethical work as a producer, and her service to global society, Ms. Castellani has addressed many international organizations, including the US Congress, United Nations, UNESCO, the YPO/Young President Organization and a number of international universities. Ms. Castellani recently founded Celebrating Life, a company intended to mesh the creative energies of the industries of business, entertainment, fashion, film and sport. While we at Appetito are enormously impressed with Ms. Castellani’s accomplishments as a film producer, entrepreneur and humanitarian, we really wanted to know how she, as an Italian, eats in America…

On a scale of one to 10 How would you rate Italian food in America?

Eight. And, maybe even nine or 9.5 in places like Los Angeles and New York because you can find really authentic Italian in these cities. The staff is often Italian, from the servers to the kitchen, the chef sous, chef, etc. So the food can be extremely authentic. I know a few restaurants that import almost everything.  There are also amazing importers here in America, as well. Look at the Truffle Brothers, as an example, who import the best truffles and other produtti from Italy. To get the best Italian ingredients, you can go to downtown LA where they have these little gourmet stores who have almost everything from Italy.

What’s your general impression of food in America?

California has a variety of amazing restaurants from all over the place and especially from Italy. Some of the top restaurants in Italy have a second restaurant here, from Madeo Ristorante to Il Ristorante di Giorgio Baldi, and we have so many others. So it wasn't what you would expect as if one was moving to, say, the Midwest. Also, you can choose an array of different foods here in California, and one can choose from all kinds of cuisine. All of it is very fresh.

There’s also L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele who brought the brand from Naples and created the pizzeria in West Hollywood. It's a lovely environment, and the pizza is very good, but also not just a pizzeria. They are open all day, and everything is so good, from olive oil to wine to special spices, the bread. You can just feel like you are in Italy when you are with them to eat something or drink a great cappuccino.

What are some of your other favorite Italian restaurants in LA?

I like Tra di Noi in Malibu. Angelini is very good. Cecconi's is lovely.

When you don't go out to eat Italian, where might you go?

I like sushi for sure. Nobu Malibu is basically across the street from my house, and it’s fantastic. Los Angeles has great food markets where you can eat, in a frugal way, and still have very gourmet, very healthy, fresh food. I like those places as well. There are a bunch here, of all kinds of ethnicity, from Latino/Mexican to French to Mediterranean food, whatever. You don’t always you have to go to the fantastic restaurants to find good food in Los Angeles because of its nature being on the ocean and being in California where we have so many farms. You can find great, simple fresh food, even in simple places.

Of the non-Italian food that you've encountered in America, what is your favorite?

California has a fantastic style of cuisine. They took the best out of everything and created top restaurants, yes, but there’s also so many simple places to eat typical Californian food. There are places in Malibu, where I live, that are like just little fish markets where you can eat some grilled fish with some veggies and some roasted potatoes, and it's the freshest you can possibly have. So, yes, I love what might be called California cuisine.

Is there any type of food in America that took you by surprise?

Sweet potatoes! I can say these are something that are very American, and we learned about these particular potatoes at Thanksgiving. I never had them before, and they are actually delicious and very healthy, much more so than the regular potatoes. It was quite a great discovery.

Is there anything missing from the Italian experience in America?

In the end, it's the environment. Eating is a ritual. It is not just about the food. It's a feeling of sitting all together like in a kitchen space or even if it's more elegant, but to share more of each other with a great plate of food. The experience of being in Italy is about being together sharing that moment and making it a ritual, making it sacred. Families still do dine together, at least the dinner, maybe not the lunch because everybody's so spread out. I was just in Florence, in and out for about two months in Europe working out there, and I have my own house, but I will go to the home of my family to have dinner, with my parents and my brothers and sisters, almost every night. It's a beautiful ritual. I love to share this with my daughter when she is with me in Italy. We light candles, and we make it a moment of sharing, a moment that matters. And that is something that in America we miss a little bit.

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