37 years old, mother of Chiara and Marco, graduate in Economics and Commerce, master’s in management and Human resources, labor consultant and expert at professional training, Annalisa Pompeo is a chef and founder of Go-Sicily, a start-up specializing in Sicilian cooking classes, wine and food tours, and is a food expert. The “volcanic” Annalisa has worked as a journalist for a local television program and is passionate about writing, above all, stories in Sicilian.
“Let’s begin with Favara, an example of urban renewal that has attracted interest from the whole world. What is the secret of the city’s success?”
When I began 7 years ago, the first people with whom I consulted were non other than Andrea Bartoli and Florinda Sareva, founders of Farm Cultural Park. At that point in time we spoke, cooking classes for tourists in Favara, and how I wanted to meet the world, and to promote my land, were still fantasies. I needed to introduce myself to some people who were at least as “crafty” as I was. After hearing about my project, Andrea and Florinda opened the doors of the Farm to me, encouraging me to go ahead. That’s how it began. Whoever crosses the main courtyard of Farm Cultural Park finds themselves wrapped in a dazzling light.
“Do you believe that the Favara model is exportable?”
I would like to replicate the work of Andrea and Florinda all around the world. The farm is a museum, but a museum of people. This concept needs to be understood, because if you arrive at the farm with the expectation of finding MOMA of NYC, then you’ll go back to the street. The Farm is an art gallery, and also above all a human gallery, where all of the people make a difference. So, yes, Favara IS an exportable example.
“Can you talk a bit about the birth of the idea of GoSicily and of the ‘grandmother’s kitchen’”?
I have always believed in the beauty and potential of our “Beautiful Sicily” although it has, unfortunately, been discriminated against and given as an example of things we are not proud of in the National Press for too long. Being a mom, and living in Sicily, now in Agrigento, I realized that one day my children would have felt forced to leave, as so many others have been. I had an unpleasant feeling: it wasn’t so much the idea of “let them go,” because at that point in time, they would have had no reason to stay. I wanted to plant a seed in them, to give them a sense of value, perhaps a feeling, or a reason for being: the courage and the desire to change things, to fight for their dreams, and to follow them. To have it all…
“What motivates you? And the business idea?”
When I was sitting at my desk, doing paperwork, I thought that I could set the first example.
The more I thought about it, the more I tried to develop a rapport between my passions and my limits. My memories of my childhood: my grandmother Mela who taught me how to prepare sweets over the weekends, and my grandmother Anna wo gave me the courage to dare and to not shrink from obstacles. These memories were and are vivid and strong. I wished to be a citizen of the world, to speak a unifying language in a way the world would understand, while promoting my Sicily. I wanted to do this using a way that has united people for centuries: food. And that’s how it started.
“Doesn’t that seem like a cliché’ though?”
Sicilian cooks can brag about the Mediterranean diet, which offers us various choices. We range widely and make dishes using seasonal and local ingredients. We support small producers in stead of the “Great Distribution Chain.” My motto is “buy more from the farm stand than the supermarket shelves. Choosing “Nonna’s cuisine” shouldn’t only be based on emotional factors and memories of dishes, but because our grandparents ate local products, following the now cool formula “from farm to table.”
“Do you have a collaborator in your enterprise?
At this point in time, I have a staff that collaborates with me in helping me realize what I imagine and for my internet site. I can manage social media to an extent by myself.
“You’ve gone to America to make your ideas known. What kind of response did you get in the US?”
I’ve been bringing my cooking classes to America over the winter for the last four years. I remember that, at the start, I invested a good deal of money to promote my activities and Sicily at one of the most important tourism exhibits: The New York Times Travel Show, sharing a stand with my American colleague and friend. The final result? So many dollars flew away and almost no clients who wanted to visit Sicily. So, the next year I thought about organizing and promoting from the homes of Americans who were looking for something authentic. An immediate success! I found the perfect formula for promoting everything: my activity, American and Sicilian tour operators who would make hotel reservations, hire guides, arrange trips and tours, arrange transportation, etc. From that moment there were many participants in my cooking classes via traveling to Sicily.
“Has the Smart Cooking Box been Appreciated?”
The smart boxes were born from the culmination of my desperation. At the start of the pandemic, I digitalized my cooking classes, and I offered via facebook, every Sunday at 5pm Italian time, for free, cooking lessons with lists of ingredients and recipes that were sent days before to the followers. But I felt this was not enough, because the ingredients that they bought did not have the taste necessary, not to mention my wish to “escape from my tremendous love of cooking.” And so I believed that the cooking boxes would close the circle. I started an export company, created menus, produced videos of the lessons, wrote up the recipes, selected the products, and sent everything to my importer who then took care of logistics from Texas.
“GREAT! What was the result of this intense activity?”
More than 100 boxes were sold already before they arrived! My happy clients sent me videos and photos when they opened the box, pronouncing the name “truscia” (the kitchen towel in which I wrapped the products) with American accents that melt my heart. These were the happiest moments of the year.
And when foreigners come to Favara, how do they live the GoSicily experience?
When my guests arrive in Favara, there is always a small check list: I meet them, we talk, I ask them the reason for which they’ve come to Favara, instead of Palermo, Catania, or Taormina, and I speak about how we have been living in Favara around ten years, thanks to the Farm. Then we begin our day, which can be through the streets of Favara, in my kitchen or an olive press, a grain mill, wine cellars, farms. I like to think that at the end of the experience, my guests appreciate what they have prepared with their own hands and tasted. Another of my mottos is “the best souvenir that you can bring home from your trip to Sicily, is the experience! Live it with me, and chare it with those you love.”
“Do you think that “made in Sicily” is exportable to products other than food, such as crafts, textiles and clothing?
I believe strongly, that other than food, crafts, and clothing in general, “made in Sicily” ought to be exported in the form of human capital. Sicilians have unique and different characteristics: from gestures by which we “speak” without opening our mouths, and the capacity to adapt to any situations. We certainly have an advantage!
“As a woman, how do you reconcile business activity with raising a family?”
I always fear this question, not because I can’t give a response, but because I ask myself if you would have asked it to a man.
“Well, my interest is journalistic curiosity, since you are immersed in so many activities”
At present, I am a mother of two children who have a father. Also, my parents play a fundamental role in our life. Without them, it would have been much too complicated. The secret word is organization. I am, perhaps a mother different from the standard mother, but they have learned to accept a bit more particular set of dynamics, and they understood that the quality of our time spent together is more important than the quantity.
You won the prize “business is woman” of the Commercial Conference of Catania, in particular for your resilience. What is resilience for you?” I was honored to have won the prestigious prize and at a distance of a few days, I still feel adrenaline circulating in my blood. For me, resilience is a way of living. It is dancing in the rain enjoying the sound of water hitting the ground, rather than crying because you’re getting wet. Resilience is believing in a project and bringing it forward, whatever it takes, and I have also learned to change an idea if that seems right. In my specific case, I believe that what has happened and what will happen, is that the years have made me face very numerous challenges, that no one could prevent. But it is perhaps thanks to these difficulties that I have pulled the best from myself: as a mother, as a woman and as a business woman
Written by Rosario Faraci / focusicilia.it (original link). Translated by Norman Hanson.