In the spirit of getting inspired, we checked in with Mary Ann Esposito, the host of Ciao Italia, before her appearance at Mohegan Sun’s annual Sun WineFest this past weekend in Uncasville, Conn.
Considering her show has been on the air for 25 years making it the longest running cooking show in television history, there’s a lot we can learn from the multi-tasking Esposito.
And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the festivities surrounding the interview and the other notable chefs who are also the definition of personal branding and talent. Whether it was the mozzarella demonstration by Todd English or the animated discussion surrounding halibut by Food Network star Robert Irvine, there’s so much to learn from chefs in the top of their field in the classy ballroom, a beautiful respite from a wintry weekend. Yes, it’s about food but ultimately it’s about their stories. Personalities, persistence, drive.
For starters, she exuded pure excitement to take the main stage during the gigantic wine tasting event and serve rigatoni during the evening celebrity dine around since it puts her in touch with people. “When I’m with the public, I’m with a human being instead of looking at a camera and I get immediate feedback from people. I love hearing their stories of how I’ve influenced something they’ve done.”
Oh – did we mention her 12 cookbooks and the annual trip to Italy for students to experience cooking classes? And yes, we are in awe — last year she received the Order of the Star of Italy knighthood award from the President of the Italian Republic.
The funny thing is, during our exclusive interview, we realized you don’t need all the bells and whistles in a project, in a job search, in yourself. What you do need, however, are skills and authenticity. The real deal.
In 1989 when she pitched the show, Esposito was pursuing her master’s degree in Italian history. She recalled:
“I was writing for a ton of Italian magazines, I was going to Italy to hone my skills in cooking skills and all of those things were like a minestrone soup. I put it all together and said wait a minute here, I’ve learned a lot by going to Italy, I’ve spent time in cooking in all these different regions, maybe I have something here.”
After pitching her show to the local network, they “looked at me like I was nuts and said, ‘We can’t do this.'” They mentioned they didn’t have a studio kitchen. Well, out of the blue they ended up calling Esposito after moving into their new studio.
“They had kept my proposal and said they wanted to do a pilot program.”
The rest is history. After the first few episodes aired, Ciao Italia got renewed for 13 episodes and the following year PBS picked it up. “I didn’t have TV experience but I had teaching experience and I’m a good teacher so if I’ve learned anything about television in the past 25 years is that if you can’t communicate, forget it.”
While mentioning there’s nothing she would do differently now than she did 25 years ago except for being active on social media, she trusts an audience’s savviness.
“You have to be believable. What you see on TV is what you get off TV.” And when we stop to think about it, this is true in all aspects of your career — during an interview, on the job, on set.
“It’s an involved recipe,” she noted. “But it’s not involved. If you know how to multi-task and think ahead and do things in stages, then cooking is simple even to the most extravagant recipe as this one is because you have multiple procedures for this.”
Mentioning all of the separate pieces can be made ahead of time, the actual day of cooking should be quick and painless.
“On the day you’re going to bake this, all you need to do is spend 20 minutes in the kitchen and then you’re done. You can do the most involved thing in very little time if you do things in stages.”