This Globavore Interview is with Danielle Oteri, an art historian, writer and founder of Feast On History and Arthur Avenue Food Tours. If you’re going to New York City or to Italy, you’ll want one of her tours.
Who are you and how does food play into your travels?
I lead food and wine tours in Little Italy in the Bronx, New York and big Italy! But rather than just gluttony fests, I consider them “relational tours” and it’s about balancing talking with people, seeing art, exploring places and eating and drinking the best expressions of these places. (Ed.’s note: that sounds like the perfect kind of tour!)
You’re at your favourite eatery with three companions (fictional, living or dead). Where (and when!) are you, and who are you with?
I’m at Trattoria da Nenella in the Spanish Quarter of Naples where there’s a lot of beautiful Neapolitan chaos always swirling with my husband, Lila from Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, and Freddie Mercury who would stand up to sing with the waiters.
What are your favourite foods?
Pasta with seafood … clams, sea urchin, mussels, octopus.
Is there anything that you’d never eat? What is it and why?
Rabbit. I mean, I’ve had it and I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with eating it. It’s probably one of the most sustainable meats you have. But they just remind me of my beloved cat too much.
What do you crave but can’t get whilst on the road? How do you satisfy the craving?
As a New Yorker, the bacon, egg and cheese on a roll is the most satisfying breakfast I can imagine. And it really is an NY specific thing. I don’t satisfy the craving on the road, I just savor it when I’ve got it.
What food are you embarrassed to admit you like to eat?
American cheese. But nothing else melts quite like it. (Ed.’s note: sometimes “plastic cheese” is really what you want and need on a burger!)
What / where do you dream of eating, but haven’t yet had the pleasure?
Thailand. I have a good friend from Thailand who is an extraordinary chef and her cooking always inspires my wanderlust.
Fish liver soup with my Thai friend. It was on the secret menu at a popular midtown Manhattan Thai restaurant. I told her nothing was too spicy or too fishy for me, but I was wrong.
Ever had food poisoning while traveling? Any advice to share?
Not food poisoning per se, but the butter overload at French Laundry was miserable. My memory of what was supposed to be a meal of a lifetime was me laying crumpled on the oak step inside the upstairs bathroom, sweating and praying. When I saw the recipe for the famous “oysters and pearls” and realized there were two whole sticks of butter, I really wished I had known that ahead of time. (Ed.’s note: Oh my. That is really a lot of butter! Sorry it turned miserable for you.)
Have you fallen so much in love with a foreign dish that you learned to make it at home? What’s the story?
I had deep fried baby anchovies with red onions in Paestum, Italy that just can’t be reproduced in the US because anchovies that fresh are impossible to find. At least on the east coast.
What’s the first thing you eat after returning home from a long trip?
Mexican food near JFK airport.
Favourite foreign ingredient you wish your home supermarket carried?
Zucchini flowers which are certainly not exotic but they are terribly hard to find. The farmer’s markets have them in NYC, but they get scooped up by 7am by all the chefs.
Country / city where you’ve found the best food? Details please so we can check it out too!
Capaccio, the tiny town where my grandmother is from in southern Italy has some of the highest quality food in Italy for pennies. Vannulo, widely considered the best buffalo mozzarella producer in Italy is there, as is La Dispensa di San Salvatore, a restaurant that makes incredible vegetable dishes from organic produce grown among grapevines to promote biodiversity. Il Granato is a buffalo farm that specializes in the most beautiful desserts you’ve ever seen, seriously, watch their Instagram feed. There are exquisitely fresh seafood restaurants along the beach and fine dining at FOOD Restaurant overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Country / city where you’ve found the worst? What made it so awful?
Valletta, Malta. Mind you this was in 2002, but I never saw so many fast food restaurants in my life. We ate at an Indian restaurant every night because it was the only non-fast food option we could find.
Do you have favourite markets for a) buying stuff to eat b) finding unusual things (which you may or may not want to actually eat!) and c) just for taking photos?
The Porta Nolana market in Naples has seafood on one side, shoes and other assorted flea market finds on the other. What more do you need?
If money were no object, where (and what) would you eat?
I’d only need the money to get me to the simplest of fish shacks or road side stands. I like simple, well made, well-loved foods.
- Do you have any food regrets? Yeah, I’d take back that French Laundry money I spent. Not that the service and the presentation weren’t exquisite… but I was in legit butter induced pain for days.
If you could invent any ice cream flavour, what would it be? (yes, I am looking for ideas to add to my ice cream repertoire!)
Fig and olive oil gelato.
What do you love and hate about food writing (yours and/or in general)?
Adjectives like “piles” or the word “impossibly” prefacing crunchy, sweet, light, etc. Sometimes it’s just really hard not to sound ridiculous.
You’re having surgery tomorrow and there’s a reasonable chance you’ll lose your ability to taste (oh the horrors!). What would you choose as, essentially, your last meal?
An affogato, a shot of espresso over hazelnut gelato.
Danielle Oteri lives in New York City and spends a great deal of time in Cilento, a quiet corner of Southern Italy just south of the Amalfi coast. She’s an art historian and writer. She founded Feast On History and Arthur Avenue Food Tours, both relational tour companies that introduce guests to the people and places where the best food and wine is made and grown. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter, both @feastonhistory.