“A loaf of freshly cut Italian ciabatta bread, a bowl of homemade olives, red wine and homemade beer accompanied the table every time we would sit down to a meal at Nonna and Nonno’s home.” Wise words from the introduction page of ‘Nonna’s Kitchen’ by Melissa Bianca Giannasi. This is a book that celebrates family, food, Italian heritage and beautiful illustrations embracing the memory of Melissa’s upbringing
As with all of my artist visits, I invited myself over to drink coffee and chat about all things art and, in this case, food (perhaps my favourite thing to talk about… ever). After a lovely morning drive, I pulled up to a quaint little cottage with a white picket fence. This white picket fence automatically evoked feelings of comfort and home (you can’t tell me you don’t love a good white picket fence… or am I just weird?).
As I walked the driveway, I was met with a big smile and a wave but Melissa and one very excited dog. We walked through the house and onto the back veranda, where there was a beautiful platter of fresh fruit waiting to be enjoyed. The coffee machine sparked up, and that much-loved coffee aroma filled the air.
For the last five years, Melissa has worked as an art technician at one of the local schools (a job I never knew existed). She spends her days helping with the kiln and pretty much every fun art-related thing you could think of. Before that, she worked at one of the Jacksons art stores and spent a year and a bit travelling and living in London whilst studying graphics and illustrations. So to say the love of art flows through Melissa’s veins would be somewhat of an understatement. To top everything else off, Melissa is a keen gardener growing fruit, veggies and herbs, something she inherited from her Nonna and Nonno, who loved to celebrate fresh produce.
Naturally, the conversation progressed to talk about ‘The Book’. A concept that had been in the back of Melissa’s mind for quite some time (let’s be honest, we all have those projects we talk about starting ‘one day’). Often having discussions and planning with her Nonna, who sadly passed before the book really took its physical form. This was the catalyst to really knuckle down and create this excellent book that celebrates the memory and food that Melissa holds so fondly.
As with most family recipes (particularly European family recipes), a lot of them were written with just a list of ingredients with a really rough guide on what to do. So each recipe in the book had to be thoroughly tested with the help of Melissa’s family. A process that reemphasizes this love of family and culture. Upon trying one particular recipe, the qty’s were enough to feed an army. There was a lot of testing and the best part, a lot of eating. The family were only too happy to help with taste testing that one (let’s be honest, I want to taste them all).
The initial concept of the book was purely photography based, with a lot of props for the photography coming from Nonna’s house to give it the authentic, warm feeling everyone associates with their grandparents cooking. However, one school holidays, after struggling a little to get the design looking write with the photos, the concept evolved to include some gouache illustrations, leading to some incredible work, including the aprons from Nonna’s house.
Melissa is currently working on a kids book for a uni assignment and has another kids book half-finished. She is defiantly one to keep an eye on.
To view Melissa’s Website and Instagram, please click the links below.
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