The chef from Northern Naples

Marianna Vitale: never imagine you can have and do everything. We’re on sale, let’s face it

27-01-2014
A close up of Marianna Vitale, chef at Sud ristora

A close up of Marianna Vitale, chef at Sud ristorante in Quarto (Naples), 1 Michelin star. This shot was taken during the lecture she gave on the occasion of Identità Donna in 2012

I asked Veronica - 28, with long, curly hair strangled in a pastry-chef cap - why she wanted to become a chef. She was raised in the suburbs of Northern Naples and was wearing the gigantic jacket from the school she had been attending for three months. "It’s a passion, I’ve always cooked but I studied law to make my parents happy and now I work in a law firm. That is in the morning, I’m good at organising myself. I’m separated and I have a 7-year-old daughter. This is why I decided to start with a female-chef: I knew you would have better understood".

What I had to understand was clear to me three months later, when she asked me to stay at home for Christmas. She was really tired, she went home and stayed there. In two months I understood that Veronica had left her boyfriend four times, and got back together three, but then she left him for the Zumba instructor. I understood that the senior lawyer in the firm had promoted her and touched her ass on the same day. I understood that 7-year-olds can have many fevers, many plays, and a pyjama party every other day. It was indispensable for me to understand that Veronica had 15-16 best friends who managed her lack of ubiquity.

Out of necessity, she had chosen the Sbiltz phone plan offering 201 free text-messages per day. Some ten thousand text-messages were sent over two months from the Sud kitchen in order to check how her boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, gym, ambitious parents, attractive lawyer, pyjama-wearing-daughter, and all of her damned 15-16 girlfriends from Northern Naples were doing.
The mistake was mine, because I had asked the wrong question. I should have only asked her: “why do you want to have everything”?

In Naples, hoping to have everything is not even possible. I know women who in the evening prepare the clothes their husbands will have to wear the next day, who keep their children silent if their man is tired. I have friends who are constantly pregnant and walk around shopping centres while other friends live in London, Bologna, Latina, after emigrating with their old boyfriends who also work in shopping centres. I often do not know where I am, where I was left, but at the same time, every day I repeat myself where I want to go. Nonetheless, I will bring with me the consideration, respect and admiration towards all the acts of love of the women I know who are happy because they have all they want.

Today, in order to be successful, you cannot take risks and allow yourself any weakness or rethinking. You should never speak of children, holidays, love, religion. If you’re in business, you’re on sale and therefore you have no sexual, political, religious inclination, you have no sickness and no family and most of all, your job is what you are. You cannot say that you’re a chef, because you won’t sound credible. If they tell you you’re an artist, then you smile and nod, even if you’re convinced that Pollock is a Swedish poultry business. And if you’re a successful woman, all this seriousness will have to be a constant in your life, with obvious and simple necessary implications, because if you’re not a mother and a wife, then you’re necessarily gay, grumpy and ugly. Ça va sans dire.

With colleagues Cristina Bowerman and Rosanna Marziale

With colleagues Cristina Bowerman and Rosanna Marziale

How can I be a chef? In the same way as you can be a plumber. You study and work, work and study. My travel mate is sacrifice and all that I have been capable not to destroy in my life because friends, relatives, husbands, lovers, dogs have never done anything wrong and could manage to love you all the same, unconditionally. Life is on display, a blinding and dishonest window, but it is open to everyone. The future is certain: we will all do what we need to do in that precise moment, where and how we prefer. And if we’re not ready to be as the market wants us to be, if a common past and future do not represent us, there’s always an alternative solution: the courage of finally becoming ourselves. And this is the most important thing.

"Always do what’s possible to leave your life behind"
(L'uomo in più by Paolo Sorrentino)


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