The real Franco Stefano
by Anna Buckley
In book one, Christina decides to venture out on her own. She could try any of the bars or restaurants in busy Fitzroy, but instead she chooses the safer option of a book launch. The fictitious book shop was actually based on the wonderful ‘Books for Cooks’ on Gertrude Street in Melbourne and the author, the real life cook and author Stefano de Pieri.
Stefano has written many cook books, appeared in a television series featuring the food and people of Mildura, and more importantly opened restaurants and supported food producers and artists in this remote rural city.
He has almost single handedly raised the profile of Mildura from a large agricultural town on the Murray river, to a cultural and gastronomical mecca. No mean feat when the town is situated almost halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne and a good six hour drive either way.
Marketing gurus charged with the task of promoting regional tourism would kill to have someone like him, a modern day Pied Piper, tempting travellers to their town.
I had been on the road for a week, doing research. The heroine in my new book will be an outsider who comes to a struggling town and sees the potential in an area no longer growing the food big supermarkets want to buy. An area with no plan to breathe life into it’s struggling economy.
It was the end of the trip and I had planned the final leg to include lunch at the Mildura Brewery, a recent project of Stefano and his wife Donata Carrazza. We walked into the beautifully refurbished old Art Deco theatre, now a working brewery, were taken to our table by the very friendly waiter and handed menus. Gorgeous Italian food, locally made wine and beer, almost impossible to choose, but on this freezing cold day, the pork and fennel sausages with beans won. The wine list another joy, featuring many of the Italian varieties I talk about in the book.
And as I’m sipping on the Fiano I hear a familiar voice. Stefano, he’s in in the kitchen. I haven’t seen him in a very long time. I give my name and hope he remembers who I am. It had been almost ten years since we’d done any projects together. And just like that he appears, a hug, two kisses, and a warmth that instantly melts away any awkwardness time and a lack of contact had created.
We spoke about what we’d both been up to, of our kids and mutual friends. Of the joys and trials of running a business in these interesting economic times.
The food arrived, one bite, delicious, I could be back in Italy. The conversation flowed, I could easily spend all afternoon talking to this inspiring man and even contemplated whether I should put off my return to Melbourne. There was so much more on the menu I wanted to try, the creamed bacala on polenta, the duck ragu, trippa alla parmigiana and the slow cooked braised lamb. And of course the Prosecco. But I had commitments back home. I looked at my watch, the time had disappeared, Stefano needed to get back to the kitchen and I needed to start the six hour trip home.
He was the embodiment of my new character, he had actually done what my fictitious heroine was setting out to achieve. We made a promise to catch up. In Summer, under the vine covered pergola, tasting the beers his brewery crafts.
Love you to read my books
The Lost Woman series follows the sexy adventures of Christina as she makes her way through a world of new media, design, fashion, travel, and … men.