Chen, Patrizia 1948-
CHEN, Patrizia 1948-
Born 1948, in Livorno, Italy; married; children: two.
Writer. Worked variously as an insurance broker, model, public relations executive, salesperson, and food writer. Founded a school in Rome, Italy, 1980s.
Rosemary and Bitter Oranges: Growing up in a Tuscan Kitchen (memoir), Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.
Italian food writer Patrizia Chen recalls her postwar childhood in Rosemary and Bitter Oranges: Growing up in a Tuscan Kitchen. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the memoir "a rose-colored dream of a childhood in Livorno, Italy."
Chen was born after the war, but the effects of the German occupation of the household and scarcities of time lingered on. The frugal family saved everything from pencil stubs to used wrapping paper, and one aunt kept a jar that was labeled "Strings. Too short to be useful." Chen and her brother were lectured on waste and reminded that they were lucky to have enough food. A Town & Country writer commented that "the book's anchor is the several generations of loving relatives who share the house."
In a home where her grandparents mandated that the menu be bland and unexciting, young Chen learned the culinary arts from the family cook, Emilia, experiencing the meals she prepared for herself, replete with the herbs and spices that were banned from the family dishes. Chen also cared for the family chickens and helped with the shopping. The book includes stories about family members and friends, some quirky. Her Aunt Rina, Chen writes, talked to her unborn fetus, which was preserved in a jar of formal-dehyde, and collected chocolate Easter eggs that she never ate.
Chen fondly remembers her home with its vegetable garden and marble terrace and notes that perishable foods were purchased fresh every day because they did not use electrical appliances until the 1960s. She recalls attending convent school nearby and visits to the home of her paternal grandparents in Sicily and shares insights about her Sicilian relatives and the Mafia.
Included are several recipes "that rely on perfectly fresh and classically handled ingredients typical of Tuscany," noted Booklist's Mark Knoblauch. Chen offers her versions of lemon tea cake, quince paste, hen's milk, eggplant and celery, chestnut pancakes, egg liqueur, chocolate and pear pudding, gnocchi, minestrone, and tiramisu.
A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that Chen writes of "the growing influence on music, television and fashion that irrevocably changed the way Italians lived. She closes with a bittersweet account of visiting present-day Livorno. A richly textured past, intimately evoked." Ann Hodgman reviewed the memoir in the New York Times Book Review, writing that "every page is drenched with sensuous and unexpected detail. Children sneak treats all the time in memoirs, but not like this." Chen writes of her memories, at age seven, of the smells and tastes of Emilia's kitchen, and her discovery that "life—real life—happened behind the kitchen doors." Hodgman remarked that "of course, it was going on everywhere around her, and she makes it come alive for us as well."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Chen, Patrizia, Rosemary and Bitter Oranges: Growing up in a Tuscan Kitchen, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.
Booklist, January 1, 2003, Mark Knoblauch, review of Rosemary and Bitter Oranges: Growing up in a Tuscan Kitchen, p. 832.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2002, review of Rosemary and Bitter Oranges, p. 1754.
New York Times Book Review, May 4, 2003, Ann Hodgman, review of Rosemary and Bitter Oranges.
Publishers Weekly, December 9, 2002, review of Rosemary and Bitter Oranges, p. 70.
Town & Country, April, 2003, review of Rosemary and Bitter Oranges, p. 70.*