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Humans.  In Business Carmela D'Amore Story

“I remember coming to the Queen Vic Market as a child. The fresh produce…originally most of it was based on Italian culture and it was the heart of the European community. In the 60’s you had the cheesemaker, the grocer, the rag trade, the shoemaker. We’d see friends here and it was a meeting place.

When we feed ourselves, it’s sacred, because we’re communing with ourselves, God, and each other. When we sat at the table, it was also about sharing beyond our home to the neighbourhood and community. Outsiders felt a part of it. ‘Come and have a meal with us.’ It was, and is, a sacred time.

Food was the centre of our life. Being in a family of Sicilian immigrants - everything revolved around food. Food is the essence of ‘us’. Food is the communicator, the generator of a conversation.

Food holds Italian families together. The table and food are what they brought with them from their country. So food was a comforter. They didn’t have their country, they were aliens in Australia. When they ate they felt a sense of their homeland and their roots, this was their security in knowing whom they were.

Eating for them was…(gets a bit teary).

Can you imagine coming to a new place and not having your home or family and friends, the familiarity of your old place? I don’t think they realised until later years the impact of moving. Of shifting themselves, their families. One son came, then the other four sons came. Two of them already had wives and children.

My grandparents came with one of the sons, my Grandfather was 57, she was 56. Nonna was already worn and torn. She looked about 80. She battled depression that came through after the war and famine. She raised 5 sons in Sicily in a fishing village. And to come to a very rich country, by that time she was already tired.

My grandparents loved the garden, the ocean and the fishing. They taught me about seasons. They

were good teachers and gave me a very strong basis for cooking because they were cooks themselves.

My grandmother always plated our food before ours. That was a benchmark - to care for the family before herself. It was a kind gesture that gave everyone importance at the table.

She was called Donna – it means woman. It’s like calling someone sir today. She was a leader. You had nowhere else to go for guidance. You went to see Donna. The Madonna was the mother of Jesus, she was the protector of him until he came into his mission. The woman is the protector, comforter, guide, nurturer. She was the glue of the family. She provided direction. Without direction there’s no purpose or future. The mother is the heart of the whole family. The family is the rest of the arteries.

The mother, the Madonna, the matriarch in Italian culture – that’s sacred too. You don’t step over that. They are the backbone or authority of the family.

From the moment they’re born the little girl is brought up to see that. If her eyes are open she sees that quality in her elders and knows that will be her role one day.

We’re not given the role, we are born in it. It’s like cooking, it’s not something I chose, it chose me.

When mum passed away everything that she had known went with her. I was sitting in the room when she passed – I saw her go – I felt this sense of a whole generation go. I felt it. In the presence of myself, my spirit, my heart.

I felt that she had a lot to give and she didn’t have the tools to believe in herself. She didn’t accomplish her business, so it felt like she had left unfinished business for me to finish.

The business I’m here to finish? I’m here to help by guiding, mentoring, directing. Like a light. I help people put a window in their life and see the sunshine through cooking.

I look at myself as the mother, grandmother, the matriarch and the Madonna. You know when you give a waving gesture for a person to move through? It’s a guide in today’s era. Helping the explorer to get through because of the tools I know. It’s like, I’ll show you. I see it’s already in you. A great teacher shows the student that it’s there and brings it out in them.

The grandmother was the mediator – she saw the past, was in the present and could see the future. She was the soft ground to fall on. She gave you that extra bit on your plate, that extra hug. Made you a cup of tea if you were sick, put the thermometer in your mouth. Rugged you up, kissed you and loved you. With no barriers. She saw the future in you.

Where there are storms, family grows. That’s why you’ve been given the family. It’s there to guide and direct you until it’s time for you to go and spread your own wings and work on what you know for sure.

Every day is a blessing. Every day that I wake up is a chance to express who I am through food. Food is my art form where my sense of heritage comes through. I feel the past, present and future in every dish I cook.

That guidance is there, the mother, the grandmother. Cooking is the generator of my own energy.

I’m moving now into the mentor role. I’m like the connector. I teach people Sicilian cooking who aren’t necessarily Italian, but I see the structure of heritage in them. Cooking brings out their heritage, like an aroma, of who they are.

They go home and become reconnected to their own heritage because food is the foundation of who they are. Their identity is built on those foundations. It’s not just a cooking class, I’m sharing my family and I’ve had more than one teary moment about that.”


Carmela D’Amore is the owner and executive chef of Sorrento Trattoria restaurant, on the Mornington Peninsula. She shares centuries-old Sicilian recipes through cooking classes and her book ‘Carmela’s Cucina Povera – a journey of self-discovery and healing through Sicilian cooking’.

This is her way of sharing her sacred knowledge with you: www.carmelascucinaclass.com.au.

{Photography and Story by Beth Jennings Photography}

Carmela D’Amore

Carmela D’Amore

Carmela D’Amore is an International Sicilian chef, the daughter and granddaughter of Sicilian immigrants, with over 40 years experience in small business. She is a representative in Sicilian food and culture, a published author and currently the executive chef of Sorrento Trattoria, an Italian Restaurant situated on the Mornington Peninsula.